This week’s guest on Unboxing Logistics is Tom Butt, chief customer success officer for Summit Advisory Team and Elevate.
In addition to being an expert in the shipping and logistics industry, Tom is an avid home chef. He compares peak season preparations to the cooking term “mise en place,” the process of organizing and arranging ingredients before preparing a meal. If ecommerce businesses practice “mis en place” with their shipping operations leading up to peak season, things will run a lot more smoothly. Listen to this week’s episode to learn how you can prepare your people, processes, and systems for the busiest time of 2023.
If the rest of the year is a jog, peak season is a sprint. Tom describes it as “stress testing your fulfillment and supply chain systems.” People, processes, technology, inventory, sales teams—all of them get pushed to the limit.
Ecommerce businesses encounter lots of hurdles during the peak season. One of the most common? Carrier capacity. Whichever carrier(s) you work with, Tom recommends “communicating … to make sure that they’re aware of any volume spikes that you have.” If you don’t provide carriers with a reasonably accurate forecast, they might leave you high and dry when your shipping volume increases.
In addition to keeping lines of communication open, it’s a good idea to consider working with multiple carriers. Tom’s advice is simple: “Diversify where you can.”
People, processes, and systems are the backbone of a solid shipping and logistics operation. While all are critical, people play an especially important role in keeping things running during the busiest time of year.
Tom and Lori discuss why it’s so critical to have the right people in the right roles and train them properly. You can level up your training process by starting at the top. “Make sure that you're training the trainers first, so you have champions, your supervisors, your managers. … They can evangelize how your operation works, and the culture, and how you do things.”
Lori Boyer 00:00
Welcome to our great logistics community. It is Unboxing Logistics. I'm Lori Boyer and I am your host today, and I am so excited to say that it's almost that time, my favorite time of year, the holiday season. So I know the holiday season can fill us with excitement and fun. Also a little bit of fear at times, and that is why I have invited the great and amazing Tom Butt here to be with us.
He is gonna walk us through everything we need to know to be ready. This is. Big expectations here, Tom.
Tom Butt 00:41
Lori Boyer 00:42
Everything we need to know to be ready for the holiday season, to make sure that we have our ducks in a row and that it's way more exciting and way less scary. So Tom, go ahead and introduce yourself a little bit to all of our awesome logistics community.
Tom Butt 00:59
Sure. So I'm Tom Butt. I am here representing as part of EasyPost Summit Advisory Team and our elevated data insights product. So I'm the chief customer success officer across both of those. And what that means is I help our customers get the most out of our product to make sure that they're getting the most out of our teams and the services that we offer.
And then across the data, product, and professional services, how are we making sure that they're integrating and making sure that you get some synergy across both of those things.
Lori Boyer 01:29
Yeah. That's awesome. I love it. So welcome. I know that Tom's been working on something really cool at Summit. Well, I'll give you a little sneak preview that has to do with holiday readiness and they've created an awesome, amazing program.
Maybe Tom, tell me a little bit more about it so I don't get it all wrong.
Tom Butt 01:44
Sure. So just a little bit more background on myself. So I have been in the logistics space for going on over a dozen years now.
Lori Boyer 01:51
Did you grow up? Were you eight years old and you're like, Mommy, I wanna be in logistics?
Tom Butt 01:55
I did really like playing with boxes as a, as a kid, so so…
Lori Boyer 01:59
He knew it from the beginning.
Tom Butt 02:00
So I knew it. Boxes, trucks, all of that stuff was really cool. So I get to do that as a career now, which is, is really fun. I love it. And so I. You know, I, I've been doing this for about a dozen years now out of school. Mix of consulting and then working with major retailers to make sure that they are executing all of the operational things, so as omnichannel fulfillment which is sort of this intersection of buying things in stores, but also ordering online.
And now we have buy, online, pickup in-store kind of orchestrating all of those efforts and making sure that the customer is getting a seamless experience so when they click buy or they go into a store, that they're getting what they wanted and that they're not, they're not experiencing, again, that, that friction of the buying experience so that they're more likely gonna come back and recommend to their friends and family that that same buying experience from whoever we're helping from a retail side.
Lori Boyer 02:50
That's incredible. I love how you use the word orchestrate, because I really do feel like it, the entire supply chain, logistics, shipping, all of that industry has a billion, trillion, gazillion moving pieces at any given time. And so it really is like being the conductor of an orchestra. I have to say, the first time I went, so I.
I did not grow up as an eight-year-old thinking that I was gonna be in logistics. Okay. I love, I'm in marketing and when I first joined the industry, I did a ton of research reading up on it and learning about it. And boy, that first time though, that I stepped into a warehouse, I was blown away at the complexity.
Tom Butt 03:31
Lori Boyer 03:31
And just the sheer volume of people. And the sheer volume of packages that was just getting moved constantly. And so it really, shout out to you, shout out to all of our, our audience is incredible.
Tom Butt 03:44
Sure, sure. And it's it's pretty interesting just, you talk about the complexity we're talking, you know, there's, these are warehouses that are a million plus square feet.
Tens of millions of units of inventory, hundreds of thousands of SKUs, hundreds of people, automation, there's a lot going on in these, in these distribution centers. It's not just, you know, your order comes in and one person goes and grabs the three things off the shelf. It, it can be like that, but a lot of times it's a lot more complex than that.
