The 2019 PARCEL Forum conference just concluded, and once again, I was impressed by the quality and diversity of the distribution center tours offered. First up was Saddle Creek Corporation, a highly ranked 3PF/3PL. With all of the diverse clients who utilize this DC, attendees were able to see a lot of different automation, process flows, and technologies. One of the things that stood out in this facility was the cleanliness. To help associates maintain the cleanliness of the facility, Saddle Creek has implemented the Lean concept of shadow boards for mops, brooms, dust pans, trash cans, and other tools. The shadow boards help associates easily discern where the items are and where they need to be returned.

    Saddle Creek managers are also big proponents of communication with the associates. There were information boards stationed around functional areas to keep associates informed on information including key performance indicators (KPIs) and production rates. Corporate news and human resource happenings are also featured.

    Next up was a tour of Neiman Marcus. This iconic retailer has perfected their processes and shipments over the years. Neiman Marcus prides itself on customer service and taking care of its distinguished customers. Neiman Marcus strives to make the arrival of a package a pleasant experience, therefore presentation is emphasized. It was amazing to see how little time the packers needed to put together a first-class presentation.

    The team at Neiman Marcus was also constantly assessing their practices to see if something needed to be tweaked or changed. For example, the loss prevention team explained that the boxes once had the name of the retailer plastered on the box, but the company felt that increased the attractiveness for thieves. Therefore, the boxes are now plain corrugate. Additionally, the tape used to seal the boxes is the old paper and water tape, which has a two-fold benefit. Carpel tunnel claims decreased, and the paper tape cannot be resealed, which also prevents theft.

    The last stop was Game Stop. With their ever-popular games and now their collectables, security was naturally a concern for the management team. The loss prevention team wanted to implement metal detectors for security but desired to avoid the negative feedback others have experienced because of the wait time entering and exiting access doors. Management decided to require all the associates wear metal-free clothing, but they eased the transition by giving each associate a gift card for their new work clothes. Now, employees can enter and exit the metal detectors with ease, no longer feeling as if they are losing some of their personal time waiting to leave their shift.

    Another creative idea deployed by Game Stop was the balance of labor. Because their peak is in the fall and they are slower in spring and summer, managers partnered with HR to come up with a solution. They allowed associates to volunteer for fewer hours in the slow season (which allowed them more time for family and vacations) with the knowledge that they would make up for the lost time in Q4. Associates yearly W2 income was the same (or even slightly higher, given the overtime they earned in Q4), and the DC avoided having to let go seasoned, trained associates in slow times.

    Thank you to all the tour managers and their teams. It was fabulous to see such cooperation at each facility, and it’s always refreshing to see distribution at its finest. You won’t want to miss out on next year’s conference tours. Make sure you register for them when they are first announced because the tours sell out quickly. See you all in Nashville in 2020!

    Susan Rider is President, Rider & Associates. She can be reached at

    This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of PARCEL.