Nuts & Bolts Promises
How just about any retail furniture operation or DC can get to 99 percent perfect first time deliveries.
Nobody in the furniture business wakes up each day and says, "Today, I'm going to fail." Yet every morning, there's a new day filled with promise and possibilities. I'm the kind of guy who wakes up, ideas rushing around in my head, and dying to put them into action. And yet, something always seems to happen, a dérailleur of sorts, that slips the chain into a lower gear. That reminds me of another saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Doesn't it feel that way sometimes? Lots of us on the repair and delivery side of the furniture business feel like we're in the movie “Groundhog Day”. Still, I remain optimistic.
Furniture distribution center managers must exude that same optimism, make each day full of promise and possibility, rather than succumb to the forces that have the capability to pull them down. I'm referring to blown deliveries, customer service issues, broken furniture, shattered promises.
Every furniture retailer has the ability to achieve a 99 percent first-time delivery rate. Some of you may be thinking, "Gee Pete, why not 100 percent? I thought you said you were an optimist?" Well, being on the planet earth, and working in an industry where the natural order of things is chaos, you have to allow for a small sliver of “oops.” But by and large, if retailers do what they are supposed to do before trucks leave the docks, 99 percent first-time delivery rates can be attainable.
Where to Start
“Social media has empowered anyone who just bought a $99 dining table to artfully disembowel a retailer for the slightest malfeasance.”
It all begins with putting the right person in charge. “A fish stinks from the head” is an appropriate expression. The person at the helm of the warehouse has the capacity to affect outcomes of the day more than anyone, which is why it is so terribly important to put someone in that position who inspires, aspires, and perspires.
When I was a quality control manager for a mid-sized firm, I would occasionally take the opportunity to help out, jump in, and start putting cardboard in the baler. A string of floats filled with boxes were reduced to a nice, tidy, compact cube. "This is kind of relaxing," I thought. And for a moment wondered why employees complained about doing this kind of job.
But there is a difference in how I felt about doing this job, and how an average Joe who labors stuffing cardboard packing material in a baler, day-after-day views it... and for half the pay!
The person in charge, therefore, needs to be responsible for off-setting this ennui at least in part with their own brand of optimism, energy, and sweat equity. That's the first step in getting to 99 percent perfect first-time deliveries.
“The person at the helm of the warehouse has
the capacity to affect outcomes of the day more than anyone, which is why it is so terribly important to put someone in that position who inspires, aspires, and perspires.”
I don't care what the country of origin is, or who makes the furniture we stock, it all has to be deluxed. Customer expectations for the condition of delivered furniture has not changed over the years. Our customers expect perfection... or close to it. And this has become a problem for furniture store owner because social media has empowered anyone who just bought a $99 dining table to artfully disembowel a retailer for the slightest malfeasance. And, force them to personally apologize for the error! It happens all the time. So it's much, much more important these days to make sure that the furniture you sell, and the promises you make, coincide. This requires the right management, the right company philosophy, and the right people.
Set Up For Success
The moment furniture arrives at your distribution center or store, the expectation level must be set extraordinarily high. Breaking down a fully-loaded tractor trailer invites all sorts of damage if it's not done carefully and thoughtfully. Every time a box is unloaded, put away, during picking, staging and opening — great care must be taken to make sure that the warehouse team and drivers are set up to be successful. Sure, your repair people can probably put a dresser back together if it's racked, but do they have the time? The one thing money cannot buy is more time.
“The number one reason
for 911-style emergency service calls is missing hardware. How much does
a service call cost your company? About $75.”
Direct Supervision: If you've been in our industry a while, the thought of opening up a box probably makes you cringe. We sweat over the type of knife being used, how the cartons are cut open, how the bags on the upholstery are removed. Paranoia! But with good reason. If the crew is not supervised, knife cuts can and will cause serious damage to the furniture, resulting in failure. Qualified supervision is always the key to success. That requires a supervisor be present and actually supervising.
Assembly: Assembly can almost be comical at times. Experience has shown that virtually any assembly problem managers are called in to resolve can be solved by a careful reading of the instructions. Improper assembly can lead to dangerously weak furniture in the home.
Assembly Check List
- Chairs are particularly problematic. The bolts need to be set to a certain torque, dictated by the clutch on the assembly drills.
- Bolts often need to be tightened twice, much like a car wheel being mounted on an axle.
- Not sorting hardware can lead to disaster, like using the wrong bolts to mount a top to an entertainment center. Use one too long? You now have problems!
- One manufacturer, Ashley, has very good assembly instructions, and the hardware packs are nearly always exact, so when an assembler says, “They sent me too many bolts!” My reaction is always the same: No, they didn't. They never do.
