Unboxing Logistics: An EasyPost Podcast

Automate to Dominate: Essential Steps To Level Up Your Warehouse Operations With Kevin Gaul From RF-SMART - Ep. 31

June 5, 2024 | 44:04

In This Episode

Every company approaches automation differently. Some fill their distribution centers with high-tech goods-to-person systems, autonomous vehicles, and robots that imitate human abilities, while others don’t even use simple barcode scanners. 

If you haven’t dabbled much with automation yet, no worries; you can improve your processes gradually to create a delivery experience that outshines the competition. Kevin Gaul, product manager at RF-SMART, explains how to get started. 

The ideal warehouse

What does the ideal warehouse look like? According to Kevin, the answer is different for every organization. 

He says, “There is no ideal warehouse. The same solution that works really well for commoditized CPG is not the same solution that's going to work well for very fragile, one-off, niche items, which is not the same solution that's going to work for the healthcare vertical.”

Where to start with automation

Kevin recommends automating your shipping first and foremost. He gives two reasons:

  • Cost savings. “Shipping costs are going to eat almost all of your other costs bar none. So you're going to get a much bigger return on your time and technology investment [with shipping automation].”
  • Delivery experience. “Shipping … is your last opportunity to touch your customer before you let that package out into the universe … and put it in the hands of whoever your elected carrier is.”

Spending time on the warehouse floor

Leaders, take note: to truly understand how your facilities operate and what automation tools you need, you should spend time observing how things work in the warehouse.

Kevin points out, “All too often … shipping automation projects … are done from offices, from conference rooms, from on high. And yes, that's one of the cardinal sins of product management, but it's certainly one of the cardinal sins of warehouse management too. So the moral of the story here is get out, spend time on the floor.”



Lori Boyer 00:00 

Welcome back everyone to Unboxing Logistics. I'm Lori Boyer, and I am your host and I am super excited today to have a really interesting guest with me. Kevin Gaul from RF-SMART is going to be talking to us about warehouses and automation and all the cool and not so cool things that happen in warehouses.

And today I am really, really excited for us to learn all about how we can make our warehouses be just a little bit better. So Kevin, introduce yourself. Welcome. 

Kevin Gaul 00:34 

Yeah. Thanks Lori. Glad to be here. I am Kevin Gaul and I'm responsible for our product strategy and management of our shipping solutions here at RF-SMART.

Lori Boyer 00:41

Yeah. Tell me about RF-SMART. 

Kevin Gaul 00:43 

Yeah, Lori. So RF-SMART is an over 40-year-old privately held debt-free company. We've been in the space a long time solving supply chain challenges for customers in the ERP space. So we've got thousands of customers worldwide. And again, traditionally, we focused on warehouse management, automation printing and things like that.

More recently, we've gotten into the shipping space, and that has been my entire lifeblood since we've been here. And I'm super excited to say that we've got hundreds of delighted customers, and we are, we're excited. We're here to stay. 

Lori Boyer 01:11 

Welcome to the shipping industry. I love it. So glad to have you guys on this side. Before we even get started, one of the things that's really important to us. We're gonna do a couple of things here. First, it's really, really critical for our audience that they come away from this podcast episode knowing exactly one or two things that they can or should implement. Or if there was only one or two like hot takes that you wanted them to come away with remembering what are those?

So first, I'm going to ask you what those hot takes are. And then I'm going to ask you a couple questions just to get to know you a little bit better. 

Kevin Gaul 01:48 

Sure. So hot take number one for me, Lori, is evacuate your ivory tower and send in the demolition crew. 

Lori Boyer 01:55 

Okay. Wow. 

Kevin Gaul 01:57 

All too often I see the approach to shipping automation projects or many other things in the warehouse are done from offices, from conference rooms, from upon high.

And yes, that's one of the cardinal sins of product management, but it's certainly one of the cardinal sins of warehouse management too. So the moral of the story here is get out, spend time on the floor.  And this can be really approachable for anybody, no matter what your role is. Now, these times should scale accordingly, but make yourself a simple goal.

Spend 60 minutes a day on the warehouse floor, interact with three to five people a day, and ask them what they're doing and how things are going. Pro tip. I used to love to do walking one-on-ones with my teammates. So we do, every one of our, you know, maybe one out of four one-on-ones, we'd go out there and we'd walk the warehouse floor together. And so that gave us some shared time out there with the people who are, who are doing the work. 

Lori Boyer 02:42 

Okay. I love that so much. And I want to say as well, just to build on that, even if you don't have a warehouse yourself, it's so cool to meet up with, you know, your shippers and ask for people that, you know, let's say you're using a 3PL or something. Get out there, see what it's like, understand what warehouses are like.

I have gone on multiple warehouse tours myself, even though I'm not down on the floor or working in warehouses day to day. And every time I learned something, it blows my mind. I remember and be like, whoa, this is why it's so difficult. So, yeah. Love that. Okay, hot take number two. 

Kevin Gaul 03:19 

Hot take number two is to promote your delivery experience to being a first-class citizen. For years and years, I think we've all lived through a world where your delivery experience and those links to your supply chain were just a cost to manage. And those days are dead and gone., I see this again. All too often companies ignore this. So work backwards, begin with your end in mind. You know, wiser man than me once said that.

And so think about the experience that you want your customers to have and then implement your carrier network, implement your software, implement your automation, your process, your people, your delivery network for that matter around what you want that end experience to be. So, I read a study recently in a scholarly journal and it quoted something like 30 percent of an ecommerce customer's desire to repurchase from your brand is purely dictated by your on-time delivery.

