The Worst Time of My Life
Brighton Travel Blog› entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
Thursday, February 6, 1997
The past year sucked. Iâ€™m sure if I searched for another descriptor I could come up with at least an equal to â€śsuckedâ€ť, but somehow I doubt it would really capture the emotion, too.
In February 1996, we were notified that we would be getting a new General Manager at the distribution center (DC) where I worked. What was wrong with the old one? As far as I was concerned, nothing. But our corporate people thought him not up to the new job they had planned for us. We were to be the first DC to integrate the new business that we had just landed, while simultaneously moving into a new, larger building, and to learn a new computer system. Sounds daunting from a distance of 13 years. Back then, we thought we were ready. Man, were we wrong.
Our new GM started in March and with him was an additional new manager, a Distribution Manager. We all thought that having the additional help would be a good thing. There was going to be plenty to do. The new Distribution Manager, lets call him DM (for dumb mother, well you get the picture) was sold to us as the second coming. A top drawer performer with loads of experience. What we got was a lazy, Yes-Man, who was clueless about moving product from one location to another.
Now before you get the wrong idea, I was (am) part of this management team. My specialty is Inventory Control, so I interact with everyone. I had been with the company for 12 years when all of this started. I had seen my share of department heads, managers, and supervisors. I was usually able to learn something from all of them, even those that werenâ€™t cut out for the job. DM was the exception. He would take two hour lunches, to smooze his high maintenance wife, and get a hair cut. How many times a month do you need a haircut? My Dad would get one weekly, but he was old school. DM was several years out of college. He never even saw that old school. And this was from Day One. You might expect the new guy to ingratiate himself by putting the hours in. Nope, he avoided work like the plague. And there was a lot to do.
We spend the next five months trying to learn the new computer system, by flying to another DC for a week, two months before we would ever see a fresh keyboard, getting ready for the big move, and trying to learn something about our new customerâ€™s needs and expectations. And both of those were pretty grand. Our new customers had come to us en masse as a result of a purchase. They company we bought was very efficient and had been servicing them for years. We are a national company, and several of the other DCs had both a DC from us, and the company we bought. I might have made more sense to integrate two from the same city, as they could use the experienced people from the company we bought. Nope, they decided on us, because we were building a new facility anyway. We had only the occasional dignitary that would fly in to do some training or do something with the new system. No one who ever did any part of any job at our bought company ever made it to
The day of the move went pretty smooth. Between myself, the Warehouse Manager, the Transportation Manager, and the new, General Manager we had a good plan, so there were few hiccups. DM was around giving orders and getting in the way, too. Our new General Manager did turn out to be a pretty good guy and was competent. But, it soon became obvious that we were way over our heads.
Not long after we moved, we began getting the product that we would be distributing for our new customers. We were servicing two customers, with a few hundred stores. We added five more customers, and about enough stores to double what we were servicing. That many new trucks to load meant we needed more guys in the warehouse and more guys to drive and deliver. I also got one more person to count all of this new product. Did we send any of our people to an old DC to see how they did it? Yes, a couple, and the Warehouse Manager. These three people were now going to train all of the others, while everyone learned new loading techniques and learned the new product.
One thing we did not get was a locator system. A Locator System is a combination of hardware and software whose function is to track the location of every pallet of product in a warehouse. We were small before, so one or two guys out in the warehouse could manage where everything was putaway and which product was oldest. We now had three times the number of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) and not nearly enough space.
When our new building was being constructed we were told that once everything was delivered and we began servicing our new customers, we would be at around 70% capacity. Meaning the rest of the 30% could be used for later growth. In shorthand, we would have plenty of room. When I took an early tour, I was skeptical. It didnâ€™t look that much bigger (in reality it was about 2/3 bigger), but I figured our corporate people had done the math, and knew what they were doing. This was early on. I was young and naĂŻve. I wised up once every pallet position was full and we had dozens of truck load due into us.
We ended up routinely storing product on our own trailers. I had to develop a procedure for tracking that. But, in comparison to what was going on in our building that was easy. When you have a small warehouse, it is much more difficult to lose a pallet of product. There are only so many places to put it, and with empty places everywhere you can keep like products together and in the same consistent place. We were at 112% capacity, and when product came in, it was put where ever the guys could find room. That might be on the other side of the building from where the product was actually, logically, supposed to be. I soon was spending the first hour or more of each day, walking up and down the aisles trying to find the pallets of product that the computer said we had, that no one could find. Most I did, but some probably never existed. With that many new people, bad habits develop and basics are forgotten. Things like actually counting what was delivered to us. It became easier just to tell our computer that we got in 1000 of this item, because that is what the truck driver said was on his truck.