Yeah. So figuring out how to orchestrate all that again, the kinda anchor on that word is what we help and specialize in.
Lori Boyer 04:17
That's amazing. And so for the purposes of today's show holiday specific is where we're gonna dive in. But before we do, I always like to get to know my guests a little bit.
Tom Butt 04:27
Lori Boyer 04:27
So we got you in the hot seat.
Tom Butt 04:28
Lori Boyer 04:29
I'm just gonna ask you this or that questions. Okay. Just your quick answer and we'll see if you pass my test of, of being my best friend or not.
Tom Butt 04:38
Uh oh. Okay. No pressure.
Lori Boyer 04:39
Pressure's on. All right. Spring or fall?
Tom Butt 04:43
Lori Boyer 04:44
Fall. Me too Good one. Introvert or extrovert?
Tom Butt 04:47
Lori Boyer 04:48
Introvert. I think I'm right in the middle. Ambivert is what I like to say. For cooking at home or dining out?
Tom Butt 04:55
Ooh, cooking at home and just the, what the, the caveat there is my wife and I love to cook and have gotten really into it. And we, we make steaks and vegetables and all sorts of things and we're, when we go to restaurants, we try to identify those things that are like, can we figure out how to make this at home? So…
Lori Boyer 05:12
Stop it. He is such a logistics guy, can...
Tom Butt 05:14
So we get to, we get to do that and just get to spend time with each other and that's fun.
Lori Boyer 05:17
Do you have a favorite thing you like to cook?
Tom Butt 05:19
We, so recently I've been, I'm a big fly fisherman, so I've been catching some trout and we've been doing some surf and turf with steak and trout, and it's been, it's been really good and…
Lori Boyer 05:29
I always wish those were my dreams.
Tom Butt 05:31
Yeah. And throw, throw a good bottle of wine in there and…
Lori Boyer 05:35
Oh, it's a perfect night.
Tom Butt 05:37
Almost restaurant quality experience, but you put at home and comfort of your home.
Lori Boyer 05:40
So I'm gonna give Tom's contact info out at the end so we can all hit him up for menus and, and recipe, recipes as well.
Tom Butt 05:46
Please, please, please do, please do.
Lori Boyer 05:51
Okay. Comedy or drama?
Tom Butt 05:52
Lori Boyer 05:53
Comedy. Me too. Skydiving or scuba diving?
Tom Butt 05:54
Ooh, this is a tough one. So I've done both.
Lori Boyer 05:56
You've done both. Okay. Good.
Tom Butt 05:58
Skydiving is a thrill, but scuba diving, there's just this un whole underwater world that you can enjoy and not be quite as terrified.
Lori Boyer 06:06
Which was scarier?
Tom Butt 06:08
Scarier. Scarier was skydiving. Scuba diving, I've done the shark diving thing. I've done...
Lori Boyer 06:12
You did the shark diving.
Tom Butt 06:13
Shark diving thing. Exactly.
Lori Boyer 06:14
Okay. I think we know that, that you're the adventure seeker here.
Tom Butt 06:17
So scuba. Scuba, yeah.
Lori Boyer 06:18
Okay. Watching sports or playing sports?
Tom Butt 06:22
Ooh. I'm gonna say playing sports.
Lori Boyer 06:24
Playing. Okay. Yeah. Book version or a movie adaptation? Are you a book guy?
Tom Butt 06:30
I am a big book person. I think that there's a lot in the movies. I think if you're gonna adapt something, it's better to adapt it as a series.
Lori Boyer 06:39
I agree completely.
Tom Butt 06:39
Because there's so much complexity and nuance in the book.
Lori Boyer 06:42
I have to give you a high five for that one.
That is just, I so agree. My husband's always like, oh, I saw the movie of that. Like, and he didn't read the book, and my heart breaks a little bit. So, okay, we're gonna do a couple holiday questions.
Tom Butt 06:55
Lori Boyer 06:56
Eggnog or hot chocolate?
Tom Butt 06:57
Lori Boyer 06:59
Wrapping paper or gift bag?
Tom Butt 07:02
I like the concept of a gift bag or of wrapping paper rather. But the execution for me is more the the bag.
Lori Boyer 07:09
So is it the work of wrapping it or is it that you just, it doesn't look good?
Tom Butt 07:15
It doesn't look good. I think I, I could do a lot of practice and it would look mediocre and yeah.
Lori Boyer 07:20
It's good to hear you're not great at something. Because you're awesome at everything.
Big party or small family gathering?
Tom Butt 07:28
Small family gathering, that kind of ties in with the introvert thing.
Lori Boyer 07:31
Yeah. Yeah, I agree. And fancy decorations or you got like, the homemade vibe going on?
Tom Butt 07:38
Ooh, we, we go with a little more of a subtle kind of try to be tasteful, homemade type of vibe, so...
Lori Boyer 07:45
Oh, tasteful, homemade.
Tom Butt 07:46
Lori Boyer 07:47
Oh, you are above me.
Tom Butt 07:49
But yeah, give, give my wife credit there. That's not as much me though.
