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Blackman's year of living dangerously

by René Jones

Rene JonesMany organizations will be happy to see 2010 in their rear view mirror. For Blackman Plumbing Supplies in Bayport, N.Y., it was a speed bump they never even noticed they ran over.

2010 began different from most years for the company. In 2009, Blackman upgraded its Enterprise Resource Planning software, completed relocating its corporate warehouse from a 113,000 sq. ft. building to a 200,000 sq. ft. building. The new building's ceilings were not high enough, so part of the project was to literally raise the roof. To top it off, the company implemented an industry leading warehouse management system. This was all done while company-wide layoffs were instituted due to a soft economy.

While most organizations would sit back and let those accomplishments from the previous year soak in, Blackman was just beginning. In 2010, the company implemented an industry leading transportation management system, centralized its delivery trucks and completed the largest acquisition in the company's 89-year history. In the words of Dave Connelly, the director of purchasing at Blackman, "Without change there would be no progress."

When you look at what has been accomplished in just two years, you see the resolve Blackman employees have. For many organizations, accomplishing one of these tasks would be enough for several years but to complete all six in only two years is unheard of. However, to truly understand why the organization would go through so much so fast, you have to understand the goal of the company.

Blackman has always delivered exceptional service to its customers. The company takes pride in being the No. 1 wholesale plumbing distributor on Long Island. But to Bob Mannheimer, Blackman president, "Anything less than perfection is simply not acceptable."

When you dig deep into the gears with a microscope you see "a not so well oiled machine." Most people would frown on that statement, but at Blackman, it's not oiled well enough by their standards. By industry benchmarks they are the simply the best.

The warehouse generates less than a 5% error rate, compared to the industry standard of well above 10%. The Blackman order fill rate is above 97%, while the industry average ranges between 94% and 97%. When customers place an order by 5:00 p.m., Blackman all but guarantees delivery by 7:00 a.m. the next day. But that is simply not good enough for Blackman.

"The reason we spent the time and the money implementing the WMS system was not to be good, it was to be great," says Gene Spivak, director of operations.

Material is received and put away within 48 hours of being delivered by the vendor. Orders are now picked with radio frequency (RF) devices. The system's Command Center tracks movement of every employee and every order in real-time throughout the facility. Every delivery truck is monitored through a GPS system so customers knows exactly when their deliveries will arrive.

With all of the change that has taken place, there have been some issues. A few months into the implementation, Blackman engaged the services of Total Logistics Solutions Inc. of Burbank, Calif., to help through the transition.

"Perfection is only attainable when the right people, with the right tools, are doing the right things at the right time," says René Jones, principal consultant from TLS. "Blackman had the right people and the right tools, but their timing was off. By developing clearly defined processes and procedures, we are now ensuring the right things are taking place at the right time."

2011 will be another challenging year for Blackman Plumbing Supplies because no one knows what the economy has in store. However, there is much on the plate in 2011 for Blackman.

"Just because the year changed does not mean it is time to stop progressing forward," says Stephen Davanzo, distribution center manager. "One more year means a new set of challenges that must be overcome."

René Jones is founder of Total Logistics Solutions Inc. (www.logisticsociety.com), a warehouse efficiency company. He has been published, referenced and quoted in industry magazines throughout the United States, Central America, Canada, Australia and Europe. He is the author of several books including the critically acclaimed, "This Place Sucks (What your warehouse employees think about your company and how to change their perceptions!)" and "WMS 101 (Selecting, Implementing and Maintaining a WMS system)." Jones has more than 18 years of experience in consulting, training, warehousing and logistics. He uses his industry knowledge to assist small and large multinational organizations alike, making them more efficient and more profitable.

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