 Another study I read recently was something like 37 and 39 percent respectively of Gen Z and millennials will actually make a purchasing decision based on the environmental impacts of the delivery experience they have with your brand. So again it's not simply a cost-cutting measure anymore. So, you know, take it seriously and design things accordingly.

Lori Boyer 04:25 

I love that idea of working from what you imagine is your dream delivery experience and then going back and figuring out what tools you need. Just before we were even on air here, we were chatting about tech stacks and what you need and what you don't need. And I think that that's so critical in thinking through your warehouse. And what you do need and maybe where you don't need something. So starting with the end in mind, I love that. Okay. Hot take number three, Kevin. 

Kevin Gaul 04:53 

Yeah, Lori. So humans have amazingly short memories, right? Myself included. So remember the lessons that you've learned during COVID. Now I'm not going to say that we're going to have another global pandemic during our lifetime.

I certainly hope not, but you know, remember the pain that you experienced when your elected carrier decided to hike your rates or when they decided to not pick up your volume and all this was done under the guise of capacity constraints or revenue initiatives, which is my personal favorite moniker. Now I'm not a spend consultant, so I'm not going to tell you that the answer to all your problems or the number of carriers you should have is more, but I will say that you should design your carrier network in a way that does keep your delivery promise in mind in a way that makes sense for you.

And the number is, the right number is seldom ever one. So if you are comfortable with that, then great. Use the data at your fingertips and go out and negotiate some contracts. If that's not your forte, that's fine too. There is an entire ecosystem of these consultants out there that have been doing the same thing for a long time. And they're very, very good at it. 

Lori Boyer 05:52 

Yeah, absolutely. Just diversify. I mean, that's great for risk management, but also, exactly what you said, you know, we got to learn from our mistakes and from situations that occur and not forget, you know, what did happen and, and how we can be, run into trouble when we have all our eggs in one basket.

So great point. We're going to get back into that and we're going to dive into all about warehouses, automation, what the past was like, what's going on now, what we see in the future, what you guys out there should be taking advantage of, what maybe you don't need to. But first, I just want to get to know you a little bit better. So I always like to ask people a couple of questions. So my first question for you is simply this. What is your go to comfort food? 

Kevin Gaul 06:43 

Oh, pizza. 

Lori Boyer 06:44 


Kevin Gaul 06:45 

Yeah. Every day of the week, twice on Sunday, if I can. No, I don't, I don't get, I don't get away with that, but yeah, it's pizza. 

Lori Boyer 06:50 

Oh, I love pizza. Do you like to order out? Do you like to make your own? Are you one of those guys with the fancy pizza oven? 

Kevin Gaul 06:57 

So I haven't graduated the fancy pizza oven yet. So I, I also read recently that people reach a certain age of life where they identify themselves completely based on like, you know, the shade of their New Balance shoes, or maybe the grill they own, or maybe their pizza oven.

I fully intend to get there, but I haven't got there yet. So, I'm all in on any of the above. Certainly order out, go out to eat pizza. I do love making it at home, too. That's, that's a lot of fun. You know, being from the Northeast originally, I definitely have a, a soft spot in my heart for good pizza. 

Lori Boyer 07:24 

Are you like a deep dish or a thin crust? What, what, or, or all? 

Kevin Gaul 07:28 


Lori Boyer 07:29 

You're an equal-opportunity pizzaist.

Kevin Gaul 07:30 

I'm an equal-opportunity pizza enthusiast, except, except pineapple. Pineapple doesn't deserve an opportunity. 

Lori Boyer 07:35 

I love pineapple! Oh, Kevin. 

Kevin Gaul 07:37 

Thank you for having me. 

Lori Boyer 07:39 

And cut. No, I'm just kidding. Okay, question number two, and maybe this ties back into it, but if you, if time and money were no object, what hobby would you love to get into?

Kevin Gaul 07:52 

I'd make shipping software. 

Lori Boyer 07:54 

You would? I love that. So your job is your hobby. 

Kevin Gaul 07:57 

Yeah. No, in all seriousness, I would probably do something around coaching or teaching. I, I just really, I have a lot of passion around helping, you know, people do better with themselves. And I think education is something that, you know, we, we we can do better at in this country.

And I would, I'd love to be a part of that, whether it be through, you know, using sports as a vehicle to help young people grow or using educational education as that vehicle. I'd probably do one of those two things. Cause I'm pretty sure that if I took any of my other hobbies that seriously, my wife might divorce me.

Lori Boyer 08:26 

Yeah, we had, I had a guest once say that their dream job, if they won the lottery and everything would be to coach like seventh-grade basketball. So, hey. 

Kevin Gaul 08:36 

Having a seventh grader, I don't know that I could sign up for seventh grade specifically, but maybe. 

Lori Boyer 08:41 

I know I thought that person was a saint. They, they were ready to go. I've, I've been through seventh graders. So, okay. Awesome. Let's jump back into talking a little bit warehouse automation. Okay. I'm the super big history nerd and that would probably be my passion. I'd like just somehow visit every historical site and learn everything about them. But yeah, anciently, Egypt, Rome, they all had warehouse automation, which is so cool to me.

They had, in ancient Egypt, they had these granaries where they had systems that they used to automate their inventory, basically of the grain. And in Rome they had these really cool warehouses where they built the ground up higher so the, the, they'd get the right kind of ventilation in there and it would keep their stuff long better.

