Our approach to Supply Chain Management and Distribution design is different from many supply chain / material-handling consultants. As a team of practitioners in supply chain, logistics, distribution and material handling, we take a holistic approach to design with a strong focus on defined outcomes.
“We Are Practitioners” carries specific meaning and power. As facility managers, general managers and executive officers, we operated major distribution centers. We operated domestic and global Supply Chain and Logistics Networks as operations managers and executive managers. We designed global logistics networks based on the needs and abilities of the different links of the supply chain. Our experience in the different facets of supply chain management, with actual operations background in a wide variety of distribution operations, delivers greater value to our clients.
We focus on defined and desired outcomes by working closely with the client to understand the current needs, goals and desires – in some cases the client’s dreams. Our team considers the design of a facility as part of a network that works with other components, looking at the internal design of the facility with a focus on developing better integration with the external components of the client’s total network. Working as a collaborative team with our clients, we design clean, robust, flexible, and durable operations; designs that deliver optimum internal and external productivity.
As practitioners, we believe that your supply chain network and distribution center design should be practical, innovative and flexible to the changing needs of the customers you serve.
Practical: Your Supply Chain should be easy to manage and deliver maximum value. While it may be complex, it should not be complicated. It should be easy to understand, follow, and manage. Your distribution center should be easy to operate and maintain; the systems durable and dependable. The DC layout, equipment and building should make intuitive sense to the people working in the DC. All of the parts should work together as a whole, creating a productive operation. Hire us and you will have a practical Supply Chain and practical Distribution Centers.
Innovative: Your Supply Chain and Distribution operations should include the state of the art of productive and accurate systems and processes. We design for what is state of the art today and incorporate features and functions that allow for easy implementation of systems and equipment improvements that are in the known future. All of these innovations should lower the cost of operations and assure the ability of the Supply Chain and facility to fulfill the mission reliably. The Supply Chains we design will be innovative, now, and in the future.
Flexible: Your Supply Chain Operations should be flexible to absorb the changing needs of your customers, able to support a wide variety of merchandise and the changes of supply chain management. Wide swings in inventory levels, product profiles, delivery territories, all can create trouble for the Supply Chain that is not flexible in design. Hire us and you will have a flexible Supply Chain built on flexible distribution center designs.
A consultant can work with the client in three different forms of relationship: in an expert role, a pair – of – hands role, or a collaborative role. The choice depends on the individual differences in management style, the nature of the task, the consultant’s preference, and the client’s preference.
In this scenario, the client elects to play an inactive role, holding the consultant responsible for results. The consultant makes the decisions on how to proceed based on his or her expert judgment. The consultant gathers information needed to analyze the problem. Technical control rests with the consultant. Collaboration is not required, and frankly does not happen. Two-way communication is limited. The consultant plans and implements the main events. The manager's role is to judge and evaluate after the fact. The consultant’s goal is to solve the immediate problem.
There are two major problems with this approach.
First is the assumption that the problem is purely technical in nature. This assumption is invalid. Business is a human endeavor, so all business problems contain human elements. If a prevailing organizational climate of fear, insecurity, or mistrust exists, people can and will withhold or distort essential information. Without valid data, an accurate assessment becomes impossible. Second is the assumption of the commitment by people to take the recommended actions. Studies performed by outside experts never carry the kind of personal ownership and commitment required to deal with difficult management issues.
In this scenario, the consultant takes a passive role. Management makes the decisions on how to proceed. The manager selects or controls the methods of data collection and analysis. Control rests with the manager. Collaboration is not necessary because the manager feels that it is his or her responsibility to specify the goals and procedures. Two-way communication is limited. The manager specifies change procedures for the consultant to implement. The manager's role is to judge and evaluate from a close distance. The consultant's goal is to make the system more effective by the application of specialized knowledge.
The major problem in this approach appears in the discovery phase. The consultant is dependent on the manager's ability to understand what is happening and develop an effective action plan. If the manager's assessment is faulty, the action plan fails, and the consultant who provided the service becomes the scapegoat.
In a collaborative role, consultants don't solve problems for the client. They apply their special skills to help managers solve problems. This is a significant distinction. In the collaborative role the client must be actively involved in the data gathering and analysis, in setting goals and developing action plans, finally sharing in the responsibility for the success or failure.
In a collaborative relationship, the consultant and manager work to become interdependent. They share responsibility for action planning, implementation and results. Decision-making is bilateral. Data collection and analysis are joint efforts. Control issues become matters for discussion and negotiation. Collaboration is essential. There is constant two-way communication. Discussion and agreement determines implementation responsibilities. The consultant's goal is to help the client solve problems so the manager can be assured they remain solved.
There are problems that occur in the collaborative relationship. Managers who prefer to work with consultants in an expert role may interpret attempts at collaboration as indifference or foot dragging. Managers with a preference to work with consultants in a pair-of–hands role may interpret collaboration as insubordination.
In our experience, the most successful projects blended a hybrid of all three roles. Still, these highly successful projects were predominantly collaborative in nature.
These are the key areas of collaboration:
While we prefer to work in a collaborative practice with our clients, there are times that our clients only need an expert, or a pair-of-hands. We are happy to serve our clients in the role they are comfortable with, but prefer to work in a collaborative relationship.
