As midnight approached on June 20, the average U.S. family had somewhere around 3.19 people, 2.24 television sets and zero copies of the latest Harry Potter book. A mere 24 hours later, several million bleary-eyed readers of all ages were plowing through their brand new copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In all, 8.5 million copies were produced in just six weeks' time and moved to store shelves (or book resellers) across the country for a one-day rollout under tight security. Talk about a distribution challenge.
The logistics manager who oversaw distribution of the fifth book in the popular series recently talked with DC VELOCITY about what it took to get the books out to all those customers. Our interview with Andy Yablin, which begins on page 18, confirms what we all suspected: that the books didn't appear on store shelves as a result of alchemy, but as the result of skilled distribution planning and execution by the Scholastic organization and its logistics partners and collaborators.
Further evidence that the distribution manager is often the man behind the curtain, to borrow a phrase from The Wizard of Oz, a popular children's book of another age, can be found in this month's cover story. When flu season strikes and people head to the doctor's office for a dose of FluMist, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' new vaccine, few will give much thought to how it got there. But as the story, which begins on page 24, shows, creating a distribution system that's ready to respond at the first sign of the sniffles was once again the result of careful planning and a major investment in facilities and equipment … not to mention collaboration with a number of key partners.
A perennial topic of conversation among logistics professionals is the extent to which true collaboration really exists—are their service providers actually partners or mere vendors or something in between? But in a way that's a moot question. The complexity of distribution networks—and the tools, technology and systems that enable them—makes going it alone impracticable. Today's businesses compete not company to company but supply chain to supply chain. For distribution managers, who orchestrate the parts played by the various transportation, technology, material handling and other providers, that's just everyday reality. It may be a distinctly unglamorous task, but getting the goods out requires a wide range of skills. It's not easy. And it's definitely not magic.