So. Obviously, warehouses, automation have been around for thousands of years. But it's only been in recent years that we've really kind of seen some huge strides in terms of mind blowing, as all of you know, if you've been at any of the conferences or shows, they've all like cool robotics everywhere. And so I would love to hear from you, maybe paint a picture of what kind of life looks like if you were the ghost of, of warehouse pasts, what, what was, what were warehouses like 10, 20 years ago? 

Kevin Gaul 10:02

That's a tough question, but I'll do my best because there was, there was still a lot of technology available even 10 years ago. 

Lori Boyer 10:07 


Kevin Gaul 10:08 

But, you know, if we look at some other things, since I know you're a huge history buff, so we were launching objects into space with rockets in the late fifties, right?

But here we are in 2024 and I don't know about you, Lori, I haven't, I haven't left the troposphere lately. So not all of that technology makes its way to the average, to the average person, the average warehouse. So I'll try to talk about what's probably more the norm for people 10 years ago, which is really rigid on-prem systems  you know, big efforts towards change management  you know, or they were forced to deal with software that kind of barely got them by.

 You would see a lot of carrier freeware out there in the multiverse of people that were doing things. And it was just kind of painful. So I have a story from my own past that was actually kind of painful. And this was again, you know, really a more, a more advanced kind of enterprise. But. 

Lori Boyer 10:57 

Yeah, and cause you worked in large enterprise type sizes, so large enterprise size, but still problematic. 

Kevin Gaul 11:02

Yeah. So some of these pains. So we actually got to a point where there was enough volume to justify what's called a zone skip, oddly enough to Utah. And so our shipping building itself was probably 200 plus thousand square feet lots of conveyor, many miles of conveyor in the whole building.

But interestingly enough, you know, making the software match up with the hardware, you had to build this whole new divert off of our conveyor. You had to implement all these crazy complicated routing tables that, you know, cross your fingers you don't make a mistake because it'll be an expensive one. And so you still had to implement all these changes in order to do something as simple as implement a zone skip.

And so that's, you know, that's, that's quite a bit different than what we have to double the tools we have available to us today. And so you know, one of the craziest things I saw. I don't know that I can answer the entirety of your question because of confidentiality reasons. And I've seen some pretty crazy things, but I mean, I've seen it all.

I've seen people make nests and pallet racks. I've seen, you know, wildlife make its way into buildings. I've seen people going live on cell phones from order pickers. I've seen, you know, people get creative with access to, you know, order management systems and things like that, you know, shipping products to themselves. So, you know, people are very creative. 

Lori Boyer 12:13 

Okay, so that kind of takes me back to your hot take number one, which is to get out of the ivory tower and get down onto the floor of your warehouse. I have a question about that. Like, how often do you recommend, so let's say you are up in the ivory tower, you're busy, blah, blah, blah. How often do you recommend people get down and are physically there on the floor in the warehouse? 

Kevin Gaul 12:36 

So in lean theory or ideology, there's something called leader standard work. And so I'm not saying you have to go full lean on your operation necessarily, but they have some of them have prescribed percentages.

And I don't know that you'd want to be that rigid, but someone like a first line supervisor, that person, that person should spend pretty much their entire day on the floor. I'm not saying they shouldn't have an office. 

Lori Boyer 12:55 

Looking for nests. 

Kevin Gaul 12:56 

Looking for nests. Yeah, right. And process deviations and opportunities, but even someone who's, you know, head of supply chain for a medium-sized organization, they should spend time if they can on the warehouse, you know, daily.

Lori Boyer 13:08 

If they can, that is always tricky. 

Kevin Gaul 13:10 

That is the tricky part. 

Lori Boyer 13:11 

That is tricky, but carving that out. So absolutely. You know, 10 years ago or so things were there, but they were just not quite as I guess, how would you describe it? How is it different from today? 10 20 years ago? What are the biggest advances you've seen?

Kevin Gaul 13:26 

Yeah. So rigidity is probably the biggest thing. So again, the big the big shift for us, especially in the software space is the difference between old software that had to live on servers on site and modern cloud-based software where you can do things like, you know, continuous implementation and continuous delivery.

Yeah. So in between the time that we've started talking and now, we could have deployed a change to a customer if we needed to. Those days didn't really exist, at least not for the majority of people in the past. Certainly not for the mid-market that was using software, you know, arguably made for free. Or even the larger enterprises using software where you basically had to get everyone to agree to go to DEFCON 1 before you could deploy a change.

So, you know, those things are very, very different, especially again, modern cloud software, you get to take advantage of all the latest releases that your software provider is investing in. And the word upgrade, thankfully is dead. I'm pleased to report, or at least should be. 

Lori Boyer 14:16 

So that also kind of reminds me of your hot take number two. So, I mean, from what I'm hearing you say, things have sped up a lot. Like the processes to go through things aren't so rigid. It's not so long. We can pivot and react really quickly. But on the flip side, I feel like our customers are kind of our expectations from our customers have followed suit.

 And so I, I guess that brings me back to your, your point number two about starting at the end and looking at that customer experience. I don't know, do you have any examples or stories or, or anything you want to share around  the customer experience and how you've experienced that evolution? 

Kevin Gaul 15:00 

Sure. Yeah. I mean, once upon a time again, if you wanted to implement a change to the way your customer would receive a package, you needed to have someone from IT go in and make all these crazy changes and hope they got it right. Today if you want to make a change to say, this one customer seems to be having trouble with their deliveries and you want to add some sort of business logic to say that they need to sign for their package, you're single digit minutes away from doing that. And you don't need an IT team to do it anymore. 

