Back in 2005, the Tyler Texas Area Builders Association built a large home from the ground up in less than 3 hours. At the time, it set a record. Here's the video.
It was a promotional effort to publicize the Association, but the overarching message was the importance of planning. While the build itself took just 2:52 hours, it was the product of months of meetings – among engineers, architects, builders, landscapers, tradesman, and project planners – to spec out every last aspect of the project.
When hundreds of people showed up at the build site and the whistle blew to start, there were no questions or discussions. People just executed their part of the plan at the exact time designated.
Kane Logistics brings that highly coordinated mindset into each project with our customers. Two major start-up projects were recently completed.
- A 104,000 square-foot, dedicated distribution center in Salt Lake City, UT for distribution of the popular GoGo squeeZ line of fruit snacks
- A 350,000 square-foot dynamic, product packaging operation outside Columbus, OH for a major pet food manufacturer
Both start-ups went off without a hitch but, like the two-hour house, it wasn’t so much a triumph of execution, but of planning.
The start-up of a new distribution center is a milestone event fraught with risk. It’s one of those moments when all eyes in your business – from the boardroom on down – are focused on you and the rest of the corporate logistics team. To make sure you and your team shine during this critical time, here are 4 keys to success to consider.
1. Start with a detailed project plan. This one’s a no-brainer, clearly, but not all project plans are created equal. There are good and bad plans, and good and bad plan management. For a recent start-up, KANE had a 500+ line project plan developed a full 4 months before go-live and administered by a dedicated project manager. The plan was scrutinized closely with our manufacturing client before it was finalized. Daily updates and weekly reviews of the plan followed to ensure that there were no surprises that could undermine the start date. Important note: you need a strong project manager who’s not afraid to call people out and hold people accountable. Finally, plans must consider what happens if things don’t go as planned – because, invariably, they won’t. Planning for the desired outcome MUST include planning for the worst. A tenet of the KANE Code is to Sweat the details. A detailed, well-managed project plan is the epitome of that credo.
2. Collaborate as part of a “single team” approach. When it comes to distribution center start-up projects, 3PLs can’t successfully do it for you, they must do it with you. That means cross-company and cross-functional cooperation. Debra Lin, VP of Supply Chain for KANE client, Materne North America, noted that close collaboration between the Materne and KANE teams helped to make a new facility opening one of the quietest logistics start-ups she has ever experienced. See the video.
“Having a new distribution center can lead to a lot of disruptions,” says Lin. “The fact that none of my cross-functional partners within Materne noted any disruptions to product distribution during the start-up is tremendous. That’s largely due to KANE’s expertise and dedication to doing what’s right, not doing what’s easy.”
3. Communicate early and often during and after the start-up phase. You actually need a plan to manage the plan. Agree up front on what the formal communication structure will look like. What is the specific cadence of meetings, status reports, monthly updates, etc.? Who will be involved in these communications? Regular communication must happen beyond go-live to ensure resolution of any open issues. Good communication also underpins another tenet of the KANE Code: Avoid surprises. During the planning stage of a warehouse start-up, you want to know about any problems as fast as possible. Both 3PL and client must feel free to speak candidly about issues or potential roadblocks. Some conversations might be tough, but absolute candor is essential.
4. Take care of the people. No amount of planning and communication will ensure start-up success unless you have people committed to doing the work in the right way. When managing new associates, that level of commitment must be earned. As we’ve stated in a previous post – “associates don’t care that you know, until they know that you care.”
Showing them you care will mean different things in different situations. For one recent KANE start-up, we increased the base pay rate for hourly associates on day one. That helped recruiting and retention efforts, but also sent an immediate message that our number one priority was taking care of the people who do the work. For new associates, it’s important to introduce them to the culture of their new employer. For KANE, this means discussing with each new associate the details contained in the KANE Code booklet, which outlines our philosophy on customer service and our frank expectations on how KANE people should act. We also provide associates with a collection of KANE-branded shirts, hats and other gear – things they value and appreciate.
In terms of the relationship between 3PL and client, it’s hard to overcome a mismanaged start-up. The person responsible for the project on the manufacturer side may feel let down and may suffer damage to his or her reputation within the company if start-up problems impact sales or retailer relationships.
So, when vetting 3PLs, make 100% sure that your potential partner has the people, processes, systems, and experience to manage large-scale logistics implementations. If they don’t, move very quickly in another direction.