By David Schneider
I started this practice in January 2008, but the seeds of the practice began earlier. I started to get calls from other logistics and supply chain practitioners while still working as Director of Logistics at Pep Boys Auto. With 25 years of developing, managing, and leading strategic logistics projects generating over $250 Billion in total impact, I recognized my deep experience and knowledge carried value sorely needed by other companies. In 2006 I accepted a call for help that became the first of several small and informal advisory consulting engagements. By the end of 2007 I accepted five small assessment engagements, each focused on facility or operations that improved the productivity and profitability of their operations.
By the fall of 2007, I realized that I accomplished what I wanted to do at Pep Boys. I considered moving to other corporations, but all involved relocation that would end my wife’s career. As I had worked as a consulting engineer before, I looked to that option as a solution to supporting my wife’s career and to expanding my service to other practitioners. In January 2008, I walked away from the perfectly good paycheck and officially opened the doors to David K Schneider & Company.
By the close of October 2008, the company created sufficient cash flow to cover not only general expenses but to repay my initial cash investment into the company. By the end of that same year, the company was not only profitable; it created a 30% cash gain on the original investment.
The trend continued in the incredibly tough business environment of 2009 as total revenues doubled over 2008 despite the company relocation from Pennsylvania to Virginia. In 2010, I reinvested every dollar of pretax profit back into the company. In The Great Recession of 2010 many companies downsized their staff’s, tossing talent into the unemployment lines. Recruiting known talent as 1099 contractors, I focused on putting this talent to work in focused engagements that helped people keep their homes and fed their families, helping some to find permanent employment with the clients they served, others to launch their own consulting practices.
From 2008 through 2014, we took on no debt, as there was none offered in the market. Many clients in need could barely afford our services, so we focused our engagements to identify and unlock operating cash flow improvements that funded our work and the changes the clients needed. We leveraged my connections to help clients, and to help the contract associates that we worked with along the way. From 2010 through the end of 2012 I did what many startup founders did, I did not take salary to make sure we carried sufficient cash to keep our talent working and to market the company. We reinvested into building our tools, marketed our services, built an independent content driven web site that spoke to the men and women driving the supply chain.
Our efforts bore fruit, as more companies turned to us to help them avoid or get out of problems. We did more than just look and prescribe; we got to work side by side with our clients to solve their biggest challenges. In one engagement, the client asked us to put together an “A-Team” to come into a new distribution center that was failing in startup. Hope had left the building, and the failure jeopardized a $1B annual revenue division of a public company. Our team of four landed on site, took charge as operations managers, eliminated and changed processes, trained personnel, supervisors and managers, and in seven weeks turned the facility around. We shattered company daily shipping records 6 times, each time shipping in a single day more value than the entire company had ever shipped. With that engagement, we gained a quiet reputation of being able to fix where other failed, and have served other companies in their moments of need.
For many clients the situation is not so dire, and we engage in a collaborative way to focus on far more than strategy. Strategy is easy, tactical planning is where leaders get lost in the weeds, and horrible execution destroys beautiful and glorious plans. This is where we step away from most consultants, where others can’t execute, we do. Our approach is to coach and lead, sometimes in a pair of hands role, often as a collaborator and coach, the client’s own managers and associates in the change and the ongoing improvement. Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job.
We continue to contribute to what I call the industry, and that contribution returns value to our practice. In 2011 we launched We Are The Practitioners, a web site that, starting as a blog, is the home of over 1,200 articles about different aspects of supply chain management. Between startup and 2015, the site proved to be more popular than most traditional advertising support sites, as we added long-form content on subjects that the trade press ignored, but practitioners wanted to know. We Are The Practitioners continues to grow and transition beyond the blogs as we build more written, video and audio content.
The web site is the beginning steps behind a broader mission to focus on developing knowledge and wisdom in the Supply Chain and Logistics community. You can train people how to do a task. Beyond training, experience and community builds knowledge of multiple ways to solve a problem. Knowing what solution is best for a specific application is Wisdom. The internet provides mountains of data, attempting to become information by answering the basic questions people ask. However, knowledge is far less plentiful on the internet, and wisdom is sadly lacking. While others create data and information, we coach and teach, focused on creating knowledge and building wisdom.
We invested deeply in a new facility supporting our mission in Q3 2016. The Hornbaker Works is beyond the offices where we do our consulting work; the new facility is a serious investment creating more value for our SMB clients. Hornbaker Works is home to our audio/video production studio and teaching facility. This teaching facility is unlike any other privately held operation, where we use our operating mini-fulfillment center and warehouse management system as a working lab for teaching the physical art of warehouse management. Using a small class size we demonstrate ways to use existing tools that every company already has, we demonstrate and train through practice how even the smallest of operations can operate systems and processes that just 5 years ago could only belong to billion dollar enterprises. Instructional materials from the Practitioners website support classroom and lab instruction. We are in the middle of the journey of integrating our tactical efforts to support our overall strategy, working to the goal of our first general classes in Q2 of 2017.
The Hornbaker Works is home to our skunkworks, where we develop practical small-scale automation for clients. Using the latest Autodesk software (Fusion 360), CNC machining, 3D printing and inexpensive open source electronic controls, we create Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions that blend the latest small-scale technology into solutions for SMB clients.
The Hornbaker Works demonstrates that we eat what we cook, in total integrity we walk our talk, following the same rules and using the same tools that we advise our clients to follow. The Works allows us to demonstrate how automation and good management does not require large investment, that through intelligent design, discipline and practice, an enterprise of any size can follow the state of the art and be a leader in their industry.
In the same way that drops of rain gather to form rivers and lakes, our small efforts create more cash with each improvement to form pools of cash, allowing clients to survive and thrive. There is no logistics problem we haven’t seen and overcome to generate massive cash.