You know, your operations leaders, people closer to the ground level on the problem are more empowered to make those changes. 

Lori Boyer 15:31 

So what do you feel like, especially, I'm going to ask for now as well, but also in the past, what were kind of the biggest roadblocks and barriers to people wanting to implement automation or new, new technology? What was it that kind of kept them from, from taking those steps? 

Kevin Gaul 15:50 

Yeah, I'll talk about some of that. But I also feel like we need to marvel at some of that software for a minute. So I mean, I'm being serious. These systems were massive monoliths. And like I said, they needed on-prem software. They needed incredibly intelligent people to manage them.

The people developing the software needed to use fixed position with languages. You know, these were, you know, this is this was very difficult to manage. The most important thing was you had to get it right the first time. So again, there was no chance to give it a try and see how things go. It was all this big bang.

And so you had to do this, and you had to get it right the first time, and humans are nearly incapable of getting it right the first time. 

Lori Boyer 16:26 

Yes, we are. Yes, we are. 

Kevin Gaul 16:28 

You know, back to the space analogy, right? Look at our list of Apollo missions. 

Lori Boyer 16:31 


Kevin Gaul 16:32 

It takes time to get things right. And so thinking that you're going to get it right the first time is just. 

Lori Boyer 16:37 

Is madness.

Kevin Gaul 16:38 

It's madness. 

Lori Boyer 16:39 

It is. And I guess that's something then that you should build in is the expectation. As you're implementing new softwares or as you're  putting in new processes, new automation that there may be iterations or I mean, what do you recommend for people that they, how do they manage that?

Kevin Gaul 16:57 

Yeah. So I always like to say crawl, walk, run. That's, you know, I certainly didn't invent that, but one of the reasons why you do that is because all too often you'll find customers who are trying to automate a process that is poorly documented. Maybe not documented. Or worse, a process that doesn't exist.

And so in order to discover that. Sometimes you do need to crawl first. And so again, you know, the buyer persona is very different than the person who's managing the shipments. And so, you know, the person signing the check may not be aware of all the small nuances that the person in the corner of the warehouse who is, you know, doing things based on a series of either, you know institutional knowledge that lives in his or her brain, or as one of our QAs on our team very aptly put it, a series of post it notes and decaying whiteboard instructions. It's tough to automate things like that when they're not clearly defined. 

Lori Boyer 17:41

Yeah. And I love you pointing out documentation. I think, my husband is a programmer. He works in the manufacturing field as well, actually. And so he works at large facilities. And documentation's kind of the bane of his existence, but also like what he relies on, you know, he's like, oh, I finished all this, but I got to do all this documentation.

And it's always kind of this pain. And yet if the documentation's not there, when he's going to do something from someone else, it's a big problem. And so I think sometimes that idea of trying to run before you've crawled and before you've walked, you know, you may lose out on. It's that speed issue that you're like, oh, I'll just keep going, keep going, keep going.

And you miss out on some of those critical steps. So I think that's really smart. Okay. One thing I love about you is that you have been in automation for a while. So you got all the best stories. So do you have any stories that you can share about a particularly memorable project or, or anything that you had happened with automation?

Kevin Gaul 18:41 

I do. So a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when I was a younger man, I, you know, a couple of pounds lighter too. So imagine this. I was just finishing up the end of college, right? I just finished up my internship. I was working in global trading customs. And so the end of this comes and I get offered a full time role coordinating all of the global exports for this very large company.

And so I show up for my very first day of work, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and dressed wildly inappropriate for the occasion. You know, I had dress shoes on. I had a button-up shirt. Everyone looked at me like I was lost when I showed up. Which was fine, you know. So, I sit down with this nice young lady who's there to train me how to do my new job.

And she sits me down in front of a green screen. Now, Lori, I'm not that young, but I'm also not that old. And so I'm proceeding to listen to this person train me on the ins and outs of using this system. And I swear to you, Lori, up until the moment that she goes deep down a rabbit hole of pro tips, telling me how I should master the 10 key and where the finish off my F5 key.

I thought she was trolling the new guy. So it was crazy, but I'm not smarter and certainly not more clever than any of these people were, but I had one thing going for me, which was, I just had fresh eyes, like we say in the, in the, you know, the lean space. And so I saw this and I said, there has got to be a better way of doing this.

So, you know, I go home and I dream up my dreams as a, you know, young professional and I come back and I share this brilliant scheme to fix all these problems. At which point I was promptly reminded that the very stressed internal IT team has absolutely no time for your harebrained ideas. Okay, great. So at that point I discovered that the only tool available to me other than, you know, begging for permissions or cost of applications I was never going to get my hands on was this thing called VBA, which is Visual Basic for Applications, which is just a fancy way of basically writing code that produces Excel macros. And so I went to work reading internet forums and watching YouTube videos.

Lori Boyer 20:42 

That's the modern way of studying. 

Kevin Gaul 20:45 

So I would do this and I would take this, I would sneak actually this Excel workbook home. So hopefully no one rats me out for that. But I would sneak this Excel workbook home and I would learn these, these skills while I was home. I, you know, put my daughter to bed and I was trying for the life of me to figure out how to automate this thing that was taking, you know, hours and hours of a smart person's time to produce this shipping schedule was, was the output of this multiple times a day. And so at the end of this whole thing, we ended up getting it from hours down to minutes, which I was super proud of. 

Lori Boyer 21:13 

So cool. 

