You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The annual International Furniture Transportation & Logistics Council (IFTLC) conference brings together transportation providers, retailers and industry experts for the opportunity to address common interests and to improve their respective operations. The IFTLC focus has evolved in five decades from a time when most furniture was manufactured in the United States and transported in rail box cars to today’s much more complex worldwide supply chain. While there have been changes in the technology and methods, the need for successful delivery to homes and to individual rooms within each home has never changed. If anything, consumer expectations are much higher today. The Home Delivery panel discussion was particularly interesting at this year’s meeting and has implications for every Furniture World reader.
The total annual volume of the four companies that participated in the panel discussion exceeds one million customer home deliveries and a combined distribution space of over four million square feet. Each maintains both brick and mortar and internet operations. Panelist Steven Anderson is Senior Vice President: Furniture Operations of Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Pat Gottmann is Home Delivery Manager of Crate & Barrel. Jim Schueller is Logistics Manager of Slumberland Furniture, a Minnesota retailer with 119 locations in 11 states., and Peter Ross is Manager of Transportation of Z Gallerie, a Los Angeles based firm with 54 locations in 18 states. The session was moderated by Richard Purnell, President of Purnell Furniture Services, a full service warehousing, prepping and white glove delivery firm operating in 20 states.
The goal of this article is to summarize information shared among panel members and the attendees for the benefit of Furniture World readers. The old saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is confirmed by each customer’s glance at the delivery vehicle on arrival. (I don’t recall the manufacturer of the chair at the desk I’m writing from today, but I remember the retailer whose truck backed into a tree next to my drive while his helper slept in the right seat.) The same holds true if the vehicle does not have a clean exterior, has lunch trash on the dash board or looks disorganized when the rear doors are opened. Your delivery vehicles are a significant part of your brand image.
Whether delivery is by company employees or a third party, the panelists agreed that the delivery experience must be transparent to the customer. All the panelists operate both company delivery trucks and have outside delivery contracts. A carrier audience member commented his relationship is always easier when his clients also operate trucks because they usually understand challenges encountered during delivery. There is a mix of company operated DC’s and 3PL distribution facilities.
Uniformed staff and personal appearance add credibility to the retailer brand identity. We laugh at Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello comedy but customers must feel safe when the delivery is being made to the privacy of their homes. Standards for appearance (beards, tattoos, ear rings, bad breath and body odor) need to be set.
Being able to physically move the furniture into the home is obviously criteria for a delivery person. But the individual also must have communication skills for customer contact and to do the right things when customers request non-standard services. For example, the delivery crew must put the customer in contact with office staff when the product can’t fit through a doorway or hall, into an elevator, etc. Continued training on the job requirements is a necessity.
Many refusals are not related to actual problems. Customer perception of the product at delivery is an issue that goes back to their understanding at the original sale. For example, a product is sold as ready to assemble, but the customer remembers seeing it set up on the showroom floor and expects the delivery crew to do the set up. Sales staff can help to minimize this issue by explaining the level of service offered, assisted by appropriate showroom signage.
At the conference, the topic of delivery in the carton and opening at delivery versus advance prepping, resulted in a spirited discussion. While everyone agreed it is a good objective, each position was vigorously supported. There was complete agreement on the usefulness of tracking problems at all levels, from delivery crew to the sku level so that companies can focus on continuous improvement efforts.
The bottom line for furniture retailers seeking to raise the percentage of successful deliveries is to pay attention to every detail of the physical aspectsof delivery as well as to maintain flexible (good) relationships with stores and cross docks, electronic communications, appropriate repair capabilities and value costing.
Information about the International Furniture Transportation & Logistics Council is available at www.iftlc.com. Daniel Bolger P.E. provides operations consulting services to clients throughout North America. FURNITURE WORLD readers can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 740-503-8875. For more information on transportation, logistics and furniture warehousing topics, go to FURNITURE WORLD’s website www.furninfo.com to read all of Dan’s articles.