Lori Boyer 07:53
I like to blame my kids for the homemade vibe, but it probably originated with me.
Tom Butt 07:59
That's where the heart is, right?
Lori Boyer 07:59
Yeah, that's right. That's what I tell myself. Okay. Now in terms of logistics, online shopping or in-person shopping?
Tom Butt 08:06
Ooh, I'm gonna go with the online shopping. Might be, some people that are transitioning more and more to that. And I think from the online perspective there's a shift over from desktop to mobile Uhhuh. I think that's made it a lot more convenient. You can do comparison. For clothes I typically will like to go in just 'cause I can try on the fit and some of that stuff.
But if it's something that's a hard good, that's something that I would just do the research, get best price and do the research there.
Lori Boyer 08:34
I love how you said do the, do the research. 'cause I think that's huge. That's what everybody's doing. Okay. Peak season comes along. Would you analyze historical data to get better forecasting, or would you try to adapt to real-time demand fluctuations?
Forecast or real-time?
Tom Butt 08:51
I think the forecast, so this gets into our planning side of things. Looking at forecast, especially during holidays, patterns amongst individual buyers are a little bit less predictable. Mm. But when you look at aggregate demand, you see that there are patterns that are very interesting, very common year over year.
So for example, if you look at hourly demand patterns on Cyber Monday, the peak is always at that 10 o'clock time period and it's very consistent, actually. So there's nuances and variance within the specifics, but the bigger macro patterns we see that you can get some pretty good detail within that.
Lori Boyer 09:29
Would you increase your transportation capacity, get more trucks, you know, something like that, or optimize your existing resources?
Tom Butt 09:43
Oh, this is a, a good question. This one's very dependent this is gonna depend on basically how, how are you utilizing and what is the maturity of your existing resource pool?
Ah, so how far are you along that maturity curve? If you're in a place where you've optimized things and you really have kind of squeezed all of the, all of the juice outta that lemon that you can, and you're not gonna get much more, you might want to consider adding capacity. Through that, you're gonna wanna look at, make sure you're doing your analysis and your diligence to make sure that's accurate.
You can, you can always add more, but if you're not being efficient with what you have, yeah, that's, that gets to be a problem.
Lori Boyer 10:19
Oh, I love that. That's super smart. So all of you out there, if you have not tried optimizing, start with that. And then finally, would you prioritize speed or accuracy during the holiday season?
Tom Butt 10:34
This is another, and you're giving me a lot of tricky ones here, so I'm gonna say prioritize accuracy, but speed is, speed is very important. Yeah. So, fill rate, making sure that you're getting your customers what they ordered is, is a big thing. If you give that customer a negative experience where they have to go return and they have to go through all of this rigmarole to get things back, especially if it's something that they didn't even order, you're gonna lose that customer and you're gonna lose future sales. That lifetime value, that customer is gonna drop off. Yeah. So focus on getting the execution there, but you should be looking at the, and you should be looking at on time.
In full. So whatever your customer whatever you've communicated to your customer, they may be forgiving in terms of how long it's gonna take. Yeah. But if you delay longer than you said you were going to, that's when you start to run into issues. And people start calling, asking, where is my order? For those of you familiar with Wizmo, that's a big thing that's out there.
So make sure that you execute, but also fill to what you commit to…
Lori Boyer 11:39
Do it both.
Tom Butt 11:41
Do it both. Do it both.
Lori Boyer 11:42
And I would say as well, like maybe as you get, say it's right before Christmas, maybe speed is gonna be really crucial if you're not gonna get it there by Christmas.
Tom Butt 11:50
Lori Boyer 11:51
I've had that as a mom before.
Where I'm like, what am I gonna do?
Tom Butt 11:55
Very cognizant of your shipping cutoffs. What services are you extending your customer? How are you communicating those cutoff times? On the website, making sure that somebody orders something on my birthday, December 23rd. And if they order something on December 23rd, is the communication set or the expectation is they will get that by Christmas?
Or have you communicated to them it's already too late? Should they be looking at express options? Should you be giving them coupons to go into the store so they can do a last-minute buy online pickup order.
Lori Boyer 12:23
Smart. I hadn't thought of that. Yeah, and I think that especially in the last few years as the customer expectations have just continued to rise, rise, rise, rise about how quick it can get here and, you know, because I do sometimes order something and it comes that afternoon. Same day. We know. Same-day shipping and delivery. But obviously during such a peak season that communication is gonna be critical, so, okay. Thank you for that. We got to know you a little bit better.
And we are gonna dive into, I'm really excited, our holiday readiness. Hopefully everybody, our community that you're gonna come away knowing a little bit more in terms of, are you ready? What kind of metrics are you looking at? And, and those kinds of tips. So, in terms of logistics, can you explain in general what you know, holiday readiness means? Especially in terms of e-commerce, for everyone really.
Tom Butt 13:13
Sure. So a big thing with holiday a lot of times that coincides with, you know, the November, December Christmas buying patterns, but it's really anytime that you have a spike in demand over what your, your baseline is.
So, for example, we work with clients that are in the pool industry, and they may be somebody who, yeah, their holiday season, their peak is in spring. Because they're, everyone's getting ready for pool season. So depending on the industry that you're in, you may have different holiday spikes across the year. But really what it's doing is it's stress testing your fulfillment and your supply chain systems. So and that's across, you know, your people, your processes, your technology, your inventory your sales teams. Kinda everyone is getting pushed to their limit.