Kevin Gaul 21:14 

It was really cool. But also the moral of that story was as the person who, again, not special, but I was the person at the time closest to the problem. So the moral of this for me was the person closest to the problem understands it best. Virtually never has the tools and the tool belt to fix the problem and definitely never has the authority to do it. And so that was the way of old. So, you know, that was that was a particularly memorable moment for me to realize that technology was the answer.

Right? To automating all these shipping problems that I was dealing with and I was going to have to learn to master the tools that were available to me and make a really good case to, to get new tools. And over time we did, you know, much, much even better than that. But that was a story that still sticks out to me to this day.

Lori Boyer 21:58 

That is so cool. And I love it because really, you know, we hear about AI so much. We're constantly hearing about all the new technology going on and, and really it's all about automation in the end. It's about making what we do faster and easier on us humans and not wasting so much time. That's really the basic way of saying it.

So that's really cool. I love that. I want to ask, what would your ideal warehouse look like today? Let's say that you could like wave a magic wand. You know, and, you know, what, what would it look like? How, how would it function? 

Kevin Gaul 22:34 

So, I probably have to start with one of my pet peeves. 

Lori Boyer 22:37 


Kevin Gaul 22:37 

Which is that there is no ideal warehouse.

Lori Boyer 22:39 

No, he's like the politician. 

Kevin Gaul 22:41 

Right, well no, you will find a long, you will find a long list of people, smart people, consultants who will come and tell you that this one solution is the panacea to all your problems. 

Lori Boyer 22:49 


Kevin Gaul 22:49 

And it's not. 

Lori Boyer 22:51


Kevin Gaul 22:51

Right? The same solution that works really well for commoditized CPG is not the same solution that's going to work really well for very fragile one off niche items, which is not the same solution that's going to work for the healthcare vertical. Right. So I guess if I was to. 

Lori Boyer 23:04 

I'm gonna pause you, mega point there from Kevin, your warehouse does not need to look identical to somebody else's warehouse. In fact, it shouldn't necessarily right. Right. Like you have your own unique needs and your own unique issues. So anyway, that was such a killer point. I want to make sure we didn't miss it. So sorry, back to you, Kevin. 

Kevin Gaul 23:24 

Thanks. So balancing that with the fact that there are often best practices that you should open your eyes and be aware of. I would say my ideal warehouse is, you know, highly automated, I guess, at least for the majority of the CPG industry, it's going to be automated. Now, depending on your size and your scale and whether or not you're working with a greenfield or a brownfield, which is, I think, another key point to consider.

But in the modern days, we can automate a brownfield facility. You know, once upon a time you had to shut down your entire operations, buy a new building, build a new building. Those were your only options. Now you have all these very clever, for example, goods-to-person systems that can operate in a brownfield zone.

 Again, shipping software automation. You have all these opportunities to automate things that already exist today. So I would probably have something that's balancing your needs to be flexible with your needs to be automated. Because we are, at the end of the day, all competing in this age of Amazon and people and their, you know, impatient delivery expectations, so.

Lori Boyer 24:21 

So, if you were going to recommend, you know, what area in the warehouse, where, where is automation most important? I mean, maybe it's important everywhere, but where would you recommend starting, finishing automation in the warehouse? 

Kevin Gaul 24:36 

I clearly have a bias, Lori, but that's hopefully okay. I strongly believe that the biggest bang for your buck is going to be with automating your shipping process for two reasons.

One In spite of, you know, you know, my past experience and my desire not to believe this, your shipping costs are going to eat almost all of your other costs bar none. So you're going to get a much bigger return on your, on your time and technology investment. The second is back to one of my hot takes, which is taking your delivery promise seriously.

And so your shipping part of your process is your last opportunity to touch your customer before you let that package out into the universe to fly on its own and put it in the hands of whomever your elected carrier is. So I would absolutely start with shipping first. And it's not that difficult to get started because again, if you diligently look towards the experience you're trying to give to your customers and you start ruthlessly documenting and making these business decisions that have historically been left to this institutional knowledge, when you put that in front of either a savvy consultant that you're working with to implement new software or leveraging the tools that you already have in the software that you you own today, okay you can start seeing some real returns on, on some of that investment. 

Lori Boyer 25:45 

So what kind of tools do you recommend are, are best for automating the shipping in the warehouse? What types of, of things would you want in your tech stack? 

Kevin Gaul 25:54 

Sure. So cloud-first 100%. Yeah, I have a basket full of horror stories from some of these, you know, big routing table things and these on-prem solutions not going well.

Stories of customers getting free next-day air shipping after Christmas, which is not great. I can promise you for the bottom line. So, you know, cloud-first technology that puts some of that power and automation in the hands of the business and not always having to have so many handshakes, which is where a lot of that entropy will, will tend to occur.

Lori Boyer 26:23 

Okay. Cloud first. Love that. I have to share this little story. It's so silly, but I had some accountant friends during COVID. And accountancy seems like outside of our realm, but they didn't have cloud, like, anything. They were so used to on-prem everything and being in the office that they were literally shipping their filing cabinets from house to house, which was so weird to me. But yeah, that just reminded me, it's so important in today's day and age that everything can be accessed on the cloud. I love that. 

Kevin Gaul 26:55 

Yeah. And there's also, I think hopefully soon dying misnomer that on-prem software is more reliable. And so, you know, you have to send tapes on the old days off site to be backed up. 

And so with modern cloud first software, you can have multiple availability regions where in the event, you know, a plane crashes in in Ohio data center. You're, you know, minutes away from being up in another region. 

Lori Boyer 27:18


Kevin Gaul 27:18

That's not as viable with older technology. 

