January 2005 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Cheri McCaslin: She's Got Game

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Cheri McCaslin first gained a taste for logistics when she taught herself to run a transportation brokerage. A few months into her job at a local delivery service in St. Louis, the company earned its brokerage authority.

"The company decided it needed someone to start the brokerage," McCaslin says, "and they handed the job to me, gave me a book, and said, "Go figure it out.'"

McCaslin later gained considerable experience providing logistics services to shipper-clients, holding various positions at Hub Group. These days, she uses her know-how on the other side of the fence.

As domestic logistics manager for Academy Sports and Outdoors, McCaslin supervises the routing and scheduling of all freight from the retail chain's domestic vendors to its distribution center in Katy, Texas. She is also responsible for claims administration, the receiving office, and yard management for the company, which operates 80 stores in eight southern states.

One lesson McCaslin learned early in her career, she says, is "never tell carriers you're not going to pay them—regardless of how late they are—until they've delivered that load."

She once made the mistake of trying that tactic on a trucking firm. In response, the firm told her they would not deliver the load until she delivered payment for the balance of the freight. McCaslin sent the money through the Comchek automated payment system, "and, luckily, it got delivered," she says. "But you've got to be careful with your threats."

At Academy, McCaslin must get goods into the distribution center for two peak retail seasons—back-to-school, which brings a rush on school uniforms, and the year-end holidays. Particularly when shipping from West Coast vendors, it's hard to find enough equipment to move all the products on time.

The solution, McCaslin says, is to build a solid relationship with carriers and remind them that Academy is a year-round business. "I tell carriers, "I realize we're spiking in business right now, but remember in February, when nobody else is shipping, you will still have freight from us,'" she says.

This approach serves Academy well as it competes for eastbound trucks with importers moving goods through West Coast ports for the holiday season. "This is a partnership, and our carriers rely on us as much as we rely on them," she says.

Seeking to better optimize its shipments, Academy will start shopping early this year for a transportation management system. McCaslin wants to implement a solution that forecasts transportation needs based on data in Academy's purchase order management system.

Today, the company knows when orders will be shipped, but "can't translate that into anything meaningful as far as transportation," she says.

"For instance, I might have 40 units on order. But at Academy, a unit could be a fishing lure, a go-kart, or a treadmill. There's no way for us to predict how much capacity we'll need to ship those diverse products," she explains.

If Academy could forecast its needs a few months in advance, "we could schedule the freight to arrive in a way that makes it easier to be loaded quickly so we can get those trailers turned back around," she says.

The Big Questions

What is your idea of a successful day at work?

When I, or an employee on my team, discover a way to improve the workflow process for our department, as well as for other departments further down the supply chain.

Business motto?

Communication is the key to everything.

Advice to people starting out in logistics?

I have four recommendations: 1. Work for at least one year on the operations side of the business, regardless of your long-term aspirations. 2. Always take an opportunity that will expose you to something new, even if it's something you may not be interested in. 3. Get involved in the local chapter of your professional organization. 4. Never burn bridges.

What's in your briefcase?

My laptop.

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

If I'm not chauffeuring my 11-year-old daughter or my six-year-old son around, I like to swim in the backyard pool or go to the beach. I like to travel with my family as often as I can.

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