So think of it as, you know, rest of the year is kind of that, that jog and you're kind of moving along, but this is really where you need to sprint. Hmm. And so getting through that sprint, you wanna be ready for that. You wanna be able to, you wanna make sure that you're not, you don't have any breakage points and that you know, your, your timelines and when you're getting things to customers, it becomes a lot more critical.
You know, I, I think of it this way sometimes, you know, there's a, a volume of 10 x typically. Yeah. Or up to 10 x which you might see from a, a standard week. And so...
Lori Boyer 14:25
During the peak season?
Tom Butt 14:25
During peak season is, can be up to 10 x what you might expect during a, a regular week.
So you're really cramming 10 weeks into one. So any mistake that you make if you're down for a couple hours, that's, you know, down for being a couple days potentially in, in normal times. Yeah. So it's, it's really about, you know, making sure that you have a game plan and that you plan your work, you work your plan, so what you want...
Lori Boyer 14:48
Plan your work, work your plan. Okay. I love it though.
Tom Butt 14:51
And we, we have a, a, a partner that we work with that he may, may recognize that, but really what you're doing is you're taking a look at your volumes, you're looking at your capacities, you're looking at how those all match up. And then you're going across, like I said, your, your people that you're gonna be working with.
You're going across your, your processes and you're going across your technology. So that could be from a people side, that could be making sure that if you have incremental labor that you're bringing in to address the holiday volume it could be making sure that those folks are trained up that you have contingency plans or you're working with staffing agencies, what, what sort of things do you need to do to make sure that those folks, when they come in as guests, are ready to, to execute?
Likewise, on the process side, you may have things like, you know, proactive inventory placement or slotting initiatives that you're you're doing that maybe aren't quite as critical non-holiday times.
And then from your, your technology standpoint. You wanna make sure that your systems are ready and that they're not gonna break. So it could be something from, you know, how many transactions are, are you processing per second from your order management system?
Are your carriers ready to handle that volume? Have you communicated? So a lot of it is just making sure that you've dotted all your, I's, crossed all your T's across a multitude of dimensions to make sure that everything just flows.
You know, I, I mentioned that I'm big into cooking earlier, Uhhuh. For those of you that are familiar with mis en place, which is basically having ev having everything set up ahead of time, so you have all your, your vegetables chopped to the right sizes, and you have all of your, oh yeah, your sauces made and you've made, made sure that you didn't, you're not gonna run outta flour.
You basically wanna do that same thing, but you wanna do that within your warehouses and across your, your fulfillment networks and your stores.
Lori Boyer 16:35
Now. I recently read a study and it was by FedEx? I think. So shout out to my FedEx peeps. But that last year, peak season started a little bit earlier than what they had anticipated.
It was, it's starting to become bigger and then maybe this year, especially with kind of all that economic uncertainty and that it, peak season could start longer. What, is that a trend you're seeing and are there other trends or evolutions we're seeing kind of in this whole holiday readiness space?
Tom Butt 17:01
So it is, it is spreading out. So it's not so much driven, you know, Black Friday sales and things like that, Uhhuh. Those are still really critical and really important. So Cyber Monday and Black Friday are still typically gonna be, depending on your industry your two biggest really big sales days of the year.
Because of the shock that those volume spikes due to, to fulfillment systems, Uhhuh, people are trying to come up with creative ways to spread that demand out so that you're not, not completely trying to cram everything into those few...
Lori Boyer 17:30
So this is kind of driven by our...
Tom Butt 17:31
Yeah, it's our consumers. There's a feedback mechanism there.
So I, I read into, and I, I'm not quite sure exactly what Jeff Bezos is thinking, but we've got Prime Day and things like that, Uhhuh, that people are trying to take some of that volume and again, spread it out. So it's...
Lori Boyer 17:46
Like prime day's just in July or something this year, right?
Tom Butt 17:48
Correct. Correct. So so there are retailers that are trying to get creative with that those sorts of things to drive, drive, demand, and, you know, maybe chop the top off of that peak a little bit and spread it out.
'Cause you know, instead of trying to cram all that volume into a week or two, if you can spread it out across four or five weeks, that's, that's gonna be better.
Lori Boyer 18:06
Do you recommend that, that, that that is something that our... if we have an e-commerce business, do you recommend that method of trying to get some good sales out early?
Tom Butt 18:13
If you, if you can get creative, I know you know, things like Veterans Day sales and things like that, that are maybe a little bit ahead of the, the holiday try to push those if you can. Your cus or your consumer's ultimately gonna be the one who dictates that so your customer consumer may be somebody who maybe they want to shop during Christmas.
Maybe they just, they just want to get, you know, their Christmas shopping in. Maybe it's a family tradition or something like that.
Lori Boyer 18:36
I was gonna say it could be part of the experience sometimes, right?
Tom Butt 18:38
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you may have people that you can incentivize to get things a little ahead of time and make it a little easier on yourself during those weeks.
