Q&A with Evergreen Enterprises: Scaling for demand fluctuation with warehouse automation

Evergreen GreyOrange warehouse automation

For the past three decades, Evergreen Enterprises has built a strong foundation in the wholesale production of garden and home decor in the United States through a vast distribution network that enables three thriving direct-to-consumer brands. To drive this further, Evergreen picked GreyOrange to revolutionize their operations, streamline deliveries and solve labor constraints by going beyond the traditional push cart. By embracing cutting-edge automation solutions, Evergreen has embarked on a journey to scale its operations, manage high volumes and ensure the timely fulfillment of orders. Here’s what the team had to say about the company’s automation journey so far.

What drove you to make the move towards robotic automation?

John Toler, CEO 

We wanted to be able to scale more easily without having to flood the distribution centers with labor. We were doing what I call, broadly, 1.0 warehouse distribution — pushing carts. I would call 2.0 (using) lots of conveyors. We operate four distribution centers here in Virginia, and one of them has a lot of conveyors in it for our direct-to-consumer (business). And then I think the goods-to-person, or what you refer to as RTP, is very quick. We process 35-40,000 units in a day here. An order that’s presented as an at-once order is probably turning around in less than 24 hours. 

Sarah Hoffman, Inventory Manager – Operations

We made the decision a couple of years ago to go with an AMR system for robotics. After a few months of searching, we narrowed it down to GreyOrange as the choice. One of the reasons we chose GreyOrange was because of GreyMatter — we like the idea that we get the software, the AI, (and) the machine learning and not just the robots. 

How has automation affected labor needs in your warehouse?


In terms of labor, we were running 80-90 people in our piece pick operation. We’ve got 14 stations back here, so you’ve got an operator per station, and then we run one backer per two stations. You can start to do the math — we’re at 21 people to run that versus much higher numbers before.


We’re able to execute on a lower labor budget. We’re also able to control the inventory better because there is a specific scan-in, scan-out process. 

How has warehouse automation affected your operations?


Remember, you’ve eliminated all of the walking in the warehouse with this solution. They’re working in a station, the goods are being presented to them, the screens are helping to guide them where they’re going to go — it’s a much better experience for a picker who’s coming from our old solution to this solution. With our old process of cart picking and lots of labor, it’s hard to scale and it’s hard to push things through quickly without getting too complex. But, moving to this solution where we’re min-maxing the inventory in the field, inventory resides in the field. The processing from our ERP to our WMS to GO is very quick now. We can move orders much faster at scale in a way that we couldn’t before. 


One of the biggest things that optimization has changed outside of the labor is inventory management. It’s a much cleaner process for us to manage inventory. When you have an open pick system and somebody walks by and doesn’t scan out an item, it allows for a lot of issues. Somebody picks up an item (and) puts it back in the wrong place because they realize it’s the incorrect item. We don’t have that anymore. You’re required to scan in (and) scan out, and now it’s not an open floor where people can put things wherever they like. 

Related read: Is your warehouse robot ready?

Why did you end up choosing GreyOrange as your automation partner?


We can scale a couple of different ways if we need to, but let’s say it’s Cyber Monday. We can run all 14 stations doing pick, and that brings us a lot of excess capacity very quickly. We can run a 10-hour shift, and a 10-hour shift would give us an extra 4,500 units an hour. By flipping stations to one function versus two, you bring a lot of scale, and then running just an extra hour or two it picks up really quickly. We find that it’s better to do that than to try to work a Saturday or Sunday. GO can scale really well.

The investment we made here is going to make us a trusted partner for all of our channel partners because they know if they give us an order we will return it very quickly. We have higher accuracy and less damage, and that’s really important for a trusted channel partner. We employ about 120 salespeople out there on the road. Knowing that you have GreyOrange backing you in terms of delivering products to your clients, you feel more confident walking into an appointment. If you give me an order and present it, I’m going to ship it very quickly, it’s going to be accurate, damage-free — those kinds of things. For an employee, it’s very valuable to have a GreyOrange solution backing you. 


Original projections put us at under two years for an ROI, and that’s one of the things that really motivated us because it’s a big investment. It’s a big financial commitment, and then you have to get everyone to buy in. But, ultimately, the ROI made sense. 

Do you think warehouse automation is a must in today’s market?


At the heart of what we do, we sell products. And we have to ship those products to every customer, be it a Wholesale customer, a Wayfair customer, an Amazon customer or direct-to-consumer. That delivery experience and that speed are almost table stakes now. You have to invest, in my opinion, in some type of automation in your distribution center to achieve those goals. 


I think moving forward without automation puts you in a place to not be competitive in the market. If you are looking to be competitive in today’s world, you need to consider some level of automation. 

What would be your advice to companies that are looking into automation but don’t know where to start?


Do your diligence. Do your site visits. Understand there’s a technical lift here that you may not have had before. Understand your products and how they would fit and configure in an MSU and how they would come out of an MSU. You’ve got to have a good data game around your products. A couple of other things I’d look at — definitely do some site visits and then spend a lot of time looking at your products and the quality of your data and how that would push up against GreyOrange. 

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