John Gilmour: Going With the Flow

Change is inevitable; flow with it,” says John Gilmour, citing one of the mottos that guide his career.

Named vice president of distribution and logistics at Musicland Group in January, Gilmour has been managing the flow for the national retailer during a particularly intense period of change. A former unit of Best Buy Co., Musicland was sold to Sun Capital Partners last June. Since then, it has been moving its distribution from under Best Buy’s wing to its own operation.

“One of the unique parts of the new arrangement,” Gilmour says, “is that we have no ownership of the logistics network.”

Minneapolis-based Musicland chose Deluxe Media Services to handle fulfillment from a distribution center in Pleasant Prairie, Wisc. It chose Transport Logistics, Wichita Falls, Texas, to manage the transportation of music, movies, and other entertainment products to its 970 Sam Goody, Suncoast Motion Picture Company, and Media Play stores.

Finding partners whose corporate cultures meshed well with Musicland’s culture wasn’t easy. “Flexibility is part of it,” Gilmour says. Also, the partners had to understand that the casual style that prevails in the entertainment business, “doesn’t mean there’s not a sense of urgency about getting things done.”

As part of the transition, Gilmour made sure Musicland could benefit from some new technology. Many entertainment companies lag in this area, he notes.

“A simple example is taking advantage of ASNs (advance shipping notices) from vendors,” he explains. “Neither Musicland nor Wherehouse Entertainment [Gilmour’s previous employer] used ASNs in their warehouse management systems or in their networks.”

Gilmour spent many years managing operations and logistics for fashion retailers, an industry segment that handles a notoriously large range of styles, colors, and sizes.

But the SKU count in a company such as Musicland is “much more intense than it is anywhere else,” he says. With an active SKU base of more than 360,000, and a database of more than 800,000 unique items, “you deal with much more intense, more robust warehouse management system needs,” he says.

Another challenge is that “media product is perishable, but many companies don’t look at it that way,” Gilmour says. Movies, CDs, and other entertainment products must hit store shelves on their official release dates, and the company has to move them quickly and efficiently while keeping inventories low.

The operation also has a reverse logistics component, which Deluxe Media now handles for Musicland. “So you build relationships with vendors on the amount of product you can send back, based on your purchases,” Gilmour says.

With the transition complete, Gilmour’s job now is to coordinate the activities of his company’s buying group, its vendors, and the two logistics partners. But in a world where change is inevitable, things aren’t likely to settle down for him soon.

In the business world, he says, “There are people who just want to operate a business the way it is. Then there are the visionaries who go out and look to see how it can be better. Those are the people who succeed.”

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

What’s in your briefcase?

Candy. I have a terrific sweet tooth, and anybody who has worked with me knows that. My laptop’s also in there right now, and some notes and documents I have to review.

Advice to people starting out in logistics?

Invest in yourself. Seek hidden opportunities. Learn to manage your career as well as you manage your job. Develop “shade trees”—people who make your job easier as they become more proficient at theirs. Set expectations high, but be fair about it—to yourself, to the people you work with, and to the organization.

What’s your idea of a successful day?

Accomplishing something I didn’t think was possible.

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

I play golf and tennis. I also do interpretive volunteer work for the National Parks Service, working at national parks three or four weekends a year.

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