This new column features logistics professionals who've been around the block a few times and have volunteered to share their experiences with readers. This debut installment features three profiles, future issues will carry one profile each.
The call came at midnight. A customer's collection of pet fish, scheduled to fly as cargo, had shown up swimming in nothing but a plastic bag. What to do?
"I said go out and buy a cooler, seal it, and they'll be fine," recalls Millie Woolf.
Solving late-night packaging emergencies is par for the course for Woolf and her husband, veterinarian Walter Woolf. For 25 years, the two have operated Air Animal, a pet transportation service based in Tampa, Fla. Air Animal specializes in transporting pets for people who make long-term moves, whether across the country or around the globe. Customers include corporations and relocation firms that must consider the family dog along with the family china and furniture when an employee resettles.
Walter & Millie Woolf
Transporting a pet by air presents some unique challenges. "We're dealing with living creatures," says Dr. Woolf. "We have a lot different needs than somebody who's moving a box."
Unlike most cargo in transit, a pet can't sit in a crate for days. It needs food, water, and someone to take charge of it between flights. That makes for some complex logistics.
Dr. Woolf tells of two cats scheduled to leave Spokane, Wash., early on a Monday morning, delivered by a caretaker onto an Air Alaska flight bound for Seattle.
"Our partner/agent/subcontractor will receive the pets in Seattle off the Air Alaska flight and tender them to Continental several hours later on a Continental international airway bill," he says. "They'll fly on Monday from SeaTac to Houston. They'll be received in a boarding kennel, which will keep them overnight. The next morning, they will continue on the same international airway bill to Belize City, in Belize, where the pet owner will see them for the first time in seven months."
For the owner, entrusting a beloved pet to a series of strangers requires a leap of faith. That's why Dr. Woolf says Air Animal is in the "expectation management" business.
"We take the care, custody, and control of somebody's emotional object—be it a dog or cat," he explains. "Our promise is to deliver it safely."
The Woolfs embarked upon their particular version of expectation management in 1969, when Dr. Woolf's veterinary practice started boarding pets that were traveling as cargo on National Airlines. In the 1970s, Dr. Woolf won a contract from the Tampa office of GTE Data to transport pets for employees posted to Iran to work on that country's social security system. The veterinarian boarded the pets, completed their health certificates and other documents required for international travel, and took them to the airport.
Gradually, the Woolfs expanded their service into a full-scale "pet travel agency." While the bulk of Air Animal's cargo consists of dogs and cats, the firm handles everything from rats, birds, reptiles, rabbits and fish to the occasional tarantula.
Naturally, live cargo creates a stir now and then. "We've had pet snakes get loose in care facilities and get up in the walls," Dr. Woolf says. "That creates I-can't-find-my-snake scenarios."
Sometimes an animal goes even further astray, as when a blister pack containing shipping documents came loose from the crate and remained behind in the 747 when the pets were transferred.
"The documents were in Johannesburg, South Africa," Dr. Woolf recounts. "The pets were in Amsterdam, and the consignee in Hong Kong was saying, 'Where are my two golden retrievers?'
The airline wouldn't transfer the pets beyond Amsterdam because there was no documentation attached to them. The pets rested comfortably in the animal care hotel in Amsterdam while the airline sent out an alert for the missing documents.
Pet owners can create excitement as well. Because the cargo hold may become too hot, U.S. airlines don't accept animals as checked baggage between May 15 and Sept. 15. Air Animal ships animals in the summer by using overnight or early morning flights.
The company serves only people who are moving their households, but the May 15 cutoff triggers a deluge of calls from vacationers who want the firm to transport their pets as cargo.
"We had a month with 7,000 phone calls," all handled by a staff of five, says Mrs. Woolf.
Rules against checking pets in cold weather bring calls from vacationers as well. Because of these tight regulations, the Woolfs need to monitor the weather more closely than many logistics providers.
"We look at The Weather Channel more than any other site, to see what's going on in the rest of the country," says Dr. Woolf, both to find if it's safe for animals to fly and to watch for possible flight delays.
"Every move is different. That's what's exciting—and horrible—about this business," Mrs. Woolf reflects.
