Practical Ecommerce

Back on the Front Line

As a business owner, there are many times when you have to do it all: hire, fire, answer phones, solve UPS problems, pick & pack orders…you name it! Some of the most challenging parts of my job is not the business aspect of running the company but instead the people aspect of it.

At eHobbies we have distinct roles and responsibilities for all of our staff. However, in order to be successful, you have to be well versed on how to perform different aspects of other people’s jobs as well. For example, we have support staff dedicated to sales and customer service however it is not unusual for one of our managers to assist with support in times of need. If you hear a phone ringing, you pick it up even if it’s not your primary responsibility to answer phones. During the craziness of the holidays, it’s all hands on deck as we all move to the warehouse to pick and pack orders.

When one of my key operations managers recently left our company for a job in his chosen profession, I looked at our internal resources to determine who might be able to fill the position internally. I went through an internal checklist of the experience needed for this position: product knowledge, warehouse management, inventory management, customer service, operations & logistics, vendor negotiation and human resource management…whew! Not only are our internal resources stretched at the moment but after reviewing the list I knew that I was also best suited bridge the gap for now because I have done all of those jobs over the course of building our company. So I jumped into the fire of our warehouse and learned a few things while doing it:

  • our warehouse layout could be much improved. One of our fastest selling categories, model rockets, was located too far away from our main pick/pack area and it was in multiple locations because it was easier to put away when new merchandise arrived. We have since relocated and consolidated all of our rocket kits and increased our order pick efficiency by 20%.

  • the flow of our packages was being slowed down because of the order in which shipments were checked for accuracy, packed and then labeled for shipment. By changing location of printers and scales, our shippers can now process faster.

  • another one of of popular categories, model kits, were in shelf locations that were too high. Since this is a fast moving category, much of our pickers time was spent moving ladders and stools to get to the high locations. Moving slower selling products to the high locations and plastic models to lower shelves created more efficiency.

  • we were not claiming replacement shipping costs on shipper claims. Whenever there was a claim for damaged products, we would expedite the replacement order whenever the customer requested it. In many cases, this ends up being an air shipment to satisfy an anxious customer. If the lost or damaged shipment is caused by the carrier then they will also cover the replacement transportation cost, including next day air shipments.

  • shipper claims were being faxed over. Not only is this time consuming, there is always a question in my mind if the fax is ever being picked up and read on the other end. We will soon be submitting all claims electronically.

None of these improvements are particularly earth shattering but as our business grew, I was out of touch with some of the details that will improve our efficiency and ultimately increase our profits. It took a personnel shift and me jumping back onto the front line to make adjustments that will serve us well this holiday season.

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