Spreading the Word
In places like that, any system you can implement that helps as many people as possible communicate with as many other people as possible will be a good thing. In general, the greater your delivery volume, the more it makes sense to invest in computerized systems that make it easy for sales reps, managers, and even customers to check the status of deliveries. Much of that work can be automated; some systems even record when a delivery truck leaves the yard and immediately change the delivery status from "loading" to "en route." Similarly, some dealers have stopped snafus before they could occur by writing programs that make it impossible for a sales rep to schedule a delivery at a time that the company cannot fulfill.
No matter what systems you use, the payback comes from having staff spend less time checking on the status of orders, freeing them to work on worthwhile stuff.
At smaller operations, the crush at the dispatcher's desk might not be so great. In those cases, the best way to improve the end result might be to focus on initial tasks.
In Columbus, Ohio, 5th Avenue Lumber Co. did that two years ago when it installed an Auto-Stak system that allows it to roll stock onto and off of storage racks. The change saves so much labor time that it will pay for itself within a few years, 5th Avenue president Bill Cady estimates.
ABC Supply of Beloit, Wis., focused on another aspect of the fulfillment process when it created a checklist that helps dealer and customer make sure they aren't forgetting some of the materials needed for a job. Contractors have found the checklist so handy they have begun using it as an order form that they fill out and fax to the nearest ABC facility. ABC has even revised the form so the contractor can use the back of it to sketch drawings that can be shared with the homeowner.
"They use our relationship as part of the selling process," says Kevin Hendricks, ABC Supply's vice president of branch operations.
The form also lists when and where to deliver the product, who to contact, and where to put the load on the job site. Those might seem like obvious questions, but by asking them routinely, ABC and the customer avoid profit-draining surprises come delivery time.
"We're definitely getting more work done," Hendricks says, "because we're correcting fewer mistakes."
The checklists and forms that make up ABC Supply's Customer Service Delivery System succeed in part because they organize the purchasing and delivery process. And orgnization is a bigger problem than some dealers might think.
When Cindy Carlson and Dave Lefler visit LBM dealers in their roles as product consultants for the Omaha, Neb.-based tech firm DMSi, they often spot problems long before they ever get to a computer terminal.
"More often than not, peoples' yards aren't as clean as they should be," Carlson says. "[I find] racks that aren't straight. Products in the middle of an aisle. Bottlenecks in the road." When Lefler enters an LBM operation, "I'm looking for labels on their racks, some sort of map or organizational structure to that warehouse," he says. Often there isn't one.
Double the organizational trouble can occur when storing special orders. Steve Chambers, owner of Harper Chambers Lumber in Tuscaloosa, Ala., says it's common for him to get a delivery of, say, 500 door units that need to be sorted for six different jobs.
"In the past, Job A was put against one wall, Job B against another, and another would go into the trailer," he says. "If the guy who stowed it wasn't there [when you needed the items], you'd have a mess."
Says Carlson: "A customer told me they lost their nonstocks so much that they would order it again."
Special orders are a particular problem in small yards. Scott Engquist, owner of Engquist Lumber in Harcourt, Iowa, has storage facilities that measure just 60x120 feet and 24x56 feet, so he is constantly shifting goods.
Labels, maps, and extra racking can reduce that problem, while technology that records where stuff has been stored will do an even better job. Engquist is making that commitment now for his special-order items. Chambers says that with a new unit he bought from Sunbelt Racks, "Now we know we put Job A in Rack 32. And they can physically pick up that rack and put it on the truck."