Food Engineering

Natural products maker acquires new vision

October 1, 2010
This 142-year-old company’s 1999-era MRP system didn’t provide the visibility needed to be successful in 2010. ERP changed all that.

Vice President of Operations Jim Yenish and Machine Operator Heather McNally consider ERP changes and consequences to the production floor. Source: J.R. Watkins Naturals.

J.R. Watkins started his business in 1868 when he made his “Original Liniment” with camphor extracted from evergreen trees and capsicum from red peppers. What started out in his kitchen soon evolved into a major supplier of natural products ranging from personal care, home care and remedies to gourmet food products. Today, more than 350 consumer products and another 350 collateral products are sold through independent home-based businesses, by retailers nationwide and online.

In 1999, J.R. Watkins Naturals converted an existing MRP system installed on a Unisys mainframe to a Windows-based client-server system to avoid any Y2K issues. The MRP system handled accounting and was “stretched to fit” to do materials planning and very limited capacity planning, says Jim Yenish, vice president of operations.

“We realized two or three years ago that our systems were stretched to their limits because we had multiple product categories and were attempting to service multiple distribution channels. Our systems were neither integrated nor up to the task of managing the complexity of the business,” says Yenish. “We did a very thorough value-stream analysis and identified more than 200 ‘storm clouds.’ These were limitations preventing the company in achieving efficiencies from growth,” he adds.

Key staff members looked at several ERP solutions and narrowed the selection to three. After conducting a fact-finding process and interviewing the suppliers’ references , J.R. Watkins Naturals settled on Lawson’s M3 ERP system “because it encompasses all of the people, equipment and materials necessary to meet customer expectations,” says Yenish.

With the ERP system, users are more engaged in the entire value process as opposed to limited “silo” views they had in the past. “They’re much more tuned into what’s happening outside their department,” says Yenish. “Certainly there is better decision-making by the executives in upper management, but the real key to success is the day-to-day decision-making that occurs at every level of the organization,” he adds. From operations, Yenish sees changes that are coming in product-line management and the status of sales order entries. In addition, he has visibility into two distribution centers and inventory held by subcontractors.

The M3 system allows J.R. Watkins Naturals to capture data that leads to metrics for a lean environment, e.g., downtime and line utilization. Previously Yenish tried manual methods and data collection processes, but they didn’t work. “Lawson M3 gives us the framework to measure and establish PM programs and capture uptime/downtime and utilization within a work center,” he says.

Though it’s a little early to tell in exact numbers, Yenish expects his service levels to increase from 97.5 to 99 percent or better while realizing an inventory reduction of 15 to 17 percent. While these numbers are impressive, Yenish attributes a very successful, problem-free installation to third-party installer, Ciber Inc., which brought many industry best practices to the table.

For more information:
Debbie Tolbert, 651-767-7000,