My Story

My career in supply chain management started from a very early age, I just did not realize it until many years later. Coming from a family with 10 children meant our entire household had to be managed as a supply chain. Whether it was a laundry, meals, school, homework, or outings we had a process in place to prevent delays or breakdowns in the supply chain. When you have 8 -10 loads of laundry a day you have to have a process in place to avoid disruption in the supply chain. However, it was grocery shopping that was the crown jewel of our supply chain.

The first step in all aspects of our supply chain processes started with financing. Dad was in charge of obtaining the finances. He would spend 50-60 hours each week securing the finances needed to fulfill demand. Once the finances were in place the reminder of the supply chain activities began. Mom was the Operations Manager, Director of Procurement, Chief Financial Officer, Warehouse Manager and Director of Transportation.

Mom’s Request for Quote came in the form of the weekly sale papers. Although there were standard stock items needed each and every week such as 12 gallons of milk, 18 loaves of bread and 14 boxes of cereal, she wanted to ensure she was getting the best price possible to optimize her purchasing power. Based upon the sales and items already inventory, time was then spent creating a list of materials needed for each meal for the coming production week. I would like to believe that she still appreciates that I wrote cookies, candy and cake on her list every single week and have now taught my nieces and nephews to do the same.

Long before environmental initiatives were in vogue, mom spent time creating her own transportation management system. She mapped out a route to save both gasoline and time. She also packed the van so that there would be no damage to product during transit.

The list itself was created based on location within each store. This eliminated lost time walking back and forth to the same aisle repeatedly. It also meant less error in the picking process since the list provided exactly what was needed. The only voice directed portion of the picking system was mom reminding those who went along to the stores to return items to the shelf that were not on the list. At check out time store employees became part of the supply chain. Mom was very specific about how bags were to be packed. The store employees were instructed to place cold food together, frozen foods together and sort all other items so that the same foods were together. There was no mixing cereal, canned foods and butter in the same bag. This method saved precious time when it was time to put product away and also eliminated spoilage of a cold or frozen item.

Once all items were procured the next steps were Receiving and Warehousing. As soon as the van pulled into the driveway all “warehouse workers” were expected to start the offloading process. There was no automation for this portion of the work.

Once the bags were in the house they were separated by where they would be stored. Categories included upstairs refrigerator, basement refrigerator, kitchen cabinet, pantry, laundry room and in some cases items were relegated to a bedroom. All items were sorted and categorized so they could be found easily during the picking process. We were taught to use the FIFO method for all groceries. We did follow that except when it came to the Wheaties or Cheerios which were always put to the back of the shelf with the hope that those boxes would become obsolete stock without having to be consumed.

In the mid eighties as the family grew it was decided additional storage space was needed. The request was sent to the Operations, Accounting and Warehouse manager who worked with the Finance Manager. The additional warehouse space was built. Larger purchases could be made to truly optimize discounts. Despite the extra space where items could be stored and picked easier, the Wheaties and Cheerios were still relegated to the back of the shelf.

My first stop outside the home in Supply Chain Management was working for Jewel Food stores. I spent 2 years working as what the Jewel management called a Utility Clerk, while public referred to me as a Bagger. Though part of my duties included shagging carts from the parking lot, the majority of my time was spent being the last stop of the supply chain for consumers. I did well in the position because based on my experience I knew how to sort and pack items for the customers to make the unpacking process at home easy and efficient.

From Jewel, I emigrated to the now defunct Kroch’s and Brentano’s bookstore chain. During my 8 year tenure I went from Cashier, to Assistant Store Manager to Warehouse Manager. As a Cashier and Assistant Store Manager, I was assisting customers with their needs. If an item was not currently in stock the process was to contact other stores and the warehouse to have the item transferred for pick up later. At the warehouse level, my portion of the supply chain became making sure I filled the demand of the stores and reported to the buyers what items needed to be refilled. While Kroch’s & Brentano’s was ahead of the curve by having a central warehouse to store the bulk of items until needed and we would deliver to the store at no charge to the customer for pick up later, it’s ultimate demise was the fact that management saw no need to computerize the inventory. The Kroch’s & Brentano’s inventory process was to contact store managers each week and ask how many of the top 20 best sellers were needed. All other items had an index card placed in the back with the hope that the cashier would first remember to remove it from the book and second remember to give it to a manager so they knew additional copies were needed. Larger bookstores and discounters moved into the Chicago market in the early 1990’s and capitalized on the mistake. By the time the management decided to put in computer systems it was far too late to recover and resulted in the bankruptcy.

