For many furniture retailers, consistently making “clean” sales and perfect deliveries is as difficult as grasping that gold ring on an antique carousel. Peter Schlosser reviews the entire process from receiving to delivery. Potential problem areas are identified and solutions described.
View all articles by Peter Schlosser
Step by step care from receiving, to prep through deliverycan help you to grab that “gold ring” every time.
My father used to take me to an amusement park in Lenape, tucked away in the picturesque Brandywine Valley outside bustling Philadelphia. In grade school at the time, I remember that the park had an enormous merry-go-round splashed in gold, red and green like leaves in the fall. It was colossal. Riding round and round, we had the opportunity to reach out and grab for a ring. The gold ring was the most coveted, and although I never got one, I kept reaching for it, over and over.
Aren’t aren’t we all still reaching for that ring?
For many furniture retailers, consistently making “clean” sales and perfect deliveries is equivalent to reaching for and actually grasping that gold ring. This ring may be positioned just beyond our grasp and we may lose our balance. The realities of today’s furniture supply chain can stack the deck against retailers who lack the expertise or manpower to compensate for the fact that woods and fabrics are easily damaged. Production outsourcing and increased volumes have resulted in some quality problems… and the list goes on.
Step back and consider the steps that take place for a piece of furniture to get from the factory to your customer’s living room. Because of the number of people and steps involved, the chance that something may go wrong is high. Considering all the work involved, it makes sense to do it right the first time.
This is easy to say, but hard to do. Or is it? Let’s debunk this mystery once and for all and figure out exactly how we can get a chair and an end table from Factory A to Mrs. Smith’s parlor in perfect condition.
You would be amazed how many warehouse managers let their trucks leave the warehouse without pads, straps, or loadlocks. Yes, we are all on a budget, but how on earth is Harry, your driver, supposed to secure a truck filled with different-shaped cartons of widely varying weights from Factory A without at least a couple of straps?
Load shift is the first problem your furniture will encounter on its trip to Mrs. Smith. Make sure your trucks are equipped with “E” track, a metal strip running parallel to the truck bed that allows Harry to install nylon belts equipped with special fasteners to tie off loads. If you can’t afford a newer truck, then “D” rings screwed to the walls of the truck can serve as holders for straps whose ends terminate in hooks. Have them professionally installed since the screws will have to be a certain type, length and thread to secure the “D” ring plates to the plywood walls.
Another option is a loadlock, which is a lot like a very large closet tension rod: It is a long rod that presses against each sidewall of the truck, effectively preventing objects from moving. These aren’t as versatile as straps because they can’t wrap around objects, and don’t help at all if the load is stacked high with smaller boxes. Plywood can be used to create a temporary wall perpendicular to the sides of the truck locked into place with two loadlocks, but small boxes that aren’t wedged into place can still move.
With any luck and a lot of skill, Harry successfully returns to the warehouse with his load of furniture intact and in perfect condition. Now it’s up to Ed and Mike to carefully unload, inspect, document and store Mrs. Smith’s pieces. What could go wrong? A lot.
Check and re-check. Incorrect finish is a frustrating problem especially when it is discovered in the home. When checking in furniture, make sure to verify not only the style numbers, but also the fabric and finish codes. When in doubt, tear open the box a bit and look inside.
Take it easy. All too often, drivers can be in a hurry to offload a truck; speed can lead to problems. Too many times, boxes are stacked on a handtruck, only to topple over onto the concrete floor. Interior packing is good but it’s not that good! Productivity is fine but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the bottom line.
Helping hands. Today’s furniture warehouses can be small cities under a big expansive roof, with racks towering forty feet into the air and nine-thousand-pound lift trucks zooming around. When loading heavy objects such as armoires onto those lift trucks, insist that Mike and Ed help each other load the freight to avoid a piece falling backwards, or racking due to the constant back-and-forth wrenching that is necessary to “walk” a piece onto the platform.
Pay attention. Concealed and apparent damages are all too often ignored by warehouse staff who are in a hurry to put the freight up and go home. Mike and Ed need to be shown how to identify apparent damage and what to do when it’s discovered. Harry, your driver, was the first line of protection, and should have inspected each carton as it went on his truck. Your case for transit damages pales significantly once a bill of lading is signed stating that the load is free and clear.
