Annie Hook, AutoZone VP of Replenishment, sat down with us to share insights into why they partnered with RELEX to streamline forecasting and replenishment for their distribution centers and boost vendor collaboration. AutoZone is a leading aftermarket auto parts retailer operating more than 7,000 outlets from more than 10 distribution centers across the Americas.
My name is Annie Hook. I work at AutoZone. I’m the Vice President of Replenishment. I’ve been there for 18 years, so I really made a career through the supply chain department and a little bit of time in merchandising.
AutoZone is an aftermarket auto parts retailer. We have over 7,000 stores in the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil. We have 10 distribution centers in the U.S. today and are in the process of building more – two distribution centers in Mexico. So, we are continually growing and kind of expanding our footprint.
My team is responsible for store in-stock, which really means we’re managing inventory at our distribution centers and making sure they are staying in stock and that our vendor partners are delivering products on time. My team were experts in Excel, and a lot of manual workarounds that we created.
So, our business had really changed a lot over the years. We started doing a lot more direct import. We have a lot of vendors with extremely long lead times. We opened an office in Shanghai, so I also had a team that needed to be in the system with a 12-hour time difference, and our old system just had not kept pace. So, we really needed something that was current and kept up, could help us through all those challenges.
We were really looking for some robust forecasting, and a tool that would be very flexible and the users could interact with it well. Because of our old system, we didn’t have that. We also were looking for a system with little downtime because of our office in China. We had users that needed to be in there, you know, with a 12-hour time difference, and we couldn’t have a four-hour downtime within a system.
We went through a very rigorous process, vetting out multiple software providers. RELEX performed the best through that process. You know, they really proved their forecast accuracy to us. Most importantly, just the flexibility and configurability of the system.
They really convinced and demonstrated to us through the sales process that they could take care of all of our current processes and really take us into the future. The implementation process was a journey for us. RELEX led us. They guided us through that whole process. If I heard the word configure once, I heard it twice. Don’t worry, this is configurable, but it was really an iterative process, and they were right there.
They were great listeners. We would give feedback. We felt like they heard us, and then they would also give us advice and guidance on best practices. And where is the industry going? And this is what you should think about.
So today, we use RELEX across all our distribution centers. We’re using it for forecasting and for replenishment, and we’re currently working on opening a direct import facility, which is kind of a multi-tier distribution or replenishment model. And we’re actively working with RELEX to get that implemented and in place. RELEX is fully implemented across all our suppliers, all of our users. I have users in the U.S., in Mexico, and in China. All users are in RELEX every day. We have also rolled out RELEX to some of our vendors, and we’re doing vendor-managed inventory with them as well.
So, one of the key problems we had in our old system was with Chinese New Year and the closures we would see at the factories we ordered from. RELEX really partnered with us and implemented a solution to help smooth out that ordering. And those deliveries. This past Chinese New Year, we had all our users using that new functionality, and it was the smoothest one that we’ve done.
And so, we continue to kind of modify and tweak it and make it better every year. But it has been a great tool for the team and has saved so much time and effort in planning. The RELEX tool has been a great advantage for us. With our supplier collaboration, we have really put a big focus on that, especially through the pandemic, because our suppliers have been struggling, and we’re all trying to recover.
All suppliers get a forecast report that they can go to our portal and download weekly. That kind of next level of access the supplier has is CPFR – so collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment. Those vendors are actually logging into RELEX, and they have a couple of key views and reports. We get on conference calls with them, and we literally sit down, and we can all see the same things.
We look at the forecast together, we talk about outliers. So that has been a really big win for us. Lastly would be vendor-managed inventory. So, our largest vendors, we have given direct access to RELEX, and they can edit the forecast and order proposals, and they are working closely with the team and the supply chain analysts to make those decisions.
The vendors love RELEX just like our internal users. The adoption rate was fantastic. Again, the flexibility, how nimble your system is. It’s so easy to filter or drill down. It’s easy for them to get all the way down to root cause and see items and part numbers that are causing problems. So, we still communicate with RELEX very regularly.
The RELEX team is always available. We, everyone on my team knows they can reach out to anyone at any point with a need or a concern. We implemented during the pandemic. But RELEX, for my team and for my organization, is all about the flexibility that it provided, especially during the pandemic. I have said so many times to my organization if we didn’t have RELEX when the pandemic hit, we couldn’t have done alternate buys with other suppliers.
We couldn’t have forecasted when we were going to recover, we couldn’t have gone and planned our forecast with the vendor and the supplier. So we have been thrilled with the product we implemented at just the right time, and the team’s been taking full advantage of the tool.