Bill Justus has heard a lot about improving the supply chain—enough to know that it's easier said than done. “The real challenge is to take the conceptual to the practical,” he says. “How do you get there?”
Justus, in fact, has figured out one way to turn the conceptual into the practical. The vice president of supply chain services at David Weekley Homes in Houston has done it by creating a system whereby more than 900 of his team members, ranging from senior-level executives to accounts payable staff, grade the trading partners with which they work. But it's not merely an opportunity for the builder to smugly pass out report cards and move on. Its ultimate payoff may be that even though most of the business partners directly involved in the survey are manufacturers, the survey opens up the lines of communication throughout the supply chain, from manufacturers down through dealers and distributors—all of whom benefit by getting information on the relationship with David Weekley.
Here's how it works: Team members are asked to rate business partners on a 1-to-10 scale in various areas, with 10 being the highest; if they give anything below a 6, they're required to add a short explanation. Scores are then averaged out among the various business partners; the top 20 percent receive an A, the next 20 percent receive a B, and so on. Every quarter, business partners receive their scorecard, which shows both their alphabetical rating and numerical scores. Information is given both for the previous quarter as well as a rolling 12-month period.
Perhaps most important, David Weekley passes on all the information it collects—including the name of the team members who completed the survey, their comments, and their contact information. If partners are given below a certain numerical rating in any category or question, they must contact the team member to find out what can be done to rectify any issues. “We're trying to react to problems and get on the same page before situations become terminal,” says Justus. “We hold the manufacturer accountable for the entire supply chain.”
That's good for everyone downstream of the manufacturer. “I think it's helped us improve,” says Tony Magistro, national account sales executive with Beloit, Wis.–based ABC Supply Co. Always looking to make improvements, in the past year ABC found an opportunity to make its accounts payable and receivable system less labor intensive for Weekley project managers. ABC had intended to upgrade its system, but feedback from scorecards and direct communication with Weekley team members helped the company along in the process. By “digging into it a little bit,” as Magistro says, and working with the accounts payable associates at Weekley, ABC was able to streamline the process. That said, ABC hasn't had many areas in which to improve: Last year it was the recipient of David Weekley's “AA” award, which honors the top business partners based on the survey.
Trane Residential Systems regularly passes on the information it receives from the survey down the supply chain. Another recipient of the AA award, Trane is usually passing along good news. Don Wood, manager of national accounts, feeds the survey information to Trane-owned distributors at the local level, who in turn pass the information to dealers if relevant. “I know that our territory managers take that report out and discuss it with the dealers,” says Wood, adding that he knows of no other builder that uses such a survey so extensively.
Reed Conley, a Trane distribution sales manager in Dallas, confirms that he communicates survey feedback to dealers. “It also helps us, as well, because we know that we're doing business with the right people,” he says.
Meanwhile, David Weekley is seeing results from the process improvements the survey drives, with scores up an average of 18 percent in the first 18 months or so of the program. —Carl Levesque is an Arlington, Va.–based writer.