Let’s assume that deliveries to Mrs. Smith’s part of town are on Fridays, so your front-end warehouse crew needs some time to get the freight pulled, the delivery times confirmed, and the freight loaded. There is much debate about how much time should be allowed between the time a piece is picked and the time it is loaded: I suggest two days. Unless you have two days to relacquer a top, for example, the chances of the piece being repaired correctly and ready for delivery are close to nil. If you call your trips in advance, you now have to call Mrs. Smith back and make up some excuse why you are now suddenly not able to come out after all.
Question: What’s scarier than a guy with a box knife who doesn’t know how to use it? Answer: The sucking noise you hear from your checkbook when he cuts a sofa made with Italian silk (COM, of course). Knife cuts are one of the most common ways to “shoot yourself in the foot” so to speak. A warehouse manager’s job is 99% education and follow-up. Box openers should be shown the proper way to open cartons. Consider knives that have blunt tips, or spring-loaded cutters that only cut so deep. One good cut can leave a man with severed nerves or even an amputation, so consider gloves with a metal mesh woven into them to prevent knife cuts. They’re not that expensive (liners are about $18 online).
If you haven’t grabbed at that proverbial gold ring yet, here’s a good time to try. Take Mrs. Smith’s furniture, bathe the pieces in bright, natural light (like a halogen work light), and look it over. Inspect it. Check for splits, cuts, dents, scratches, warping and open joints. Using a roll of brightly-colored low-tack tape, place a piece of tape wherever there is a problem to show your deluxer what needs to be fixed. Adhesives contain chemicals that can soften lacquer, so it is vitally important that the tape you use be low-tack, or low “stickiness”, to keep from ruining the finish. Never, under any circumstances, tape anything to a top.
Mary, your deluxer, should be equipped with plenty of light to see what needs to be done. Her bench should have an airline supplied to it, and should be equipped with everything she needs (and feels comfortable using) to do a repair in fifteen minutes or less. A typical deluxing station will have the items listed in Figure 1.
Mary will be looking over Mrs. Smith’s furniture to see if there are any taped places that need special attention. Finding none, she then treats each piece differently, as upholstery or casegoods.
Upholstered pieces should be looked over for: loose threads; stains (provide a sheet of care tips for your customer based on the cleaning code); wrinkles, loose fabric (especially on the skirts and outback); slubs; loose tackbands; noise in the seats when sat upon; any noticeable imperfections in the fabric (mismatch, poor stitching).
Casegoods have their own special potential problems. A good deluxer will use a finish marker of the right color to make a piece look 100% better just by highlighting all the edges. Some more tips: use compressed air to blow dust out of the drawers and compartments; wipe a neutral scratch-hiding polish inside drawers and compartments for a factory-fresh smell; install nylon glides on all legs; lubricate drawer slides; adjust doors and catches.
Assuming there are no damages that require shop time, Mrs. Smith’s furniture can now be staged to load. Again, disaster awaits! If your warehouse floors are uneven, never push anything across them because you will break legs. Glides help, but getting the uneven joints repaired helps even more. Once it’s staged, we’ll need to show Bill the best way to wrap furniture so it gets onto the truck safely.
Furniture pads are both a boon and a bane. Soft and cushioning, they also hold water, collect grit and dust, or take on a bad smell if allowed to mildew. Wash furniture pads on a regular basis. If you can’t afford this luxury, strongly consider keeping the original packing materials that come with each piece of furniture and use that as the first line of defense when wrapping. A slightly moist blanket will ruin a table top. Minute particles of grit can turn a high-gloss finish into a roadmap. Make sure to keep the original packing clean as well, since plastic packaging is easily static-charged and is a magnet for dirt. For tops and anything with glass, consider adding a few layers of cardboard cut-to-fit to protect against load shift and sharp blows. Crushed corners are always a problem, so tape some cardboard corners onto the pads or foam; don’t let cardboard touch a finished surface since it is paper, containing wood fibers, which are rough. Secure in place or wrap separately all shelves, doors and drawers.
