For Marcel Proust, it was the madeleines that did it. For me, it was this issue.

Proust's classic Remembrance of Things Past begins with the French novelist getting a sudden flood of memories when he happens to drink some tea in which he had dipped a small, scallop-shaped cake called a madeleine. For my part, it was the act of editing this issue's stories on distribution and logistics that triggered visions of my childhood in Indiana, wiling away summer afternoons drawing maps full of railroad lines, highways, and rivers. Even then, I realize now, I was thinking about how stuff moves from here to there.

Craig Webb Working on this issue, combined with my recent travels, has introduced me to a number of people in the LBM business who care deeply about how their yards perform basic operations. In San Diego, Dixieline Lumber logistics manager Paul Corso can spend hours describing animatedly the studies he's done to help Dixieline's delivery trucks get loaded faster and spend more time on the road hauling goods. Given such enthusiasm, it's no surprise that a prominent wall in his office displays pictures of Ted Williams, the San Diegan who studied relentlessly the mechanics involved in hitting a baseball.

Among the metrics that Corso has developed is one he calls "footage per on-road hour"–the amount of board feet of lumber that a truck is carrying while out of the yard and on the road. Seeking a high number in that category has pushed Dixieline to work on ways to load its trucks more quickly, fill them as completely as is practicable, and then get them heading out to the next jobsite as soon as possible. It's an approach similar to the one Southwest Airlines took after it realized that its planes only made money when they were flying passengers, so it began finding ways to reduce the number of hours its planes spent at the gate. Today, Southwest is regarded as one of the most efficient–and one of the few profitable–airlines in the country.

Corso spends a lot of time thinking about and experimenting to learn whether his loading area is organized for highest efficiency. Meanwhile, in Mattapoisett, Mass., Steve Johnson of Mahoney's Building Supply regularly conducts his own experiments, such as one recently to determine whether his inventory counts might be off-kilter from the start because lumber companies weren't shipping as many sticks in a load as they said they were. (For the answer, see "Well Stocked," page 54.) And across the country, consultant Ruth Kellick-Grubbs–a recent addition to the ProSales Editorial Advisory Board–has been promoting a metric that she calls "On Time In Full," which measures the percentage of deliveries a dealer makes that arrive at the jobsite by the time promised and contain every item requested. LBM dealers routinely overestimate the percentage of deliveries they make that meet this standard, Kellick-Grubbs says. Those who can raise that number routinely see another number grow as well–the company's net profit.

For more ideas, look to articles in this issue such as "Five-in-One Tool" (page 50) and our review of what's new with time-saving bar code readers (page 24). And note in our cover story, "The Value Link" (page 38), how much effort two-step distributors are making to improve their delivery statistics even as they push to add value by helping dealers sell products to contractors.

None of what's going on can be regarded by itself as a huge leap forward in service, logistics, or inventory management. Nevertheless, these small, incremental steps are fostering operations that are far more efficient and effective than they were just a few years ago. And in a business with razor-thin margins like LBM, individually minor initiatives can add up to something significant.

Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdu–the novel that begins with the story of the madeleines–has traditionally been translated as "Remembrance of Things Past." But more recently, it has been converted into English as "In Search of Lost Time." For LBM dealers, both translations work. We want to remember the things past that have helped make us what we are today, but we also need to remind ourselves that time lost cannot be recovered. Every second counts.

–Craig Webb, Editor 202.736.3307 [email protected]