Lori Boyer 27:20 

Yes, absolutely. 

Kevin Gaul 27:22

You know, the second thing is giving people intelligent levels of configurability. Now I'm not going to say I have a crusade against customization, but what I do have a crusade against is people being stuck in old customized branches and not being able to take advantage of the latest investments made by their software provider.

And so giving them configurability and giving them guardrails so they have enough, you know, enough, enough, enough power to, you know, to get their business objectives satisfied without giving them so much power that they, you know, we like to say, help the customer fall into the pit of success. 

Lori Boyer 27:54 


Kevin Gaul 27:55 

So giving them guided configurability is largely how you do that. And then, you know, last is. 

Lori Boyer 28:00

Why do, why would people not want. I mean, I guess what arguments do you hear that they're like, I just need so much customization. Well, why would people argue against that? 

Kevin Gaul 28:10 

Almost every single time the answer to we want customization and not configuration is a lack of defined requirements.

So when you really press on this, another, another tool in the lean, you know, leaders toolbox is the five whys. So you say, well, why do you need that? And you ask a few more whys and I've, I've yet to hear an answer. Other than, well, we're not sure right now, but we want to know it's there for the future.

Lori Boyer 28:32 

They're hedging their bets. 

Kevin Gaul 28:33 

They're hedging their bets. 

Lori Boyer 28:34 

So maybe you need to, if, if you are guilty of it, you know, maybe you need to look and see, have you solidified what your requirements really are? Do, do you not know? And, and what if they do say if you're hedging your bets, you know, is it still possible if you're limiting that scope to, you know, what if something comes up? 

Kevin Gaul 28:55 

Yeah, and honestly, these days, configuration versus customization is almost semantic. The things we can do today with configuration are things you honestly couldn't dream of doing with customization even a few years ago. 

Lori Boyer 29:06 

I totally agree with that. 

Kevin Gaul 29:07 

So yeah, again, part of that argument is largely semantic and some of it's just, you know, relic practices from days gone by. So yeah, that would be my, that would be my two cents on that topic. 

Lori Boyer 29:19 

That's the whole story. I always would cook baked potatoes and I always poked holes in them with my fork. My kids are like, why do we do that? And I was like, I don't know. My mom does it. 

Kevin Gaul 29:30 

Oh, we, yeah, that's the way we've always done it. That's my, that's my most favorite thing to hear. 

Lori Boyer 29:34 

I don't know why, but yeah, sometimes there's a reason. And I know potatoes can explode. We looked it up. But sometimes there's not a good reason and we're just doing it because they're, you know, that's just what you've always done. 

Kevin Gaul 29:48 

Are potatoes classified hazmat then? I feel like I'm learning something here. 

Lori Boyer 29:52

We just had this discussion because a couple of weeks ago for Sunday dinners, our potatoes exploded. So anyway so third thing. 

Kevin Gaul 30:02 

So this is where things might get contentious. 

Lori Boyer 30:05 

Okay. Oh, I'm ready. Ready to fight. 

Kevin Gaul 30:09 

You've got to sometimes take a step back and listen to what your software provider is advising you. Because they do this for a living and they work with hundreds or thousands of customers.

And so I have a lot of my own stories from my past life where they may have had a better way of doing it. And you know, we just, we, we didn't take the time to take a look and see if there really was a best practice baked in there that we might be able to take advantage of. Now, in spite of what I tell my wife and my friends, I don't actually have all the answers to the world's problems. But it's, it's worth taking a look at.

It's worth taking a pause and saying, yes, this is the way we do it. But, you know, our software providers doing it this way for a reason. So we should, we should at least explore that with them. And, you know, you have to go down that mutual journey of learning because there may be an instance where there is a better way of doing it.

If you remain curious, you may be able to land there in a much better state. You know, conversely, your software provider may learn something. We learn new things all the time. And so we implement changes based on feedback we get from our customers literally daily. So it is a mutual journey of learning, but the last one, like I said, is that you do have to have an open mind, and that is way harder than it sounds.

Lori Boyer 31:13 

Yeah, it really is. And, and it kind of actually is in conflict, in a way, with our original point of, your warehouse may need to look different than everyone else. So, you know, you may be saying, hey, but wait a minute, Kevin. I have unique needs. There's a reason I do this. I guess, what is your answer to that? How, how do you meld the two in a happy way? 

Kevin Gaul 31:32 

Yeah, it's, it's like driving your car down a road, you know, you have lanes, but you also have guardrails. And so I'm not going to say that there's never a time that you're going to need to go outside those guardrails, but not all software is for all people. And any responsible company will tell you that, you know, they will decline to sell you their product if it's not a great fit for you. I mean, we do that all the time, but odds are more often than not, you can live within those guardrails. 

Lori Boyer 31:54

Okay. Awesome. You could do it. In the new cars, they've got all the little buzzy things that are like warning you when you're going in the other lane. 

Kevin Gaul 32:01 

Or driving for you. 

Lori Boyer 32:02 

Or driving for you. I know, exactly. So, you know, sometimes it's better to be in a different lane. Sometimes you stay in the guardrails. So, we also have businesses maybe that are smaller, warehouse, you know, I guess. One of the things I get is people say, oh, automation in the warehouse. If I start automating, it's really, really expensive. And I'd rather use my Excel files or I'd rather use my, whatever it is.

What are, I guess, some affordable ways that you would recommend that people can still take advantage of automation, you know, still lower that amount of time that they're spending compared to the time that they're, you know, using on it. 

