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From the Outside Looking In

From the Outside Looking In

It’s been nearly two years since Chris Osborne made the switch to the electrical distribution field after spending eight years in the medical distribution sector, overseeing the routing and distribution schedules for home oxygen deliveries. Ready for a new challenge, this tED 30 Under 35 winner joined Mayfield Village, Ohio-based Mars Electric as logistics manager in March of 2016.

It didn’t take long for Osborne to recognize some of the areas where the distributor could improve its current logistics processes and bring them into the 21st Century. Largely paper-based, the process Mars used was cumbersome, costly, and required too many human resources. “They’d been doing things that way for a really long time,” says Osborne, who brought his own “game plan” to the table, knowing that changing both processes and employee mindsets would probably take some time.

Up to the challenge, Osborne focused first on getting customer orders out the door and to their destinations earlier in the morning. He also wanted to cut down on employee overtime and make the company’s logistics operations more efficient overall. To achieve those goals, Osborne went on delivery runs with all of Mars’ drivers. “I wanted to get to know them, their routes, and their daily challenges,” says Osborne.

In order to fully streamline its logistics, Mars would also have to give up its paper-based routing and scheduling system, equip its drivers with iPads, and utilize a combination the Innovo Signature Touch mobile proof of delivery platform and connectivity via Verizon Wireless. The former lets companies capture signatures anywhere — at the counter, will call, and delivery routes—and helps improve productivity and customer service by eliminating the need to scan and store paper copies.

“We pretty much went paperless,” says Osborne. “We make the delivery, the customer signs for it, and we give them an electronic delivery ticket. Everything is done electronically.” With all of the necessary logistics data in a centralized repository, Osborne combines data analytics with Excel spreadsheets to track progress throughout the day, week, or month—and then make tweaks and improvements as needed. “I use Excel a lot for spreadsheets and graphs that show how we’re doing, what we can be doing better,” he says, “and how we can save money.”

Streamlining the Logistics Process
Across Mars’ 12 branches, Osborne and his team run stock in the morning, handle deliveries throughout the day, and manage branch-to-branch pickups and deliveries. At its five busiest branches, stock is run on the same day. Drivers also come in earlier, with most punching in by 5:30AM daily. Customer deliveries are completed by 1PM or 2PM (at the latest). To accommodate its growing business, the distributor recently purchased two new service trucks that are both CDL certified and “able to carry more weight,” says Osborne, who notes that the company previously used a smaller, 14-foot truck for deliveries.

“We also have a little hotshot van for times when we need to run something out to a customer fast, or in an emergency,” says Osborne. “If we have any deliveries that need to go out later in the morning or during the day, we throw them on the van to save trips.”

Other changes include the addition of onsite diesel fueling, which means drivers no longer have to waste time at area gas stations. “The provider comes in three nights a week—in the middle of the night—to fill our trucks,” says Osborne. “That saves us both time and cost, since drivers don’t really pay attention to how much gas costs at specific stations. We’ve removed that variable by paying a flat rate for fuel across the board.”

In fact, Osborne estimates that one move will save Mars anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 in fuel costs for 2017. “We haven’t run the numbers yet,” he explains, “but the savings is going to be pretty significant.”

Staged and Ready
Since Osborne joined Mars in 2016, the company has moved into a larger, 180,000sf warehouse (previously it was 40,000sf) and expanded to using eight loading docks (versus a previous two). Each regular route truck has its own dock door where deliveries are staged the night before—usually around 9PM. “Everything is staged and ready to go out first thing in the morning,” says Osborne.

Mars, which posted a record-breaking sales year in 2017, has been in growth mode for the last five years and on track to continue that trend in 2018. “We had three months of sales growth this year, with each month beating the last in terms of sales,” says Osborne, who adds that Mars recently expanded its wire room to include a broad range of product options and colors. “We have one of the best wire rooms in Ohio now.”

As the distributor moves into the new year, Osborne plans to put more focus on driver safety, and that it could soon begin using truck-mounted cameras and other tools to help ensure safety across its logistics network. “We’ve started cracking down on pre- and post-trip safety,” he says, “and we’ll be doing even more of that during the coming year,” says Osborne.

To other NAED members looking to streamline and drive costs out of their own logistics operations, Osborne says good communication is key, and particularly when the cultural shift impacts long-time workers. Many of Mars’ drivers, for example, have been in place for 15-20 years and, as such, aren’t accustomed to using technology or dealing with deep oversight of their activities as they drive around making deliveries.

“Early on there were a couple of drivers who weren’t too happy with the changes, especially after being in their current positions for 20 years,” Osborne admits. “We had others who were unhappy with the scheduling shifts we made to decrease overtime, like giving drivers an even 50 hours per week (versus 60 hours for one driver and 25 for another),” he says. “That helped make things more efficient and saved us some money on overtime.”

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Bridget McCrea  is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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