My next stop along my supply chain journey continued with the Graphic & Technologies Group (GTG). My tenure at this company was spent supplying Hyatt hotel brochures to individuals, travel agencies and the hotels themselves. Each day a report would print with shipping labels that I would review to ensure quantities were correct. Most individuals did not order a case of brochures when deciding on where to vacation. After review, I would provide the documents to the warehouse where one person would pick individual brochures while another would pick the cases both would then prep them for shipment. Hyatt had 2-4 very large mailings each year for all travel agencies. The mailing would be a mix of several different brochures, booklets, post cards and other promotional items. In order to fulfill this kitting request I would hire several temps. One group would pick the product, one group would sort the product, one group would pack the product, and the last group applied shipping labels. The biggest innovation that took place during my time with GTG was the internet request. Prior to the website and e-mail, all orders were taken by a call center in Omaha, NE. The call center personnel would key the information for the order into the computer, which would appear on the next report. The internet made it possible for customer to key in their own mailing information and select the brochures they wanted to receive. This eliminated many hours of manual labor. As the internet took over, my job was phased out because many customers did not need to be mailed a brochure when they could look at the hotel online.

I decided to go back to Retail but in a different aspect. Rather than working the nights, weekends, and holidays to fill customer demand, I took a position with a merchandising company. A merchandising company visits stores based on a schedule set by a supplier or manufacturer. The job of a merchandiser is to ensure product is on the shelf to meet customer demand or to support a promotion for a manufacturer. The promotion portion could be a new product being released or a product in which the manufacturer had far too much stock and wanted to reduce the quantity it had before it was obsolete. The main portion of my job was Master Scheduler for roughly 100 merchandisers on an on-going basis. However there were times in which the work load flexed very high and I could have as many of 500 merchandisers working on projects. All the work was assigned through a website application. After assigning the work the merchandiser I would then access the same website, print their assignments, instructions and any other necessary materials needed. They would also have a handheld device that would transmit their assignments through a phone line. Inside the store, they would use the handheld to scan stock, answer questions the supplier or manufacturer had and then close their work order. At the end of the day, they then transmitted their completed assignments though the phone line and upload to the website.

Each day I could then view each merchandiser’s work progress and follow up if they were falling behind. Some promotional materials were sent from the manufacturer direct to the merchandiser’s home for store placement. This was to eliminate theft during transit or at the store level. Tuesdays were always the big merchandising day every week. This was due to the fact that all the video and music companies wanted to ensure their new releases were on the sales floor for purchase. (Tuesday is typically the slowest shopping day of the week so these items draw customer’s into the store) For example, The first Harry Potter movie, was released at 12:01am on May 28th, 2002. I had to have merchandisers in several store chains at that exact time to ensure the displays and product was available for sale.

All of these stops finally led to my career with Associated starting in 2006. I work as the Supervisor of the Sales Coordination department overseeing the day to day operations of equipment sales. Our department handles the procurement, delivery and invoicing of orders to our customers. We work as partners with our sales department to ensure the customer’s supply chain needs are met. We also work closely with our Vendors and also our internal Parts, Rental, Service and Accounting departments. There are many details and follow up in the position but there are many new things to learn every day. I have never left the office a single day in the past 10 years in which I did not learn something new.

I have watched our business grow from a focus on equipment sales to one that offers solutions for every component of the supply chain. In 2013, I decided to expand my knowledge of the supply chain and started to study for the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals SCPro certification. On March 19, 2015 I successfully passed the test and received my certification.

My focus now is to continue to learn more about supply chain management and also how to get others inspired to learn more about supply chain management. Our industry is one that will have a large amount of knowledge leaving the work force as baby boomers retire. It is my belief that we cannot wait until students are college age to start discussing supply chain management with them. We have to get their attention and light the fire at younger age. We have to find ways to get them excited about supply chain management, show them it is more than transportation or logistics and there is a fantastic future in the business.

Kudos to my mom and dad who instilled great supply chain knowledge into their children without us even knowing we were learning. All those years of filling the pantry shelves and hiding the Wheaties and Cheerios behind the good cereal has led to me to a career I truly love.

Cath Skoda