Tell us about your company and your role.
Lawson Products is a leading service-based provider of consumables in the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) market. We help customers lower their total cost of operation by increasing productivity and efficiency. We’re based in Chicago and our 1,600 employees, including 50 in supply chain roles, serve industrial, commercial, institutional and government customers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Lawson has strategically located distribution centers throughout North America. Some SVCC members may have recently toured our flagship 300,000 square-foot facility in suburban Chicago. We recently built out a 43,000 square-foot DC in Alberta, Canada to better serve our Western Canada customers.
The company is growing, we’re adding sales representatives and making acquisitions. My role is to contribute to operational excellence, measured by operations and supply chain metrics, as well as oversee business development. Lawson has acquired five companies in the U.S. and Canada since late 2015, increasing product breadth and depth and distribution coverage. Our acquisition strategy emphasizes a well-defined, efficient and collaborative process from which all parties benefit.
Talk about operational excellence in supply chains.
We’re advancing a Lean Six Sigma/Continuous Improvement culture at Lawson. Lean and Six Sigma methods share the same goal – exceeding customer expectations by eliminating waste and creating efficient processes. We’ve gained tremendous operational efficiencies by following the DMAIC approach (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) in LSS problem solving.
Recently DC employees at all levels led several impactful LSS projects addressing issues in supplier non-conformance [resulting in a 30% reduction in supplier defects] and carbonization strategies [resulting in less waste and reduced freight and DIM fees – an “air tax” parcel carriers charge for shipping packages that are light relative to their size].
The supply chain holds a host of productivity enhancement and cost reduction opportunities for most organizations. Lawson’s approach to Lean is to reduce any activity, touch or rework that doesn’t add value. Here are some programs we’ve implemented ourselves or with customers to improve business processes:
- Optimized inventory management – minimizes costs associated with just in case (JIC) inventory by monitoring consumption weekly, improving asset time utilization and worker productivity
- Crossdocking – working with suppliers to build pallets with destination location pallet IDs and labeling to allow products to flow through warehouses and DCs with fewer touches
- Reduce waste and optimize productivity by maintaining an orderly workplace with 5S – Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain – one of the basic practices of Lean
- Create a continuous improvement culture – remove barriers to communication so employees flag a problem as soon as it’s discovered. This will keep you ahead of issues and ensure team members have the tools and resources to be successful. Involve employees in idea generation for improving processes.
- Evaluate the supply chain – what’s best for your type of inventory? A 100-percent PUSH model, 100-percent PULL model or a hybrid approach?
Take a look through the supply chain talent lens. Where do you see things going and what challenges does the future hold?
Is bigger better? To be successful in distribution and supply chain today, organizations need to invest in technology and automation, and to make this investment worthwhile you need scale. B2C and B2B customers alike have a growing expectation for more services, selection and flexibility, all delivered in an ever-decreasing time frame. People want to know when their order ships and when it will arrive. Supply chain professionals need to work to integrate all areas of their businesses to deliver on-demand information and visibility to their internal and external customers.
This new level of service requires analytical thinkers and problem solvers at every touch point up and down the supply chain and highlights a growing gap for “skilled” workers. Automation and technology make warehouses and distribution centers more efficient and productive but also much more complex.
Optimizing performance of these facilities requires that managers not only understand how to train, coach and motivate employees, but also understand how to integrate technology and use analytical tools to uncover inefficiencies in their systems. As industry professionals, it’s our job to train more individuals to bridge the gap marrying the technology and tools with the soft skills of understanding how to motivate and reward employee performance and productivity.
Contact Shane at Shane.McCarthy@lawsonproducts.com