Lori Boyer 18:44
Yeah. I, I'm the kind of person who, that's always my goal. I'm gonna start shopping early. I have seven kids, so, you know, I got trucks coming to my house like four times a day. Terrific season. I never get around to it.
So you know, maybe at some point, but yeah, I can, I can see that happening.
Tom Butt 18:59
Yeah. And there are those folks too, that wait until the day before and they're like, shoot, Christmas is coming up.
Lori Boyer 19:04
And that'd be my husband.
Tom Butt 19:05
Yeah. Yeah. So he might be more of a buy online, pick up in-store kind of a guy.
Lori Boyer 19:09
Yeah. That's awesome. Okay. So what do you see as the biggest challenges that our logistics industry faces during holiday season, peak season?
Tom Butt 19:18
So I would say a big one right now is carrier capacity. So you know, as we speak, we're looking at strikes from UPS and, and, and that's something that, that's out there.
Lori Boyer 19:28
Everyone's scared. Yeah.
Tom Butt 19:30
And you know, throughout the pandemic it, basically e-commerce capacity got a lot more constrained. So one of the things you're gonna wanna make sure you do is, is you're communicating with your carriers, your, your FedExs, your UPS, your USPS, your DHLs to make sure that they're aware of any volume spikes that you have.
'Cause they will, if you don't give them a reasonably accurate forecast, they may leave trucks sitting. You do the work to get things out the door ready to be shipped, and they say, hey, you didn't communicate with us. We, we weren't ready to pick up this extra volume. So making sure that, that, that capacity is there is a really key ingredient to, to this whole mix.
Lori Boyer 20:07
I always like to say over-communicate, you know, err on the side of over-communication than under-communication. You know, I've worked in a few industries and this one is extraordinarily relationship-driven and communication driven. And so, yeah, I think that's super smart. Keep those, those lines open.
I, I am hearing a lot, especially as we're talking e-commerce with holiday, a lot of times people do tend to rely on their one favorite carrier. Do you have tips for testing the waters to expanding a little bit or anything?
Tom Butt 20:38
Diversify where you can. If you haven't talked with a rep, you know, maybe you're exclusively UPS. If you haven't talked with the FedEx rep, just reach out.
I think getting those relationships established and doing those sorts of things, looking at, you know, rate shopping engines and ways that you can diversify your carrier set so you're not, not as reliant on one carrier. Yeah. You know, there's weather or there's other things like that that you might need to, to consider during those holiday seasons that you've had those conversations.
At least get that ball rolling. Ideally you do that earlier in the year.
Lori Boyer 21:08
But it's not too late!
Tom Butt 21:09
But it's not too late, so, so definitely start talking about, you know, what would it look like and, you know, there are contract negotiations and things like that. So you know, I would say there's getting to be a lot more of a, a gig economy too, in terms of you know, you have same day ship, same-day delivery services. Same-day shippers. You know Uber delivery, things like that, that, that might be options for you if you have kind of exhausted anything with some of the major carriers. So there's things you could be there.
Lori Boyer 21:33
There's a really cool alternative carrier options, regional carriers.
We, I spoke with one of our EasyPost customers recently, EasyPost, we have a, a great, you know, shipping API, but this customer in particular had talked about during COVID when we did have all those carrier limitations. And being able to like, shift over to regional carriers and then go back.
Tom Butt 21:54
Lori Boyer 21:54
You know, whatever your routes are, that there are other options and and just having additional options I think is really critical.
Tom Butt 22:01
Absolutely. And you know, it's, it's not just kind of a binary, like you either use a carrier or don't. There are some just capacity plays that you can use.
So let's say your volume spikes a little more than you anticipated. If you have a plan, you can see how much more did it spike than I anticipated. So you kind of have a magnitude that you can play there and then say, you know, what are my options? Is it something that I need to look at a solution for just a little bit of time?
For a little bit. Or is it, is this looking like this gonna be a long-term thing? For a lot of volume. So just a couple things to consider there.
Lori Boyer 22:32
Yeah. Those shipment spikes, those are that like excitement but also fear that come with the holiday season. Like, yes, they love this! Crap, how are we gonna get it to them? So for sure that's part of it. What are some of the biggest pitfalls then? We talked about maybe you have that big spike and you don't know what to do. So what are common pitfalls companies run into during the holidays?
Tom Butt 22:54
Sure. So I think first, first and foremost is just the being unable to process the volume, right?
So if you have a certain set capacity that you can get through your warehouse in a day not being able to get through that volume kind of sets off this cascade of events where all of a sudden orders start to age. In some cases, that's gonna impact when your customer gets your package. If you have more sophisticated software that's upgrading package services that could be really expensive.
So I think understanding what your volume is, where that volume is gonna hit. So if you look at, let's say...
Lori Boyer 23:28
That's that forecasting you talked about.
Tom Butt 23:29
Correct. So if you're looking at, you know, where your volume is gonna hit across channels so, you know, maybe you have ship from store as an option.
That's something where you wanna anticipate what volumes are you sending to ship from store? What volume is going across maybe a, a third-party logistics provider partner that you have? What's going to each of your, if you have multiple warehouses, what's going to each of those warehouses? So I think understanding, where your volume is going.
