October 2017 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Tim O’Brien: Exuding Star Power

Tags: Retail, Supply Chain Management, Supply Chain

Tim O'Brien is senior director, supply chain, with Purchasing Power, a specialty e-commerce retailer that provides goods and services to customers who make payments through payroll deductions. He has held this position since October 2012.

Responsibilities: Transportation and logistics, including carrier and 3PL relationships, vendor compliance, and onboarding.

Experience: Director, e-commerce shipping strategies and vendor fulfillment, director of transportation, and traffic manager, all with Toys "R" Us; logistics manager, Lechters, Inc.

Education: B.S., Business Administration,
Temple University, 1989.


Purchasing Power is a drop-ship operation. We hold no inventory and have no warehouses. We take orders through our website and send them to our network of suppliers, who ship directly to our customers. We ship anything from small consumer electronics and jewelry, to large-screen televisions and furniture sets.

In 2017, we focused on improving the customer experience. For instance, we're launching an expedited shipping program that will allow consumers to choose standard, two-day, or next-day delivery on parcel shipments.

This program requires changes to our website and help from our carriers to make sure they can ship to these different service levels. My transportation and logistics manager has to negotiate rates for the new services, and we need our network of suppliers to identify which shipments will use standard and expedited shipping.

Another customer service improvement involves adding a white-glove service for large freight items. Later in 2017, we will partner with a new carrier to offer a full-assembly option for furniture. We're excited about all these new programs.

We're also committed to better communication with customers throughout their delivery experience. We partnered with a third party to offer a tracking solution that can send text message alerts if a shipment is late, or reminders about delivery appointments. These changes improve the supply chain experience and customer engagement.

When I came to Purchasing Power in 2012, we shipped about 300,000 units, and had 25 suppliers and several thousand stock-keeping units (SKUs). In 2017, we'll process about 1.3 million shipments, have 150 suppliers, and 50,000 to 75,000 SKUs. Everything has grown exponentially.

I rely on partnerships with distributors, manufacturers, and even other retailers, so it's critical we have good relationships with them.

When I joined the company, many of our partners did things their own way. There wasn't consistency, and the model wasn't scalable. I've been able to put together strategic partnerships. I learned to find partners who are aligned with what we're doing and our vision, and can grow with us. That makes the difference.

It's also important to be advocates for those aligned with your ideas. We're ambassadors for our partners internally.

Not every partnership has worked out. You can't be afraid to make mistakes; you can't play scared. When I fail, I try to do it early and learn from it.

My first job out of college was handling inside sales with a trucking company. After the company went under, I ran the second shift of a break-bulk facility with another LTL carrier.

So, I got into supply chain management by accident, but enjoy it very much. It's an important part of any organization's value chain. Over the past few years, companies have come to realize that supply chain is not a necessary evil, and they need to excel at it because their supply chains represent them.

The Big Questions

If you could invite anyone, living or not, to a dinner party, who would you ask?

John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. What impresses me is their ability to remain calm under tremendous pressure. We could use more leading with respect, calmness, and humility.

You're representing the United States in the Olympics. What sport would you choose?

Long-distance running. I do a little running myself. There's a personal journey in running that I find inspiring.

What book have you read that has had an impact on you?

The last great book I read was The Dog of the South by Charles Portis, a southern writer who also wrote True Grit. The book shows it's worthwhile to follow a dream, no matter how unlikely success is. It's the journey that matters.

You're given $1 million to start a business venture or philanthropic endeavor. What would you do?

Start a food bank. There are people in any city in this country who don't have enough to eat. That doesn't make sense.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Take more vacations. Sometimes, we get on that hamster wheel and don't want to stop. De-stress and unplug, and you'll be more productive.






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