Because we couldnâ€™t find everything, we couldnâ€™t load everything our customers ordered. Not surprisingly, they didnâ€™t like that. With all of the new people, and new products, lots mistakes were made. Not surprisingly, our customers didnâ€™t like that either. With all of the new drivers we had, and new warehouse guys the quality of how the product was loaded on the trailer suffered. Driver would chew up extra time looking for product that may of may not be there. So a driver would show up late, having missing product, and product that was wrong. Not surprisingly, the customers didnâ€™t like that either. They didnâ€™t like that to the point that they would call everyone in their Rolodex trying to get it fixed. Managers were spending hours on the phone, instead of being in the middle of the swamp, trying to fix the issues. Very quickly we were taking heat from our corporate people. They had several solutions. Get us some help did do some good. But, morale dropped. Guys would call in. The other guys would have to work harder and longer. They would call in the next day. It snowballed. Guys would get fed up and just walk away, if they had showed up at all. It was the same for the drivers. But, this was not the low point.
It took our corporate people until about November to decide that they had to do more to fix the problem. They fired our General Manager. Yeah, it was his fault. Most every step of this plan had come from corporate and when it didnâ€™t work, it had to have been the fault of those guys out in
DS was not new to us. He was the chief ramrod from corporate. His job was to head off every problem that would come up during this transition period. That was impossibility. The plan was bad, and doomed to failure. The only hope now was to weather the storm and wait for everyone to gain experience. That would eventually cure it. However, after 3 months of, something like 75% service, after being promised for months that we would be at a 95% level, our customers were fed up. They wanted an instant turnaround. Well, DS was the wrong man for the job. DS was a bully. That was his management style. He would yell and berate. He would accuse of incompetence and laziness on a daily basis. He would undermine the authority of his managers on a daily basis. The rank and file thought he was a great guy. A driver would call him direct about a bad load. The Warehouse Manager and Supervisor would get a dressing down in front of whoever happened to be around. Facts did not matter. What was important was decibels. That would fix everything.
Again, not surprisingly, Managers began to leave. It was soon just me and the Warehouse Manager left from the original management team. Old DM was still there, making excuses and spreading the blame around. But at DM couldnâ€™t take the heat once DS turned his attention to him. He was soon gone, too. We lost a Customer Service Manager after one day. She was a 50 something lady, who had been around the block a time or two. I would guess that she knew what she was doing, from the little bit I talked to her. After the first staff meeting, in which DS took a turn dressing down each and every one of us, she mumbled something about no job being worth this, and quit.
And then he focused on me. Inventory Control only pops up on the radar when you donâ€™t have product to sell. DS, by his own admission was not up on inventory procedures. He knew what was supposed to happen, but not exactly how. He got it into his head that I needed help. Well, I did. But he thought I needed someone to supervise and mentor me. Maybe I did. I didnâ€™t think so at the time. I knew what was wrong, and if I wasnâ€™t spending three hours (1 Â˝ at 7:30 AM and 1 Â˝ at 3:00 PM) in staff meetings, at least an hour each morning searching for product, and putting out any number of daily fires, I could be making real progress on fixing those things. So now, on top of all of that I would be training a new Supervisor. I didnâ€™t know it at the time, but he was actually supposed to be my replacement. The guy they brought in was a good guy. He picked up on things as quick as could be expected. But, he was not immune from the daily yelling sessions, or from the grind. I would begin each day at 7 AM, and work at least 12 hours each day. He asked me the first week, about starting earlier, so we could get out earlier. I told him, that I had tried it, and that it didnâ€™t shorten the day. You just added more time to the front. Undaunted he started coming in at 6 AM. He soon discovered that after our 3:30 meeting each day, ole DS would give us enough mandates and meaningless tasks to have done by the 7:30 meeting that leaving before 7 PM just didnâ€™t happen. He confessed I was right and went back to 7 AM.
I took no joy in being right, but I had already been there and done that. I had been there and done that on a lot of things going on at the time. He soon came to the conclusion that there was nothing he could do that I wasnâ€™t already doing, or had the time to implement. He lasted about three months, and gave notice. DS did not replace him and actually began treating me with more respect. I never knew what finally convinced him I was part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
The holidays arrived. Christmas and Thanksgiving meant an extra day off during those weeks (not New Yearâ€™s however), but the machinations needed to set everything in place to get those days off, made it almost not worth. Schedules for many people, our customers, and vendors all had to be rearranged. Extra hours had to be worked; to get the work done that would have fallen on the holiday. But, in the end, by the time Christmas was over, I was happier man. Thank God, for Margo.