After Bill has wrapped the furniture in plenty of blankets, it’s time to load the truck. Loading a truck in stop order is important, but don’t forget to consider the weight of each object before packing it in. Heavy objects sitting on top of fragile objects… well, I’m sure you’ve seen the results of that mistake. A skilled loader is worth his weight in gold, because he knows how to fit each piece together like a puzzle, taking into account not only stop order, but also the limitations of each piece as well as the overall balance of the load in the truck.
Having learned our lesson with Harry’s truck, we made sure to put belts on the delivery truck driven by Pete and John. Pete made sure to pack the truck’s basic assortment of tools and touch-up; John went through the paperwork to make sure the trip flowed from stop to stop. He also checked for any paperwork discrepancies that might be a problem later on, such as notes that say “stop shorted” or “piece NIL.” They leave on time, and arrive at their first stop of the day, on time at Mrs. Smith’s home. If they were late, they would have called and had the courtesy to inform Mrs. Smith of any delays.
Pete greets Mrs. Smith and asks her where she would like the furniture placed. He asks for the balance of the amount owed on the furniture (because once it’s in the home, you can’t just take it out if there’s a problem). John has found a small crushed edge on the end table and repairs it using materials in his touch-up kit. Carefully, the two men lift and carry the new furniture into Mrs. Smith’s parlor, making sure that the legs have glides on the bottom (sharp objects might mar the wood floor). Before they leave, Mrs. Smith signs the bill of lading free and clear, and the men remove any trace of trash before they drive off.
Guess what? Mrs. Smith is pleased with her delivery, everyone did their job correctly, and your bottom line remains intact. Now, if this seemingly utopian situation doesn’t exist in your company, strongly consider employing the skills of a well-rounded consulting firm. Investing in doing it right the first time is much less expensive than continuing to lose your balance on the same old merry-go-round.
TOUCH-UP & REPAIR LIST
Your floor repair kit should be assembled on a rolling cart. There are plastic and metal versions available. You should cushion all corners with pipe insulation (tube form), split in half and taped onto the cart. This will prevent dents in furniture should you accidentally run into something with the cart.
Fill Sticks: Black; Brown mahogany; Burnt sienna; Burnt umber; Cherry brown; Cordovan mahogany; Dark medium walnut; Extra dark walnut; Fontana; Nutmeg; Perfect brown; White.
Series II Markers: Cherry fruitwood; Black; Dark red mahogany; Extra dark walnut; Light oak; Mahogany; Natural ash; Nutmeg; Perfect brown; Pine; Salem maple; Warm walnut.
Utility Items: Grade 00, 0000 steel wool; Clean white cotton rags; Tarp or paper (to mask off); Grey, white scotchbrite; Sandpaper assortment
Aerosols: Flat, satin, gloss lacquers; Sanding sealer; Blush eliminator; Lacquer flow-out.
Tools: Electric burn-in knife; Assorted brushes; Extension cord; Hair dryer with a low setting; Electric drill with bits; Cork sanding block; Electric buffer with spurring tool; Various clamps; Hand tools (hammer, drivers, pliers) Glass cleaner; Flashlight; Shims (wood coffee stirrers, toothpicks); Razor with fresh blades; Socket set (metric and SAE); Allen keys (metric and SAE); Hammers (claw, tack, rubber mallet); Staple puller. Additional Items: Tube of putty-type epoxy; Distressing pencils; Assorted glazes and stains; Assorted blending powders; Burn-in stick kit; Graining pens, full set; White or yellow PVA glue; Ebony, ivory compounds; Lacquer thinner; Leather/vinyl cleaner, aerosol; Rubbing (cutting) oil; Glass cleaner.
Peter SchlosserPeter is a professional retail furniture backend consultant focusing primarily on overhauling operational dysfunction through better repairs, customer empathy and urgency as a way of life. He, his wife Christina, and his six children live in North Carolina. Peter works closely with John McCloskey, a veteran computer consultant to the industry. Questions on repair issues can be directed to Peter Schlosser care of FURNITURE WORLD.
View all articles by Peter Schlosser