If anyone in distribution center management understands what it's like to be a temp worker in a DC, it would be Diane Garforth. Now director of distribution systems at David's Bridal, Garforth got her start in the business by taking a warehouse temp job fresh out of college, coincidentally in the same building where she works today. She eventually worked her way up to outbound manager at the facility for that company.
She has been active in technology developments in logistics, in particular serving as president of Manhattan Associates' Distribution Center Management Council from 2009 to 2015.
Garforth is a graduate of Ursinus College in suburban Philadelphia. She recently spoke by phone with Editorial Director Peter Bradley about changes in distribution management, technology, and a unique approach to staff meetings.
Q: What brought you into the field of logistics/distribution?
A: When I graduated from college, the economy was just really rough, so I answered an ad for temporary warehouse workers and that's how I got started. I started as a temp order picker.
Q: Really? Who was that with?
A: Eagle's Eye. They have since closed, but they actually operated in the same distribution center where I work today. They sold ugly Christmas sweaters, although that's not what we called them back then. But that was their main business.
Q: How have things changed in distribution since you first entered the profession?
A: It is amazing what technology has done to change distribution. In a way, I guess, it is true that everyone's job has changed, but distribution is so different and the skill set needed across all levels of distribution is really different than it used to be. So, thankfully, as the consumers began demanding faster, better service, we have been able to deliver that.
Q: Could you expand on what you mean by a different skill set?
A: Before, if you were a temp warehouse worker, all you needed to be told was "Here's a piece of paper, and you're going to go look for a size small and when you get it, mark an X next to it." Now, when you need a temp, you have to show him or her an RF gun and explain how to scan a bar code. The job of DC manager has really changed a lot too. It isn't necessarily only knowing how to manage people; it has now become how can I use whatever warehouse management system I have and understand that system so that I can leverage my people better. The job has really changed across all levels.
Q: What does that mean in terms of finding the talent you need?
A: It has made it that much harder to use temp labor to supplement what we are doing and to address peak season concerns.
Q: As you mentioned, customer expectations have changed. How have their expectations changed and how have you at David's Bridal met those challenges?
A: Our business has always been time sensitive. But we've seen more and more of a desire on the customer's part to make things more personal. In a cookie-cutter assembly-line world, the customer still wants her dress to be very personal. So we are working on ways to expand our offerings so that it is her dress, and her bridesmaids are in her color, and yet do that in a way that's still manageable from a supply chain execution perspective. That has been really hard to do in a way that still keeps costs down.
Q: Right, because you're talking about customization for almost every order then.
Q: Let me ask you to talk about the technologies that enable you operate more efficiently but still meet these very high customer demands.
A: We have a warehouse management system that has been great for us. Between that and the distributed order management solution, we truly have a single pool of inventory, so we've been able to cut our inventory carrying costs and focus on putting dollars in other areas. If you buy something in a store or you buy it online, it can come from any piece of inventory in the DC, so that has really helped us. And we have been able to leverage the warehouse management system to pick as efficiently as we possibly can regardless of whether the customer is ordering online or in our stores. Then, just in the last six months or so, we've started using our stores to fulfill online orders as well.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your omnichannel strategy and how you're implementing it.
A: A bridal gown is a huge purchase, so there is some hesitancy there to spend that kind of money and order online. However, when it comes to our bridesmaids' dresses and our accessories, online purchasing is a really good fit. So we are trying to offer every dress we have. Most every dress we have comes in 50 colors and 13 sizes (our bridesmaids' dresses, anyway) so it becomes very hard to offer that regardless of where a customer wants to shop. We have really focused on utilizing our entire network as fulfillment points and getting our orders out faster. Our two DCs are both on the East Coast, but we can leverage a California store to ship to a California customer so that instead of taking five days for an order to get there, it might just take one day.
Q: Have there been any particular challenges in implementing that?
A: No, not really. I think some of our most painful lessons were the result of our thinking that we were too different [from other types of apparel retailers]. We didn't think that store fulfillment would take off the way it did. Our first day that we turned it on, we thought we would maybe have five or six orders at best, and we actually filled 700 units in a day. So it really exceeded all of our expectations of what having that much more inventory available to the customer could do for our sales. So it has been a wonderful area in which we were wrong.
Q: To make that kind of fulfillment possible, how do the stores connect with one another and to the DC so that if I am in San Diego, I can fulfill an order in San Francisco?
A: Some of the things we had to do to lay the foundation was make sure that all stores have the right supplies on hand to package orders because those are just not the sort of things that you have sitting in a store backroom. We also wanted to make sure we weren't using too much room in the backrooms so that we could implement this without impacting the store footprint. We taught them all how to do it on their desktops. They do have mobile devices, so we wanted them to have a backup in case their mobile devices were to fail.
Mobile just makes it so easy. Before, we used to have a call center for our regular orders. For our retail orders, we would call around and say, "Can you go out and check if you have that white dress in a size 8 for me?" Then you'd have to wait a couple of minutes while someone went out to the floor to search for it.
Now, with distributed order management, it is not done via phone calls. You come into the store in the morning, and you go see which orders you need on your mobile device. You use your mobile device to go find it. You have a picture of the item you're looking for. You scan it to verify that you have the right item, and if you don't have it, you notify the system and the request is automatically sent to another store in our chain.
Q: Let me shift gears for a moment. I understand that you start your team meetings with what you call a "reality roundup," where you provide a work/life lesson from a recent episode of a reality TV show. Tell me about that.
A: The first couple of minutes while waiting for people to filter into the room, I would chit-chat about a show I was watching, so it just evolved into, "Hey, I'm going to start off every meeting telling you about some shows you should check out along with a lesson learned from what I watched this past week." It is nice because it kind of sets a tone, a less formal tone, for the meeting. People say they want to come to the meetings because they know they're going to get a chuckle or maybe even find out about a show they'll want to check out.
Q: How does that translate into the culture of the facility?
A: It really makes it that much easier to be cross-functional because now you have people from the merchandising area and the accounting group coming to a distribution-focused supply chain meeting, where maybe normally they wouldn't be all that interested. They come for the reality roundups, but they stay to listen to what is going on and also to provide feedback on different challenges they know are coming up in the supply chain in the next few months.