August 2005 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

James Carlin: A Strong Man for the Job

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When a construction worker on a job site drops a hammer, and no one on the street below gets hurt, James Carlin is one person to thank. His company, Strong Man Building Products Corp., Fairfield, N.J., distributes tarpaulin and netting used in construction, including the huge nets contractors drape over scaffolding to protect their job sites.

Carlin joined Strong Man this spring, but he already knew the firm well: Strong Man was a customer of his two previous employers, both logistics service providers.

"Strong Man's president and I like to say we interviewed each other for 12 years," Carlin jokes.

Today, as Strong Man's global supply chain manager, Carlin oversees the flow of goods from domestic and overseas suppliers through the company's warehouse in Wayne, N.J., and out to Strong Man's customers—building product wholesalers throughout the United States.

Making everyone in the supply chain understand how crucial it is to get the right product to the right customer at the right time is Strong Man's biggest logistics challenge, says Carlin. Construction contractors tend to order Strong Man's products at the last minute, especially the fire-retardant tarps used to hold in heat during cold weather.

"If it's a mild winter, and construction companies can get away with not installing tarps, that's money to their bottom line," says Carlin. "So contractors constantly monitor weather reports, and place their orders when it looks like the weather will turn bad.

"We have to anticipate that and have products in stock and ready to go as quickly as possible," he adds.

Strong Man ships goods the same day they are ordered, and delivers orders to customers via next-day service. Prompt delivery is essential.

"Our customers are in high-wage situations on union job sites. If workers are waiting to install a product on the scaffolding, and it isn't there on time, it costs our customers a lot of money," Carlin explains.

Besides pushing to deliver goods just in time, Strong Man is constantly working on ways to cut labor out of the supply chain. "Ours is a high-touch chain," Carlin says.

Although tarps come in cartons, netting arrives on large rolls that are floor-loaded into ocean containers. Employees working for Strong Man, its carriers, and its customers handle those rolls many times—when unloading from containers, during put-away and picking, and while loading the rolls onto trucks, and delivering them to construction sites. Strong Man is working on new ways to package the rolls, so workers can move a group of rolls as one single unit.

"We're trying to make our supply as easy as possible for customers to buy," Carlin says. The goal is to allow wholesalers to postpone their purchasing decisions as long as they need to.

"If our customers can rely on us to do their warehousing and distribution, we can increase their efficiency and give them a better return on investment," he says.

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

See You at the Top, by Zig Ziglar.

Advice to people starting out in logistics?

Take on as many responsibilities as you can.

Business motto?

Press on. As Calvin Coolidge said, "The slogan 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race."

Something you wish you had done differently?

One of the biggest lessons I've learned in my career is understanding that other people have already 'done it,' and I don't need tofigure everything out on my own. At a previous employer, we tried to reinvent the wheel by writing our own warehouse management system. When the implementation failed, we bought a packaged solution that worked very well. We should have bought that solution in the first place.

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

My world revolves around my 10-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son. We play baseball and soccer, and go horseback riding. We also like to take family vacations—we enjoy educational trips to places such as New York City and Colonial Williamsburg.

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