Blackman's Year of Living Dangerously

Part I: The New York plumbing supplies company looks to go from good to great in its warehouse operations

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This article is the first in a planned series. Part II in the series is planned for release by the end of the first quarter of this year.

Burbank, CA — Many organizations will be happy to see 2010 in their rear view mirror. For Blackman Plumbing Supplies in Bayport, N.Y., it was a speed bump they never even noticed they ran over.

Last year began differently than most years for the company. In 2009 Blackman upgraded its enterprise resource planning software, relocated its corporate warehouse from a 113,000-sq. ft. building to a 200,000-sq. ft. building. The new buildings ceilings were not high enough, so part of the project was to "literally" raise the roof. And to top it off, they implemented an industry leading warehouse management system. This was all done while companywide layoffs were instituted due to a soft economy.

But while most organizations would sit back and let those accomplishments from the previous year soak in, Blackman was just beginning. In 2010 the company implemented an industry leading transportation management system, centralized its delivery trucks and completed the largest acquisition in the company's 89-year history. In the words of Dave Connelly, director of purchasing at Blackman, "Without change, there would be no progress."

When you look at what they have accomplished in only two years, you see the resolve that Blackman employees have. For many organizations, accomplishing one of these tasks would be enough for several years, but to complete all six in only two years is unheard of. However, to truly understand why the organization would go through so much so fast, you have to understand the goal of the company.

Good Is Not Good Enough

Blackman has always delivered exceptional service to its customers. They have always prided themselves on being the number one wholesale plumbing distributor on Long Island. But to Bob Mannheimer, the president of Blackman, "anything less than perfection is simply not acceptable."

When you dig deep into the gears with a microscope you see "A not-so-well-oiled machine." Most people would frown on that statement, but at Blackman, it's not oiled well enough by "their" standards. But by industry benchmarks they are the simply the best.

Their distribution process has the warehouse producing less than a 5 percent error rate. The industry standard is well above 10 percent. Their order fill rate is above 97 percent. The industry average ranges between 94 percent and 97 percent. And when you place an order by 5:00 p.m., they can guarantee you will have your material by 7:00 a.m. the next day, "assuming that is when you want it of course." But that is simply not good enough for Blackman.

According to Gene Spivak, the director of operations with Blackman, "The reason we spent the time and the money implementing the WMS system was not to be good, it was to be great!" Material is received and put away within 48 hours of being delivered by the vendor. Orders are now picked with Radio Frequency (RF) devices. And with the system's command center, the movement of every employee and every order is tracked in real time throughout the facility. And every delivery truck is monitored through a GPS system so the customer knows exactly when their delivery will arrive.

A Challenging Year Ahead

With all of the change that has taken place of course there have been some issues. But a few months into the implementation Blackman engaged the services of my company, Total Logistics Solutions, Inc., out of Burbank, Calif. to help them through the transition. As principal consultant with TLS, I told Blackman that my philosophy is, "Perfection is only attainable when the right people, with the right tools, are doing the right things at the right time." My diagnosis for Blackman was that they had the right people and the right tools, but their timing was off. By developing clearly defined processes and procedures, we are now ensuring the right things are taking place at the right time.

The year ahead will be another challenging one for Blackman Pluming Supplies because no one knows what the economy has in store. However, there is a lot on the plate in 2011 at Blackman. "Just because the year changed does not mean it is time to stop progressing forward," says Stephen Davanzo, the distribution center manager. "One more year means a new set of challenges that must be overcome." And according to John Richards, director of IT, "We are now looking at the Clouds," referring to Cloud computing.

I don't think they will accomplish in 2011 what they accomplished in 2010. However, this is a New Year and they are not perfect — "Yet!"

To be continued ….

About the Author: Rene' Jones is widely known in the supply chain and logistics industry as the founder of Total Logistics Solutions, Inc. ( a warehouse efficiency company. He has been published, reference and quoted in industry magazines throughout the United States, Central America, Canada, Australia and Europe. He is the author of several books including the critically acclaimed "This Place Sucks (What your warehouse employees think about your company and how to change their perceptions!)" and "WMS 101 (Selecting, Implementing and Maintaining a WMS system)". Jones has 18-plus years of experience in consulting, training, warehousing and logistics, and he has used his industry knowledge to assist small and large multinational organizations alike, making them more efficient and more profitable.

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Articles by Rene' Jones