Unlike in the field with salespeople, tablet devices are still slow to catch on in jan/san warehouses. But Epner foresees a benefit of adopting the technology as more warehousing-specific applications for tablets are introduced in the near future.

One such app for tablets on the horizon for distributors is pick-to-voice, which allows an employee to have a warehouse pick ticket converted to his or her native language. Instead of using a headset and scanning gun, warehouse workers could use an iPad to pick products. The software program then walks the worker through the process, indicating which aisle, marker, shelf, product number, how many items that order requires. The program also is calibrated to know exactly what every product is supposed to weigh, and verifies the box is accurate based on that figure as well.

Replenishing product stock can be efficient with tablet technology. If a cleaning company runs out of a specific supply, it may be ordered immediately with a barcode scanner installed on the tablet, which links to the distributor’s ordering and invoicing system.

“The order is automatically filled and replenished the next day,” says Steve Epner, founder and president of St. Louis-based Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group, who explains the invoice is also now instantly available.

That same concept can be applied to the pick-up part of the process. Epner suggests distributors work with customers to offer direct ordering, but also use tablet technology to allow no-hassle pick up of the products. If a customer shows the electronic invoice to a distributor, who already received notice electronically anyhow, it eliminates just another step.

Epner says tablet technology will also become prevalent in the repair and maintenance aspect of the jan/san industry in the future. He foresees the day when distributors who service equipment on location can tap into a manufacturer remotely to diagnose a machine.

With the tablet’s video capabilities, Epner says a distributor could easily video chat with the product manufacturer to help diagnose the problem with the machine. The manufacturer can then walk the on-location service technician through the repairs virtually using the tablet rather than paging through pamphlets of service manuals.

As more technology continues to be introduced for tablets, more distributors will continue to find areas in their operations that can improve their businesses.

Jennifer Bradley is a freelance writer based in East Troy, Wis.

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New To Distributors' Arsenal: Tablets