May 2004 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Bruce Cutler: Selling Style, Price and Global Expertise

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In the mid 1990s at Compaq Computer, Bruce Cutler crossed the gap between international marketing and international logistics. "I didn't have logistics experience, but I knew the people in the subsidiaries, and I knew how to run a project in multiple countries," he says.

His first logistics assignment sent Cutler and a small team to distribution centers in 30 countries, where they worked with management at each to devise a custom plan to handle more volume.

"At the end of an 18-month process we had increased distribution capacity by approximately 300 percent," he says. Today, Cutler applies his knowledge of global operations to an industry that's hungry for that kind of expertise. He's vice president of logistics at Star Furniture, a Texas retailer with showrooms in Houston, Austin, Bryan, and San Antonio.

Most furniture sold in the United States used to come from North Carolina and Virginia. But in the past three to five years, the industry has made a dramatic shift to Asian sourcing, and that has brought a sudden need for proficiency in international logistics, Cutler says. Today, furniture retailers must cope with longer transit times for products and repair parts. They rely heavily on ocean carriers and they need to know how to get their goods through Customs.

"The computer industry has dealt with a lot of those issues already, so I'm able to adapt some processes here," Cutler says.

Along with Asia, Star Furniture receives goods from North Carolina, Canada, California, Mexico, and Europe at its distribution center in Houston. Reporting to the executive vice president of operations, Cutler is responsible for all transportation and distribution, along with customer service and merchandise quality.

Unlike many retailers, Star Furniture delivers its products from the DC to customers' homes rather than to stores. Products from overseas are shipped disassembled, so employees in the DC must put them together as well as check them for blemishes and perform minor repairs if needed.

Employees then wrap the furniture in blankets and carefully pack it on Star's home delivery trucks. Cutler is evaluating software to replace the homegrown system the company uses today to route deliveries.

"There are some great new routing software technologies out there," he says, including packages that use the global positioning system (GPS) and cellular networks to monitor the fleet and continually update the expected time of arrival for each stop. "I'm very interested in trying to implement one of those packages by the end of this year," he says.

Cutler also wants to expand the use of crossdocking, a tricky proposition in a home delivery operation. Having vendors pre-label inbound shipments with Star Furniture's bar codes helps the process, he says. Scanning each piece as it arrives, employees know whether furniture is designated for immediate delivery or for inventory.

Also, shipment tracking information from carriers' web sites is indispensable. "If we know in advance that a piece is on the truck, or it's on the water en route to us, we can contact the customer to set up the delivery, and thereby execute the crossdock," Cutler notes.

Cutler says logistics combines the most attractive qualities of his previous work in marketing and engineering: it focuses on the customer, and it deals with many quantifiable factors. He only wishes he had discovered the discipline sooner.

"Once I got into logistics," he says, "I just loved it, and I never wanted to do anything else."

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter.

What's in your briefcase?

My Pocket PC and travel-related items such as the adapter for my cell phone, travel expense reports, pens, and business cards.

Advice to people starting out in logistics?

Learn to understand different information systems and write users' requirements. In this industry, many of the physical things are already well managed. The opportunities are on the systems side and in the way you use information.

Sum up your mission in three words?

Quality, capacity, speed.

What do you do when you're not at work?

I spend most of my time with my family. We like to go boating when time permits. I love to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. And I like to travel.

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