Anticipating that. And then what are your fail safes? So if you, let's say there's a weather event on the East Coast, can you shift volume to the West Coast and still, still get packages out so that you're not putting those customer orders at risk? There's some things that you can do around making sure that those volumes are anticipated to some degree, and then you have a plan to work through those or if they spike higher, what is the, what are your alternatives? What options do you have?
Lori Boyer 24:22
Okay. Awesome. So I wanna talk a little bit. I know so, one of the things that you are conducting and that you help companies with is doing a full like holiday readiness assessment. I would love to know when you're getting in and, and digging in with companies what, what are the key elements you would want to assess? What, what do you think businesses should be looking on when they do their own assessment?
Tom Butt 24:43
Sure. So you know, I, I mentioned that you know, the forecasting and planning piece is, is a huge. Understanding what's gonna go where? I think Inventory placement would be another big one.
So as you're writing your POs for the holiday season, okay, you know, where are you intending those to land? What you should roughly match where your POs are being written across, you know, your store's network or maybe your DCs or your 2 or 3PLs. Where are you placing that inventory?
Another big component of that is not just the unit quantity, but across your, your item set or your SKU base, you know, what are you sending that may be shipping in the same box? So if I order, you know, a mug and I order, you know, something like this, this pineapple here, you know, what if, if I'm, if I'm anticipating my customers to buy both of those things at the same time, should I look at ways that I can get those into a single box so that, you know, yes, we can manage costs and mitigate the number of packages.
So your inventory placement is huge. Also when those, when those receipts arrive, so, there's sort of this process of, it's, you know, if you played the game Snake, there's the snake eating the, the egg, right? So that egg, the, the volume will kind of flow through your whole system, and so your, your biggest spike to start is gonna be, you know, your inventory landing into your, your warehouses.
So what's your receiving plan? You know, are you, how are you receiving that merchandise in, when do you want it available for sale? Not just having, you know, hundreds of trucks potentially show up at your, your warehouse door and saying, okay, this stuff all needs to be unloaded tomorrow.
You need a plan, so you need to sequence when that stuff comes in.
Lori Boyer 26:25
Talk about stressing out your workforce and all of those different assets you mentioned earlier.
Tom Butt 26:29
So you want to, you want to. In addition to the forecasting, the inventory placement, your receiving plan, then you wanna start to transition to what's going on in your warehouse, right?
So that, again, kind of go across the, the people process, technology spectrum. You know, you wanna make sure that you have the right people, that they're trained in the right ways.
Lori Boyer 26:47
How early do they need to start training?
Tom Butt 26:49
They should probably start training, assuming a November, December holiday. I would say sometime in the, you should have the staffing plan in place by September at the latest. And then throughout September and October, even into early November, that training and that training should be in and solidified. So looking at your, your people looking at within the warehouse, what are those folks doing?
So are they trained on receiving? If you train 'em on outbound shipping processes in, in August, you know, they might not have the right skill set to receive that merchandise. So you wanna, you wanna orchestrate, again, the, the training component. You wanna make sure that you have organizational change management folks in there that have provided your supervisors and your management team the tools and resources that they need to help support these potentially new people coming into the building, providing that incremental support. You know, how are they addressing you know limited term employees, LTs, as compared to your full-time or maybe temp workers. So you're looking at that, you're looking at your system, so your warehouse management system. Upstream from that, your order management system and how your, your orders are flowing across to your buildings, how that's being orchestrated.
So that from the system side, you're making sure that that volume can kind of flow through. That there's any sort of changes or systems improvements, that you have a code, a code freeze. So from a technology side, you wanna make sure that any improvements or enhancements are kinda landed and implemented by that.
Call it like mid-October timeframe at the latest. Okay. So that your teams have the ability to test out those changes, make sure that everything is implemented, ideally sooner, but at the very least, you shouldn't be making systems changes. You know, mid-October. After October and beyond.
Lori Boyer 28:33
Okay. So let's say that you're looking at your entire process and you're thinking it's kind of a mess.
I don't have a lot of time, you know, time sneaking up. People, processes, systems. Where would you look first?
Tom Butt 28:47
So I would, I would say you kind of wanna get...
Lori Boyer 28:49
Put you on the spot.
Tom Butt 28:50
I know. I, I would say you wanna put, you know, you wanna make sure you're looking at all three the people.
Lori Boyer 28:55
He's got the political answer.
Tom Butt 28:57
Yeah. The, the people piece. Because you need to have people that know what they're doing. They can help figure out the, the process and the technology stuff. But I think getting the right people in the right roles, making sure that they know what they're gonna be doing.
Coming up with that plan allows them to align to what's gonna be happening.
Lori Boyer 29:13
Yeah. Well, and I love, 'cause people are a little bit more unpredictable in terms of we have emotions, we get sick, we ... where processes and systems sometimes, you know. They don't have feelings, so that's a great point.
Getting your people in, getting them trained and then using them as a resource. That's great. So if we focused on people first, then processes, then systems.
'Cause people need to be earlier, you said September.
Tom Butt 29:38
Yeah, I would, I would say, you know, at the latest September.
Lori Boyer 29:41
Okay. Get hiring!
Tom Butt 29:42
But make, make, make sure that that training is in, again, you, you can have temp workers that are coming in and uhhuh training plans.
