Toy story

Sandy Rickard remembers the old days — way back in 1991.

As claims processing supervisor for Little Tikes Co., a toy manufacturer in Hudson, she had to sort through stacks of files looking for invoice documents to settle a claim from a customer. Even though the Little Tikes headquarters was organized, it took a while to look through all those papers.

“I used to spend hours and hours and hours looking for this stuff,” says Rickard. “Imaging finds it in a heartbeat.”

Little Tikes’ document imaging system has streamlined its customer claims processing. All order, shipment and invoice-related documents are scanned and sorted on magnetic and optical disks for quick display and retrieval. Shipping and billing disputes between the company and its hundreds of retailers are resolved in seconds instead of hours or even days.

Manufacturing still relies on a lot of paper documentation for transactions. Often the bill of lading number doesn’t match the invoice number or purchase order number. With imaging, Rickard can search for the order in question using 20 fields archived to 1992.

The archive is useful because a customer can make a claim on a shipping or pricing error up to four years after it received the toys. In the past, customers wouldn’t realize they had already filed a claim on the order years ago and ended up getting double compensation for the error.

That doesn’t happen anymore.

“It’s important in claims that whoever has the best documentation is going to win a claim,” Rickard says. “If you don’t have the proper documentation, you lose. That just means you’re losing money.”

Little Tikes’ move to document imaging started in 1991, when it computerized invoices and bills of lading. The next year, the claims process was automated.

“I discovered that of my four people, all four of us spent one half of our day looking for documents,” Rickard says. “That alone more than paid just for that part of the project because of the lost time and energy looking for paper.”

The system rapidly improved productivity among Rickard’s staff. The number of claims was reduced from 8,000 in 1995 to 400 in 2001.

That reduction is primarily due to improved reporting. Based on the claims information, Little Tikes department chiefs can use reports to find process holes in order fulfillment and shipment.

“There are a lot of claims we pay where we don’t lose money, it’s just a return,” Rickard says. “But there were claims that show us we lost money through error on somebody’s part internally here. And it has meant hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue that we have recaptured.”

Little Tikes’ ability to improve order fulfillment and reduce errors through its document management system has earned it an eVolution in Manufacturing Award.

In the future, Little Tikes will convert to electronic bills of lading to further eliminate paper, says Linda Bowman, Little Tikes’ manager of information systems.

When a truck driver picks up a shipment in the warehouse, he or she will use a digital signature pad to sign for the paperwork. That signature will be printed onto the paperwork for the driver and e-mailed into the imaging system so Rickard will have immediate access to that shipment.

Time-consuming document scanning will be cut anywhere from 50 to 75 percent. How to reach: Little Tikes Co. (330) 650-3000 or