Righting the Ship

Righting the Ship

By Andrea Palombizio 

Senior Manager, Sales Operations

Handling sales operations and logistics for a material handling company isn’t easy!  There can be a lot of steps from order to delivery when you’re the Senior Manager, Sales Operations for a rapidly growing forklift company.  It’s a constant struggle to meet the needs of our dealers, Regional Sales Managers, engineering, production, inventory, shippers and the end users.  If you think it’s just inputting an order and filling out a bill of lading, boy have you got another thing coming!

Back when I started in 2005 as a Sales Coordinator, I entered every truck order personally.  Of course, things were much different at Big Joe, we only had two sales coordinators and only sold about one quarter of our current annual sales.  It was almost like we were a boutique business.  We built every truck to order and never had any in stock.  We didn’t go to trade shows, didn’t do field testing, heck, we didn’t even have a demo program.  We were also very compartmentalized; you did your job and didn’t get involved with anything outside of your assigned tasks.  There were so many stupid rules, I was once reprimanded for helping out in another department.  It was bizarre!

When the economy sank in 2008, it took Big Joe with it.  Nobody was buying forklifts and we were forced to let a lot of people go.  At our lowest point, there were only three people left in the office and that forced collaboration.  It was as if the hardships stripped away all the old ways we operated internally, and that was necessary for Big Joe to survive.  When EP breathed new life into Big Joe, we were able to restructure our entire operation, and that meant a lot of room for changes.  We now have a totally collaborative business model where people are empowered to reach out to other departments, to take initiative to solve problems for dealers or customers.  No more of the silly transferring calls back and forth, no more frustrating walls.  The decision to communicate gets things done.

We made an effort to make Big Joe easier to do business with, and I’m going to tell you, it was no small effort.  We invested in new software suites like Plex and Salesforce to streamline everything from parts ordering to inventory management to customer contact.  In the past, we never had any inventory, we got an order, built a truck and drove it off the dock, see ya!  This was a steep learning curve for us, we didn’t know how much dealers had to stock, what was selling, what wasn’t.  Now we have really good historical data and collaborative input from dealers on projections and are able to keep 40-50 model configurations in stock for immediate sale.  We also have easy access to old specs, production records and invoices so we can answer questions or match a build from years ago.

It makes us very different than other manufacturers, it sets and us apart from the competition.  Now we’re able to support our dealers with sales history and nifty reporting so we have a really good handle on inventory trends.  When we have excess inventory, we can run a promo and if we’re out of a particular stock model we always have some in the pipeline, usually in 30 days or less.  I feel like a detective, love solving problems, figuring out what went wrong with a business system, or customer issue or solving a process in our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). We are now truly responsive, not reactive, and that was a hard-won fight.

If coordinating a far-flung salesforce with a team of support personnel, a department of engineers and multiple factories doesn’t sound like a full-time job, toss in freight and logistics for some variety!

We’re unique in the way we ship and what we ship.  When we process an order, we ship that truck immediately with an LTL (Less Than Load) carrier, which helps Big Joe have some of the shortest lead times in the industry.  Most manufacturers will wait until they have a full trailer destined for one location to fulfill an order. 

In 2018 the forklift industry underwent a massive change when the National Motor Freight Classification updated our freight classifications for the first time in 20 years.  Previously, when we shipped a truck, we didn’t have to worry about protection, pallets or skids so it was a lot easier to ship LTL.  Under the new classifications, carriers began using Density Based Classes.  This factors in for oversized equipment that takes up more than one pallet space in a trailer.  Now a smaller piece of equipment that weighs less than 1,000 lb. but takes up more than 1 pallet space in a trailer will cost you more than a larger piece of equipment in the same space.  For example, our E30 is 600 lb. 8’ long putting it in class 200 which is the highest cost, while a CB33 that weighs 6,000lb. and is 9’ long is in class 77.5 or the lowest.  So, instead of shipping strictly on weight now we are being charged on space in addition to weight.  It’s very important to make sure you’re using the right class to ensure you’re not overcharged.  This had a tremendous impact on our transportation costs, and the number of carriers who would work with us.

We had to do all the research into the new classifications ourselves, then retrain the sales support team to ensure that they were quoting correctly.   We had to retrain the shipping department to make sure that they were booking the freight in the correct class.  We also had to develop procedures for palletizing our trucks because most LTL carriers refuse taking loads that weren’t crated or palletized.  Within a year we had to evaluate and come up with a different method for transportation because LTL wasn’t working anymore, which led to the hub-based system.

We partnered with a carrier in Chicago that drops an empty trailer at our Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin factory two to three times a week depending on our shipping volume.  We fill the trailer, then they bring it to their Chicago hub, unload it and parcel out trucks to their individual destinations with other outgoing loads. I get calls every day from freight forwarders; everyone wants to move our freight until they find out 3 things:

  1. We ship from Wisconsin not Chicago
  2. What we ship (as if the word Forklifts wasn’t in our name)
  3. We do not ship full or partial loads

I’m not going to say that they run away screaming, but most don’t even bother to ask if they can submit a proposal.  The irony isn’t lost on me, being a part of one of the World’s fastest growing material handling companies and having to jump through hoops to deliver a forklift to a customer two states over! 

Shipping became much more complicated in the wake of the 2018 overhaul, but I do like solving problems.  If you do the same thing day in and day out life can get pretty boring.  Every day is an adventure here at Big Joe, and that’s why I love it!