Kevin Gaul 32:41 

Sure. So some of the answers are simple and we've covered them already. You know, gone are the days where you need to have a server room and people managing, managing those things for you. So cloud-based software is inherently in many cases, more affordable. You know, you don't have to often make these giant capital outlays like you used to.  There are also, you know, lots of different pieces of hardware you can use. It's shocking the number of companies don't even use simple things like wedge scanners. 

Lori Boyer 33:04 


Kevin Gaul 33:05 

Right. Yes. You know, at the heart of what we've been doing as a supply chain industry for a million years now is barcoding. The number of people that don't use barcodes today is shocking to me. Now I'm not talking about the people that seek to graduate from barcodes to more advanced technology like RFID or optical recognition. I'm talking about basic 1D barcodes. 

Lori Boyer 33:23 

That's crazy. 

Kevin Gaul 33:24

Barcode your inventory, buy a wedge scanner, right? Those things are simple. There are certainly more advanced things that you can take advantage of, but even the more advanced robotics these days, they're becoming more and more approachable  and so they're, they're becoming more accessible to the mid market. We have a long list of customers that have implemented an impressive amount of, you know, robotic type automation in their warehouses. 

Lori Boyer 33:45 

Really cool. And there's, I mean, there are fully automated warehouses these days. I mean, all the way to there's nobody there except the robot. So I think there's definitely a way to do it gradually.

 Definitely a way to do it within your comfort zone of whoever you are and whatever stage you're at. I think for me, the goal would be simply to continue to do something new. To add new abilities wherever you see those opportunities. So I would love, we don't have a ton more time, but I would love to hear about your visions of the future.

Sure. Where do you see warehouse automation going? And if you get this all right, and you like dream some amazing thing up, we'll save this clip forever and then we'll show it and you can be, known on in around the world as. 

Kevin Gaul 34:35 

The billion-dollar harbinger. 

Lori Boyer 34:36 


Kevin Gaul 34:37 

Yeah, so I mean it is a billion dollar question You know, where is where is the future going? But there are you know, there certainly are emerging technologies that I pay more attention to because I think they're very relevant to the shipping space. So I think it's time to accept, but again transportation costs drive so much of this, and one of the things that I'm keeping my eye on are the incredibly innovative ways that companies are changing the way that they're doing deliveries.

You know, Amazon, for example, is taking their drones into and out of, you know, one of the things we're not talking about is they're exiting certain markets with their drone deliveries. 

You know, even down the road from where our U.S. East office is located, I've seen in the Embry Riddle campus area, there are autonomous mobile robots driving around on the sidewalk doing deliveries. You know, we're talking about an age where  you know, vehicles can drive on the roads, you know, autonomously. I mean, I mean, imagine that, you know, the, the hit the trucking industry has taken with, it's an ethical hit, but it has been a hit nonetheless. You know, back in the 1930s, they implemented these hours of service rules and they've evolved over time. But imagine a world where you have a self driving truck that doesn't need to report hours of service. 

Lori Boyer 35:41 

Yeah, that's incredible. 

Kevin Gaul 35:43 

Again, the rules have been around a long time, but you know, now that people are reporting these things digitally, it's it's being a lot more closely enforced. 

Lori Boyer 35:49 

I think it makes a lot of sense too, because that, yeah, we all, the labor issue in the industry is so tough. It's a constant struggle. Every year, it feels like labor challenges are some of the top things facing warehouses and those in the industry. So, you know, being able to have the labor that we get and the labor that we have access to being, doing high-level jobs, doing more fulfilling jobs, where we get rid of some of that, you know, more mindless stuff. So I love that. Okay. What else do you see in the, in the future? 

Kevin Gaul 36:21 

Yeah. So technology is flattening and I'm, I'm sure you're probably sick of hearing every single person come on this podcast and talk about data. And you know. 

Lori Boyer 36:28 

Data, data, data. 

Kevin Gaul 36:29 

Data, data, data. But most importantly, you know, we've had data for a long time, but data has lived in these various silos. You know, your data has only been available, your ERP data was only available in your ERP or your accounting system, right? Your WMS, your warehouse data was only available in your warehouse management system. Likewise, your shipping data, only available there. So we're seeing largely a democratization of data across these different systems. And so customers. 

Lori Boyer 36:54 

Who wait, help me understand a democratization of the data. What does that mean in Lori Boyer level? 

Kevin Gaul 37:01 

Yeah. So again, once upon a time, no one was talking to each other. You know, everyone held their data really tightly. I see what you're saying. You know, now, you know, we as a shipping software provider, we can get access to all this data that the carrier is providing for the benefit of our customer and for the benefit of our customer's customer, right?

We have warehouse management data that we can look at. And all of that matters because now you can, for the first time in, you know, almost ever, you can look at the whole end to end life cycle from the time that someone clicks by now to the time that it's delivered to them and the experience they've had along the way.

You can look even farther upstream. You can look at your demand planning activities. You can look at where your inventory is coming from overseas. And so, you know, one of the things it wouldn't be a podcast if I didn't use the AI. 

Lori Boyer 37:43 

Yeah, of course. Of course. 

Kevin Gaul 37:44 

That acronym is okay. Right. So, I mean, I, like most people are certainly very bullish on that topic, but one of the things I think has been kind of overlooked with the advent of the more, I would say, you know, consumer approachable AI, which is these large language models is. You know, the previous darling of the supply chain world, which is machine learning. 

So we are, you know, we, we exist in an industry where we have the benefit and the bane of being a very well-studied industry. 

