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“Brussel sprouts!” That’s what our Traffic Manager replied when Michael asked her why we missed a delivery of Barefoot wines. “Yes! The brussel sprouts all come in at the same time and they pay more for the trucks! They’ll be no more trucks available for over a week!”
Got To Be There
When we started Barefoot Wines, like many startups in the CPG world, we did not fully grasp the gravity of the distribution management challenges. And as we like to say, “Ya can’t get it if it ain’t there!” Well, for the first few years, Barefoot Wine wasn’t there in lots of markets where it was previously introduced, and where sales had been good and even growing!
Foul Ups, Snafus, and Girlfriends
Why wasn’t it there? Because we simply couldn’t get it there or get it there on time. Why? Because of paperwork, inventory, trucking, communication and warehousing glitches, snafus, and just plain weirdness.
Once, we had a trucker driving a full 18-wheeler load of our wine that needed to be temperature controlled from our wine country warehouse in California to Miami. But he picked up on a Friday and spent the night at his girlfriend’s house in Albuquerque where it was over 100 degrees. Fried it!
Once, we had a trucker drive all the way from Minneapolis to California to pick up Barefoot Wine but he forgot to make an appointment at the warehouse. When he arrived unannounced, he expected they would be ready with a loading bay full of Barefoot wines, forklifts, and all the paperwork for his load. They weren’t. He showed up too late in the day and they were busy with truckers who HAD made appointments. So he was turned away and drove all the way back to Minneapolis! Empty! That’s called “dead-heading” in the business. It left our sales dead in the water…
Once, we had a distributer in New York who waited until they ran out to reorder. This resulted in them being out of Barefoot for the entire two weeks it took to write and shuffle the paperwork, hire a trucker, make the trip to California, pick up the goods, and get back to New York. Meanwhile, we lost our precious shelf space at the store level and got a reputation in that market as “hard-to-get.”
Make Mistakes Write!
You’ll notice that all these fiascos didn’t happen more than “once!” That’s because we followed the philosophy to “Make Mistakes Write!” and that’s no misprint, w-r-i-t-e! We wrote the mistakes down, how they happened, and what was needed to make them less likely to reoccur. We’re talking job descriptions, policies, procedures, checklists, signoffs, tags, signs, and clauses in contracts. That’s a lot of writing!
Wake Up Call
In the cases listed above, we needed more than just writing. We need some entirely new positions we would have never dreamed necessary when we got into the wine business:
Customer Inventory Manager
His job was to know, at the current rate of sales, how long a particular distributer’s warehouse, at their current inventory, would last before they had to reorder …or run out! Sounds simple, but it’s complicated. It’s not just the reorder date, it’s the date of replenishment on the retailer’s shelf before they too run out! It also has to do with weather, availabilities, and our own inventory.
Yep! It became a full-time job talking to warehouse managers at distributorships in 50 states. Oh, and all without being stopped by the brussel sprout harvest!
Her job was to track, and even supply when necessary, copies of the paperwork in addition to vigilant oversight all along the process:
- from the purchase order our Customer Inventory Manager wrestled out of the distributer’s warehouse manager, to the distributer’s controller,
- from the distributer’s controller to the trucking company,
- from the trucking company to the trucking company’s dispatcher,
- from the trucking company’s dispatcher to the trucking company’s driver, and
- from the trucking company’s driver to our warehouse manager, and
- make sure there was a pickup scheduled.
- Oh, and confirm the way back to the distributor was devoid of girlfriends in hot places!
Now multiply that times 50 states and 80 distributors and virtually all the interstate trucking companies. Whew! Yep! Another full-time job we hadn’t planned on.
The Distributor’s Warehouse Has It!
Our products finally arrived at their destination! YIPPEE! But how does it get onto the shelves so customers can find it? We had to have our own sales reps in every market where Barefoot Wines were sold to assure that it was on the shelf and visible. They checked up on inventory at the distributorships, the retail warehouses, the retailers’ back rooms, and the shelves. We called our sales reps “Wine Cops” and they reported directly to our Customer Inventory Manager.
So what happened to the other wine producers who didn’t have employees with these job descriptions? They ran out and lost shelf space to their competition, including us! The real secret to our success was that we didn’t just deliver quality and price, we delivered dependable supply!
Life and Death
Now what happens when the Federal Government tries to get a shot in your arm? It has to come from afar, with paperwork, truckers, warehouses, scheduled pick-ups, scheduled receptions, communications, inventory management, and temperature control, right? What happens if some folks are not as diligent or vigilant as we became? You don’t get the vaccination in a timely manner! Period!
The last few weeks we have been writing about the vaccine’s distribution management, since now everybody’s life depends on it. And everybody has the same question, “When, where, and how do I get my vaccine?”
From our perspective as distribution managers trying to deliver a temperature-controlled product across the country and beyond, the last administration blew it and blew it bad! The distribution jungle that we just briefly described didn’t go away. It’s still there! It still requires traffic and inventory management – at every step of the way. The distribution jungle is still there, standing in the way of your shot!
A New Day!
We have confidence that the new administration will be more competent, timely, flexible, and creative in their solutions to this, the greatest distribution challenge of all time: Getting the vaccine from the lab into your arm!
We hope this helps demystify what’s required. We wish you all good luck in securing your vaccines swiftly, safely, and effectively.