You do wanna train those people up on processes that have been established. So you wanna make sure that your standard operating procedures, your SOPs are in place.
Lori Boyer 29:55
Do you have training tips?
Tom Butt 29:58
We have somebody on our team that's really good at training.
Lori Boyer 30:00
Awesome. Shout out.
Tom Butt 30:01
But, and I'll, I'll try to, I'll try to do her justice here.
So I would say, you know, big, big thing is to make sure that you're communicating processes that are tested and are something that you believe in. So not just write a process and then say, hey, go do this. Find out later that it's not the right process. It's confusing. But I would, I would say just make sure that you're, you are training the trainers first, so you have champions, your supervisors, your managers. These are typically the people that are gonna be running your operations day to day, non-holiday. Make sure that those people are really solid. Okay. And that they can evangelize how your operation works and sort of the culture and how, how you do things.
Lori Boyer 30:38
I like how you said, like getting their feedback. Not just being like, here, go do this. It works. So yeah, they're the people on the front lines each day.
Tom Butt 30:44
Lori Boyer 30:45
Awesome. Okay. Any other specific tips, actionable tips that businesses can take?
Tom Butt 30:52
Sure. So I think a couple things. One would be, come up with a communication plan.
Lori Boyer 30:57
Okay. Communication plan.
Tom Butt 30:58
That communication plan is, you know, clearly identifying who is specifically doing what. If something happens, what are they saying? Okay, who are they escalating to? When do they escalate? That, that's a big thing. A lot of warehouses and fulfillment centers out there. There are a lot of vendors that you're working with. So that could be a software vendor, like, you know, Manhattan, or it could be, you know, cloud storage that you need to, to contact and say, hey, if we need more storage than we anticipated, who do we reach out to?
Lori Boyer 31:28
So, who would put together the communication plan?
Tom Butt 31:30
That's typically gonna be somebody you know, operations manager, somebody, operations director, somebody that's who knows all those processes that's reporting up through typically like a COO. Okay. Great. So I would say, you know, make sure you have that communication plan. Make sure that you have the analytics in place.
Lori Boyer 31:47
And number two, analytics.
Tom Butt 31:48
Make sure that you have, make sure that you have your KPIs or key performance indicators. Again, across sort of a, a trifecta, you know, speed. So how quickly are things moving through the process? Yeah. Cost, how much are you spending to do those things. And then tech and then quality.
So we mentioned earlier the making sure that you're filling orders to their, you're getting the customer what they ordered. Not canceling too much. So you wanna make sure that you're looking at those elements and making sure that you have the, the business intelligence tools out there.
Something like, an Elevate just to, to plug us a little bit. People have their own business intelligence tools. That could be like an SCI, it could be, you know, something else, but whatever it is, they need to have something correct. So that you can kind of navigate and use that as a, as a guide to say, how are you doing?
So you, you created this plan. You wanna figure out how you're executing to it. And if you don't have that visibility, you're kind of, you're kind of flying in the dark.
Lori Boyer 32:41
Right. Okay. Awesome. What about, and we talked about this a little bit, but do you have any specific tips around their contingency plans or backup plans or any examples even of maybe a company that's had an effective backup plan, stories, anything like that?
Tom Butt 32:57
Sure. You know, I think I. A big thing for me is, you know, making sure that if you need to shift volume around so I mentioned it earlier if you have a weather event that shuts down trucking lanes.
Lori Boyer 33:08
We had a huge one last year.
Tom Butt 33:09
Lori Boyer 33:10
Tom Butt 33:10
Yeah. So if you have, you know, ice storms or you have power outages or things like that, make sure that you can, if you can, again, shift volume across your different fulfillment channels you know, that could be something like, your packaging, right?
If you have, you should be proactively communicating with your packaging supplier to make sure that they're gonna be able to, you know, stock or top off any of your corrugates or any of your dunnage, anything that you might be using there. But it may be just, hey, if, if something goes wrong and I can't get people into the building, is there another temp agency that I need to, to reach out to that maybe we've pre-vetted to some.
Minor degree. So there's things like that that you can do just as ... again, you should be thinking through those things. What happens if, you know, I can't get any more FedEx trucks? Who do I, Who am I going to? So those are just some, some that come to to mind.
Lori Boyer 34:01
It seems like it would be great just to sit down with a bunch of stakeholders and just have a big old brain dump of...
Tom Butt 34:06
Lori Boyer 34:07
What problems have we seen in the past? What things could we potentially anticipate?
Tom Butt 34:11
That's absolutely, absolutely correct.
Lori Boyer 34:13
Everybody can go cry after.
Tom Butt 34:15
But, but, but you would rather cry about it ahead of time. Have some time to do something about it rather than cry about it.
Where you're losing customers, potentially sales. And, and not saving money and. From the from, from an expense management standpoint.
Lori Boyer 34:31
Yeah. I, I, that makes a ton of sense. I mean, it's simply taking all the information, the knowledge, the data, the experience that you have within your own company.
Every company is slightly different, so the problems one company may face, they're gonna be slightly different, so taking advantage of that knowledge and using it.
Tom Butt 34:47
Yeah. And, and one thing I might add is you know, you're doing that sort of pre-gaming exercise with all of the stakeholders, making sure that everyone knows their responsibility, everyone knows their part, and who they need to reach out to if something happens.