You have entire career tracks and educational tracks that do nothing but study this space. So we have the data, we have the models, we have the academic people that can go out and do things with it.

 So these models can be improved over time by implementing things like machine learning to predict all sorts of things that you need to know about. And so you take that and now you match that with some of the more, you know, more recent technology. And I won't give away too many of the exciting things that we're doing, but we're not far off from a world where you can using natural language, you can ask for a meaningful analysis of your data that's action-oriented. No longer do you need people that are able to be, you know, data jockeys, so to speak. 

So those types of things can influence your entire supply chain. It can influence where your fulfillment nodes are located. It can influence what carriers you choose. It can implement how you staff your warehouse, what technology you buy for that matter.

Lori Boyer 38:58 

I think I love what I'm hearing from you is an answer to what I get a lot from our community and the people out there. Is that we suffer right now from data overload where we just have so much data and we don't know how to make it simple. And what I'm hearing you say is you see in the future as that data is communicating more and we're actually making it really usable and in a way that simplifies what we're doing and streamlines what's going on instead of just. 

Kevin Gaul 39:27 

Well, you're describing the difference between data and information.

Lori Boyer 39:29 

Oh dear. Data and information. 

Kevin Gaul 39:30 

Right. You know, data is, is noise and it's turned into information by someone who can, by someone who can deal with it. And so those people are rare. So organizations all across the world. Most people in the space have lived through and died through at least one or two data projects in their life, but you get through this project and you realize that you don't have anyone that can do things with the data, right?

So you can't act on that information. But now you factor in these new technologies and that data becomes information and it becomes more, you know, more approachable. 

Lori Boyer 39:56 

That's so cool. I love that. It's so exciting. That makes me geek out. I'm excited about the future. Anything else for the future that you see?

Kevin Gaul 40:04

Yeah. So if we want to talk about challenges that are coming in the future, I think that that's one of the things that our customers, you know, joint customers to need to be aware of is I think there's some really obvious market pressures out there that are going to cause some people to think that it's a good idea that they might want to offshore, you know, or in some way outsource some of their fulfillment.

And for some, it makes sense, but for many, it may not make sense to lose control of your delivery experience because, you know, that's, that's key to your brand. So you'll see a lot of alarming data points out there. A lot of these are just smoke though. So, you know, you see one data point that says you know, industrial, industrial vacancies at 5.2 percent and it's the lowest rate or highest rate since 2020. But the thing they leave out is that it's still, you know, it's still lower than the 15 year average. 

Lori Boyer 40:48 


Kevin Gaul 40:48 

Right. So some of these things I think are, you know, clickbaity headline things, but you know, everyone knows what's going on with the freight market being in free fall.

So there are a lot of these pressures for these other, you know, these other organizations to come knocking and say, hey, let me take ownership of your fulfillment operations. And again, for some subset, that may be okay. But for many, you're losing control of your delivery experience. And if you don't take ownership of your delivery experience and you don't take on that journey of automating that delivery experience, you know, you're at the behest of someone else.

And so I think that that's going to be one of the biggest challenges we see in the coming years. You know, also, I mean, not to mention geopolitical concerns, tariff wars. I mean, look at some of the very clever things, the likes of like the Shein brands of the worlds are doing with avoiding some duties.

So, you know, the world is changing rapidly around us. And so, you know, owning it and deploying technology that can let you keep up with the pace of change is super important. 

Lori Boyer 41:38

Yeah. I love that. Are there any good examples of companies that you feel like are innovative or taking steps that people can look towards?

Kevin Gaul 41:47 

Yeah. So we have again, we have a long list of them and it, it impresses me. I think, I think the most exciting time is right now. And I think the most exciting place to be is the mid-market because these, yeah, these. Right. These customers have grown to a state where they are sophisticated and they have, you know, they have, they have the capital to take on some of these projects.

They're not worried about the cost of capital and borrowing money right now because they have it, right. And they're also savvy enough. And most importantly, they're nimble enough to do it. They don't have to rely on multi-year long steering committee freeze-ups to make these things happen. So one of our customers, for example with a very large automated storage and retrieval system that I won't name by brand, but they went from idea inception to fully implemented in a brownfield site, by the way. And this is a very, very large piece of automation in a warehouse. They went live inside of 12 months. And it was because. 

Lori Boyer 42:42 

That's amazing. 

Kevin Gaul 42:43 

Yeah. They were curious and they were committed. 

Lori Boyer 42:45 

That's awesome. So shout out to innovative companies out there looking to embrace automation. We are out of time, sadly, but I have been so glad to have you here.

I am really, this is exciting, fun industry to be in. And I feel like it's just a fun time with all of the cool new advances. So thank you, Kevin, for walking us through that. Kevin, do you want to say goodbye? Any final thoughts or, or any way people can get in contact with you? Are you on LinkedIn or something if they wanted to connect with you? 

Kevin Gaul 43:16 

I am on LinkedIn and probably embarrassingly inactive by comparison to some of your other guests, but I'm always happy to talk shop. I love talking about this industry. This is what I do. So yeah, you're welcome to find me on LinkedIn. I'd love to spark up a conversation on any and all things that are, that are exciting to any of you.

And if you have any need for the types of problems that are smart solves for, for customers out there in the world, we'd love to chat with you. We're very passionate about what we say is transforming customers and changing lives. And you know, I think we, we live that mission quite well. So I look forward to hearing from anyone who's opens up the can of worms and talking supply chain with me.

Lori Boyer 43:50 

Perfect. Thanks so much. And we'll see you all next time.