Adventures in Negotiation
Arriving in 1989 to found a transportation department for Louisiana Pacific's Southern Division, Winona Speed lost no time discovering ways to cut shipping costs for the forest products manufacturer. Railroads were still getting used to deregulation.
"They were in a mindset of tariffs, rules and regulations," and it was exciting to show them how they could offer lower rates, Speed says.
As an alternative to traditional boxcars moving at full price, for example, Speed experimented with putting shipments of wood into cars with load dividers, which came into her region to drop off other commodities.
"We broke units and started making half units to optimize the footage," she says. "We wanted to be able to fill that car and not overload it."
Adapting to a different kind of car to seize a backhaul opportunity paid off. Moving a regular boxcar from Texas to California had cost LP $7,000 to $8,000, but under the new arrangement "our first cars that moved to California cost $1,900 to $2,000," she says.
Speed started in logistics as a traffic clerk for Houston-based Kirby Forest Products in 1980 and moved up the ranks. She lost her job as traffic manager when LP, based in Portland, Ore., acquired Kirby in 1986. After a short detour to two other employers, Speed returned to her beginnings: LP hired her as manager of transportation for its Southern Division, which includes the former Kirby mills. She retired from LP last September.
Before Speed arrived at LP, sales representatives arranged their own transportation. Two reps sitting at adjacent desks, negotiating for identical moves with the same carrier, might end up with different rates. Speed set out to rationalize the system, a daunting task because her office had not yet joined the computer age.
"I took big legal pads, sat down, and pulled all the rates I could find," she says. "I acted as my own computer. I hand-wrote everything and did the maps as I pulled the rates, for all modes of transportation."
Later, Speed worked with one of LP's information technology professionals to develop an early routing system in a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet.
By the time Speed retired, she had many more technology tools at her fingertips. One of her last projects before she retired was a contracts database for a proprietary, corporate-wide dispatching system. To help research LP's motor carriers, each morning Speed visited the U.S. Department of Transportation's Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) web site for information on trucking companies' safety records. She also made good use of the car tracing features on the railroads' web sites.
After more than two decades in logistics, Speed says she has developed great respect for the complexities of manufacturing and transporting any product, even the bread on her grocery shelves.
For example, a special challenge in the forest products industry, she says, is damage prevention. When a railroad rolls one loaded car toward another to couple them, the cars sometimes connect at high speeds.
"My product has to be blocked and braced, and it has to have air bags to make sure there's no empty space in that car for the wood to move," Speed explains. "If the cars get hit hard enough—I don't care what kind of blocking and bracing is in there—it can give way and the wood is going to move. When the wood finally gets to its destination, bands could be broken, wood could be all over the car, and it has to be unloaded by hand. When that happens corners could be damaged."
If the wood arrives damaged, the manufacturer has to take it back and make repairs or replace it. Finding creative ways to get product to market at acceptable rates was "what I thrived on," Speed says.
Once, the railroad that served an LP mill in Louisiana decided it would no longer negotiate rates. "They were just going to put rates in place and anybody that shipped a car out of that area would pay this rate, regardless of the commodity," Speed says.
Rather than cave in to that monopolistic stance, Speed decided to truck product from the mill to another location, where it could be loaded on a different railroad. The two-step haul was cost-effective because "the other railroad wanted that business, and was willing to work with me," she says.
Speed stuck with this strategy for about a year. Then one day, "I had a call from the railroad that served my mill. They said, 'Winona, we need to come visit with you.' So two of the key people from the railroad walked in. They said, 'We've got lawn mowers in our car, and we want you to go with us so we can mow the grass off those rails and get back into moving your product directly out of your mill.' They did a wonderful job giving us rates and putting us back."
Speed says she nearly left LP several times to manage forest products transportation for third-party logistics providers. Serving as a transportation consultant for small companies remains her dream job. While her in-house management work provided a great sense of satisfaction, "I know there are many companies out there that could use help from somebody who has had the experience and background to look at all their transportation scenarios," she says.
Will Speed emerge from her newly won retirement to start her own consulting business? "I've toyed with that idea," she confesses, "but I haven't pursued it...yet."
Bill Waldrop loves bringing order to a complex supply chain. "Taking a business that's expanding, bringing other companies in, and optimizing the logistics network—that's a dream job," he says.
