March 2004 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Kim Brown: Keeping the Home Fires Burning

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When work goes well for Kim Brown, people stay warm.

Brown's company, Hearth and Home Technologies, manufactures stoves, fireplaces and related products for home heating. As materials manager at the Lake City, Minn., plant, she's responsible for getting materials to the production line and transporting finished goods to distributors and direct customers.

Like many supply chain professionals, Brown constantly has to balance the need to support a lean operation with the need to satisfy customers. Retailers, for example, want products in time for Christmas and special promotions, or they don't want them at all. Demand from building contractors rises or falls as weather affects home construction. Meanwhile, a snow storm might slow a shipment from a West Coast supplier, or a problem on a milk run might delay deliveries from several sources.

"We compensate by holding two or three days' worth of raw materials inventory here at the site," Brown says. "We don't want to do that, but we're forced to," to meet the company's delivery commitments.

Another challenge is juggling the requirements of Hearth and Home's corporate-owned distributorships and outside customers.

"How do we get all our own distribution trucks out at the same time that we're trying to do our direct customer shipments?" Brown asks. "Who gets first priority? Do we differentiate the services in regard to how many cubes? Or the lead time for the internal customer vs. the external customer? These are things we struggle with every day."

Besides calculating the best way to ship her plant's own goods, Brown coordinates with colleagues at other Hearth and Home manufacturing sites. The Lake City plant makes the company's Heat-N-Glow product line; a sister plant in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa makes the Heatilator line.

"We've got customers that want both products, and they want us to send them all on one truck," Brown says. Without specialized route planning software, managing those moves requires much manual calculation, and several phone calls each day between the two plants.

Brown says she would like to see closer cooperation in logistics, not only among Hearth and Home's four factories, but with the company's parent firm, HON Industries.

"They have manufacturing sites all over the United States, but we don't share trucks with them," Brown says. In addition, Hearth and Home and its parent don't share a common software system. Brown says she hopes the plants will someday share logistics information and transportation capacity.

In the nearer term, Brown expects an initiative to get all of Hearth and Home's suppliers to use returnable containers. The company is also encouraging suppliers to make daily deliveries to the plant, perhaps using a supplier campus as a way station.

Beyond fine-tuning their own operations, Brown says logistics professionals must prepare for upcoming changes in the transportation industry. New rules that recently went into effect governing truck drivers' hours of service are only the beginning, she predicts. Just as smaller, faster computers have transformed the way people do business, advances in the transportation network will prompt a similar revolution.

"It might be electric trucks instead of diesel trucks," or some other innovation, Brown says. "I think it's an untapped area for change."

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

I just finished Birthright by Nora Roberts. I'm about to start The Big Bad Wolf by James Patterson.

Advice to people starting out in logistics?

Learn as much as you can about all different aspects of your company. I think it's very beneficial to get a feel for all the relationships between different processes.

Business motto?

Do it right the first time and give the customers more than they expect.

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

We do a lot of family activities, particularly camping. Both my boys play hockey, and we go to a lot of Minnesota Wild hockey games.

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