Galen Erickson: Back to the Sporting Life

After seven years calling balls and strikes in the minor leagues, Galen Erickson was looking for a major change. The former umpire soon found a new career in logistics, rising from receiving dock supervisor to vice president of distribution at Phoenix-based Broadway Southwest Department Stores. Later, he advanced to executive positions with—among other companies—Leslie Fay Company, Payless Shoe Source, and Blockbuster Entertainment.

Now, in a sense, he has come home. This spring, Erickson took on the newly created position of senior vice president, logistics at Galyan’s, a fast-growing chain of sports and outdoor activities stores.

Galyan’s distribution network functions well today, but the chain is growing fast—just this fiscal year it’s adding nine stores to its base of 37. At that growth rate, the company needs new strategies to maintain logistics excellence.

“Our supply chain needs going forward will be dramatically different,” Erickson says. “Galyan’s recognized that and brought me in to establish its future supply chain.”

One special logistics challenge at Galyan’s is the sheer variety of products the stores carry, from tiny fishing lures to bulky canoes and treadmills.

Distributing products that occupy space in so many different ways isn’t easy, Erickson says. “How do you materially handle canoes in a way that’s ergonomically correct for your employees, and make efficient use of cube capacity inside the trailers?” he asks. Galyan’s will be looking for technologies to help with that puzzle.

In a market where every store from Wal-Mart to the corner grocery sells recreational gear, Galyan’s strives to stand out by combing the world for cutting-edge products. But sometimes that flair for the latest and coolest puts a strain on the logistics operation.

A vendor building stylish new skateboards in his garage probably doesn’t know much about bar coding or electronic data interchange. Galyan’s sometimes bends the rules for up-and-coming suppliers, Erickson says, or it might connect them with third parties who offer the necessary services.

Galyan’s isn’t the first retailer to tap Erickson to reshape its logistics. Seven years ago, Blockbuster hired him to manage a transition from third-party service providers to in-house distribution.

Unfortunately, when the 3PLs learned that Blockbuster was phasing them out, they reacted badly.

“Our service started to go downhill,” Erickson says. “The 3PLs almost immediately started to close facilities that were dedicated to Blockbuster. We found our supply chain was collapsing in front of our eyes.”

With its new 810,000-square-foot distribution center still on the drawing board, “I went out and rented all available warehouse space in north Dallas and hired everybody I could get,” Erickson says.

Blockbuster was still using those scattered facilities when it came time to release 250,000 copies of the film Independence Day to 3,500 stores nationwide. About a year later, Erickson oversaw distribution of one million two-cassette copies of Titanic from the still-not-fully-enabled DC.

On a less dramatic note, Erickson moved some of the work of preparing videos for rental—such as applying the security device and “Be Kind, Rewind” stickers—from the stores to the DC. The aim was to cut costs and speed products to the shelves.

“That’s what I intend to do here,” Erickson says. “Take our fine-functioning distribution network and improve it, making it an advantage that Galyan’s has over its competition.”

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein.

What’s in your briefcase right now?

I have a PDA; Galyan’s is very much a PDA environment. But I haven’t let go of my old technology, a Day Planner. I empty my briefcase every morning when I come into the office. At the end of the day, I fill it with any work-related materials I can take home and read.

Advice for people starting in logistics?

Get a general business degree. Whether you’re a logistics expert or an IT manager or whatever position you’re in, an empathy for all the other businesses will make you more successful. If you go into a management meeting and represent only your world or your responsibility, you will not be very effective, and you certainly won’t build the partnerships you need to succeed.

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

I love to watch sports and participate in whatever sports I can, especially golf and swimming. I like to be outside as much as possible. I have three very active daughters; I haven’t been able to turn them into sports fanatics, but that’s not from lack of trying.

First web site you check in the morning?

I check the weather web site. When I was with Blockbuster, good weather meant it was raining or snowing. At Galyan’s, good weather means it’s beautiful and everyone wants to be outside with their golf clubs or fishing.

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