All of us know what deluxing is, but to actually achieve this milestone requires an attention to detail. It requires someone who is constantly looking for anomalies and has the experience to recognize them. Here are just some of the things I look for on every piece of furniture that's put in front of me:
Legs: Has the piece been assembled correctly? Are the legs properly installed? Is the piece tight? It's very easy to improperly install sofa legs when there's more than one shape, or to have barstool legs reversed resulting in “ski slope” stretchers.
Tops: Using a raking light, I examine every finished top. Often I will see very slight scratches, or packing marks. These tops need to be treated with a flow-out lacquer or blush retarder to level the finish back to its original appearance.
“Little children love to play underneath dining tables, and if there's
one staple sticking out, it will stab them in their heads.”
Sectionals: With sectionals, do the backs align, and do the pieces go together? Putting the group together is the best fail-safe way to know if the group has been ordered correctly, and that the fabrics match.
Leaves & Staples: Do the leaves fit in the dining tables? Do the butterflies open and install properly? While I'm checking, I always make sure that the assemblers and openers have removed every staple underneath the table. Little children love to play underneath dining tables, and if there's one staple sticking out, it will stab them in their heads. I could not be more serious about this: Remove the staples!
Drawers: Open the drawers for all casegoods. Ensure they work smoothly. While they're open, use a marker and finish the back edge of the drawer face. It makes the finish seem uniform and complete. Remember, it's what she doesn't see that she doesn't complain about.
Trash: My good friend Dave Berggren always said, in addition to many wise things, "Never ship trash to the customer." Remove all packing and protection, period, during the opening process. That includes the foam attached to the hardware.
Electronics: Check the lights and make sure everything works exactly as it should. Electronics are fraught with problems, and I assure you a driver team does not have time to figure out why the colored LEDs don't change from green to red to blue like they did in the store.
Hardware: Is all the hardware included? Let's yell that to the skies: The number one reason for 911-style emergency service calls is missing hardware. How much does a service call cost your company? About $75. These calls are preventable.
Ounce of Prevention
Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Are we so hurried in our lifestyles that we can't take a moment and ponder what that means? Reach 99 percent first time delivery by prevention. There, that's the key to it, you're welcome. Prevent what you know could happen, from happening. Wise managers can look into the future and see what might derail a delivery, and then proactively prevent failure with standards, discipline and reward. And it's exhausting! Think of it like parenting. When your kids are little, you're incredibly paranoid about what could happen. Of course you are! A lot is on the line! But there's a lot on the line for your company, or the company you work for. A good manager is mentally drained at the end of the day.
“My good friend Dave Berggren always said, in addition to many wise things, 'Never ship trash to the customer.”
When it's time to load the orders for delivery, put in place a system of checks that absolutely ensure that what should be on the truck is on the truck. That will guarantee complete orders, as well as inventory accuracy. If something changes—say, a new nightstand needs to be pulled because the first one has a defect—make 100 percent certain that the paperwork is updated, and that the system is in sync with what has transpired. Immediately damage code the piece that needs work and locate it.
When loading, proactively prevent damage by using as many blankets as is necessary to guarantee a flawless delivery. A good quality pad on Amazon costs $7.50. A canceled delivery due to damage or neglect can cost hundreds, even thousands. It simply doesn't make sense not to have a proper supply of blankets on each truck. Experienced drivers know how to load the truck and it's poetry to watch. Have them share this information with new drivers. Red Knight Distribution in Clarksville, Tennessee, requires that each new driver assistant ride with a seasoned, responsible and proven lead driver for a set amount of time. Their leads are notoriously intolerant of any deviation from the proper way of doing things, and as a result, what is taught to the assistants becomes normalized.
For more information used to achieve accountability at Red Knight distribution check out William Vanderford's article in the January/February 2019 issue of Furniture World found at https://www.furninfo.com/furniture-world-articles/3780.
Drivers should be equipped with basic touch-up materials to prevent service calls and disappointed customers. A box of markers found in a driver's toolbox often does not contain the color selection that best represents the product lines you sell, believe it or not. In addition to common wood colors like extra dark walnut and light maple, basic paint-type markers like black, white and grey are essential for touching up finishes that aren't stained. Your shop lead can help you select the right color assortment for success.
Again, the ability to deliver 99 percent first-time delivery is prevention. Prevent what could happen, from happening, and you'll enjoy higher profits. “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”--Dr. Seuss
Peter Schlosser is a backend furniture consultant based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His focus is repair, quality control, exceptional customer service, and all things operational. He is a contributing editor to Furniture World. To see all his articles
. Questions on any aspect of this article or furniture repair can be directed to Peter Schlossser at