You should, you should also have something I've heard it called a war room in the past. Where during the holiday season, you have a central hub of, of a place that you can go to, to basically funnel all communications. Yeah. You know, that could be through something like a twice-daily touch base.
It could be. Just having a, a chat thread open that people escalate issues through, making sure that your, your support teams are queued up and are able to expand around making sure that your customer service teams know how to field calls, that they're getting a little bit of visibility to what's going on with the operation.
Hmm. So lots of, lots of fun stuff there. And then I will also plug post-holiday, you should be doing a what the hell just happened? Yes. So looking at...
Lori Boyer 35:42
Debrief. How quickly debrief do you feel like, do you give people a minute to like, whew, or are you like, hey, let's debrief before we forget? What's the opinion of Tom?
Tom Butt 35:51
Ideally what you're doing is as you go through your, your day to day in the war room you're taking down any opportunities that you have. So you have sort of a running list. And then Yeah, typically that, that Christmas to New Year's timeframe, people need a little bit of time to recharge. But I would...
Lori Boyer 36:08
That's the people, elements of the people processes systems.
Tom Butt 36:12
And, and know too that your teams are also post-holiday, likely processing a lot of returns. So they just got through this, this marathon sprint, and now they're asked to do, you know, at least a, a five K maybe at the end of that.
Lori Boyer 36:25
Yes, yes. I had a brother-in-law who ran long distance in college and he would run a five-mile cool down after. Yeah. So it's exactly what you're doing, talking about.
Tom Butt 36:32
Exactly. But I would say, you know, that, that mid-January timeframe. You were taking a look at and you're saying we should be debriefing if you need to get folks on site, if people are distributed do that in that January timeframe.
So that will give you kind of the balance of the year to kind of figure those things out. Prioritize your initiatives. Understand where you might need to carve out some capital dollars to fix things for, for the next year.
Lori Boyer 36:55
And that's the same time of year when we start to get a lot of reports that, that kind of pile in of overall industry trends.
And what happened during peak and you know, some of that info like, oh, it went longer, or we saw more hiccups here or there, so, and I would recommend, in addition to doing your own, that you look a little bit outside and look at the, the greater industry trends as well.
Tom Butt 37:15
Oh, totally. Totally. And if you have, you know, a consulting partner or a vendor that may be out there.
A lot of them, you know, you mentioned FedEx earlier. A lot of them will share those insights and at least give you thematic trends. You know, was this a, was this a light peak?
Was this a heavy holiday? You know, did weather events on the east coast, how did carriers perform?
Those sorts of things are all, all get discussed.
Lori Boyer 37:36
Awesome. Okay, well I have loved having you here, but I do wanna hear from you. If you have any last-minute tips or important takeaways, some of the great things that I learned today, focus to me around communication. Keeping the communication open, open, open.
I think that when we go in and study logistics or even dive in, I don't think of communication as being a big piece of it, but you know, from what you're saying, it's huge. I really learned that today. Any other last-minute tips or what kind of support do you provide around this sort of holiday readiness?
Tom Butt 38:08
Sure. So one of the things that, that we do as, as Summit Advisory team we have a lot of industry professionals that have been through probably collectively hundreds of of peaks. But I, I would say if you can go out and, you know, take some of those individuals that maybe have been at your organization or if you want go talk with consulting agencies just to say hey, are there things that on this list we should be looking at that we haven't mapped out? So you wanna make sure that you're kind of spot-checking your work where you can. We are happy to help provide that service if need be. Awesome. But you know, it might just be reaching out to somebody, peers in the industry.
Friends. You know, and one of the things being in retail is as a consumer, how, what, what's the experience that you would want? And just think through, you know, how can we make sure that this is as frictionless as possible to those, those folks, make sure that they're not waiting on call centers too long, those sorts of things.
Lori Boyer 39:00
So just take some time to think about it and look through it, and sometimes we're so busy that we forget to work on it.
Tom Butt 39:05
And the sooner, the better. I think, you know, as, as painful as some of these exercises might be, again, it's, it's a lot more painful if you go through it, you don't have a plan and you figure out things and you will figure out things that you didn't plan for.
Just note those down and it's a scientific, iterative process to, to get things built out.
Lori Boyer 39:22
I love it, Tom. It has been so good having you. Okay. I'm sure people are gonna wanna reach out and contact you. If they want to follow you or get in touch with you, what, what is the best way for them to do that?
Tom Butt 39:32
Sure. So I would say, you know, easiest way is probably going on LinkedIn. So, you know, Tom Butt on LinkedIn, I'm part of the, the EasyPost family chief customer success officer for Summit Advisory Team and our Elevate data product. So feel free to reach out to me there. If not...
Lori Boyer 39:49
I'll throw a link in so that you guys can click it in the description.
Tom Butt 39:52
Yeah, perfect. But yeah, looking forward to hearing from everyone and looking forward to navigating another holiday, making sure that we're keeping our, our customers happy.
Lori Boyer 39:59
So, all right guys, let's get out there. Be more excited than scared. Have an awesome holiday season and we'll see you next time.
Tom Butt 40:07