In his 25th year as a logistics professional, Waldrop looks back with pride on businesses that profited from his talent for optimization. From his first position at Dow Chemical to his latest—vice president of Andersen Logistics, a subsidiary of Andersen Windows—Waldrop has relished opportunities to design efficient networks.
Starting at the University of Tennessee as an engineering major, Waldrop so enjoyed the logistics courses he took as electives, he decided to switch gears.
"The professors were down-to-earth people, many of whom had worked in the industry," he says. "The classes were more hands-on" than in other disciplines.
With transportation deregulation looming, companies were clamoring for employees with logistics degrees. "I had more than 40 interviews, and landed a job the first quarter of my senior year," he recalls.
Waldrop's first employer was Dow Chemical's Placqumine, La., division. Like many firms in the 1970s, it managed traffic according to tried-and-true principles and wasn't prepared for the changes about to sweep the transportation world.
"As deregulation came in, I was new out of school. I was very interested in how my company could manage transportation differently," Waldrop says. "I was able to find two van truck carriers that offered a nice backhaul deal for Dow and were willing to sign a contract with us."
That was Dow's first experience with contract carriers, Waldrop says, and the results were impressive. "The service improved dramatically. We didn't have to worry about dealing with all the carriers that were then starting to go out of business."
Over five years, Waldrop saved Dow $20 million in transportation costs. He later directed distribution for Arcadian Corp. and for AlliedSignal, which merged with Honeywell during his tenure.
Since June 2000, Waldrop has been at Andersen Windows in Bayport, Minn., helping the company reengineer its network to improve customer service and control costs. To cut a link from its distribution chain, Andersen had bought out some of its distributors, and needed to eliminate redundancies.
"They operated 30 stand-alone warehouses—each had its own sales, customer service, accounting and general managers," Waldrop says. In some territories, they competed against one another.
"The whole fenestration industry is probably 30 to 40 years behind the leading edge," Waldrop observes. Some long-standing traditions—such as craftsmanship—are well worth preserving. But over the past four or five years, "Andersen has realized it cannot do things the same way as always" in distribution.
"We've gone from 30-plus facilities down to 14," Waldrop says. Andersen has centralized the sales functions and started improving customer service. In March, it will go live with its first warehouse management system (WMS), at its facility in Carlisle, Pa.
Along with automating traditional warehouse activities, Andersen is working with its WMS vendor, McHugh Software International, to automate the shops in its warehouses where the company does value-added, custom work.
"We will also put in a consolidation center to aggregate shipments from Bayport and other production plants in the region," Waldrop says.
Planning for the 650,000-square-foot consolidation center posed one of the memorable challenges of Waldrop's career. A team drawn from all departments affected by the project was tasked with deciding how to manage the facility. The members determined that outsourcing was the best choice and, after inviting bids, they recommended a particular third-party logistics provider (3PL).
"Several people in management were vehemently against third parties in principle," Waldrop says. "So we had to convince them, by going through some lengthy processes and work, that this was the best solution for this particular project."
One key to gaining consensus was to "involve as many people as possible up front in making the decision," Waldrop says. "Several team members were very anti-third party, but once they got involved and saw the complexity, their attitude changed."
After the team chose a 3PL, it took a long time and many lengthy reviews to bring other executives on board. "But having done all the work up front, there were few questions we didn't have answers for," Waldrop says.
For example, to test whether outsourcing was really the best solution, Andersen's logistics department responded to its own request for proposal (RFP), bidding against the 3PLs. That exercise laid to rest executives' doubts about outsourcing.
"When they said, 'If we do it ourselves, we can do it cheaper,' we said, 'No, we can't, because we did it ourselves and here's what it would cost,'" Waldrop notes.
When the team sought approval from Andersen's board of directors, "even the people who were totally against outsourcing were saying, 'We understand where you're coming from. You guys have done your work. Although we may not agree 100 percent with what you're doing, we will support you,'" he says.
Recently, Andersen has been investigating an Internet-based event management system. "We haven't decided whether we're going to get into it, but it's very interesting to us," Waldrop says.
Overall, he observes, "I'm encouraged because there's some real leading-edge technology just starting to come down the road."