Wayne Thompson: Different Spokes

The path to Wayne Thompson’s logistics success began in the jungle. Fresh out of college, he took a job conducting helicopter surveys for a mining firm. As project manager, Thompson directed the movement of equipment in and out of field locations in Africa, Asia, and South America, handling documentation and arranging security clearances.

When the mining company went out of business, Thompson and his wife moved to Wisconsin, where he landed a job with Pacific Cycle. As an avid biker, the job was a good fit for Thompson. His exploits in the bush made him an ideal candidate to handle the company’s imports and distribution.

Today, as Pacific Cycle’s director of global logistics and distribution, Thompson manages imports from factories in China and Taiwan. He runs the company’s two warehouses, in Vacaville, Calif., and Olney, Ill., and is responsible for shipping to customers such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys R Us, as well as 1,500 independent bicycle dealers.

In 2001, Pacific employed 25 people and imported roughly one million bicycles a year. The company has since grown into a market leader, largely through acquisitions.

Pacific now employs 400 people, and last year imported 6 million bikes. Along with its original Pacific Cycle brand, the company owns the Schwinn, GT Bicycles, Roadmaster, and Mongoose brands. It also makes InStep jogging strollers and bike trailers.

Reshaping logistics and distribution to meet new demands for the growing company has been Thompson’s top challenge at Pacific. When it purchased Brunswick Bicycles in 2001, for example, Pacific had never before sold to Wal-Mart. Suddenly, the retailer was Pacific’s biggest customer, and Thompson had to meet its stringent requirements.

When Pacific purchased Schwinn GT, the customer base changed again. “Schwinn had 1,500 independent dealers to service, which was something Pacific had never done before,” Thompson says. “When we purchased InStep, we had to learn to execute catalog and Internet sales from a logistics and distribution standpoint.”

To incorporate the growing number of brands, Pacific implemented new processes, particularly in its distribution centers. “We added a warehouse shift in the middle of the day, for example, so we could get the catalog, Internet, and mom-and-pop store orders out the same day,” Thompson explains.

He also made sure the new brands’ sales organizations could view the same kinds of shipment tracking data already helping Pacific Cycle’s sales force manage their relationships with customers.

For the future, Thomspon sees tremendous potential with RFID. As a top-100 supplier to Wal-Mart, Pacific is already putting tags on some bikes, and it’s about to start a similar program with Target.

“In stores where items are tagged, we can see a bike going from the back room to the floor,” he says. “Such precise visibility could be a tremendous benefit once the program is widespread.”

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Aron Ralston.

Advice to people starting out in logistics?

Gain as much exposure as you can to other departments’ processes. Is there something in your career you’d do differently if you could? I wish I’d understood the balance between work and life a little earlier.

Business motto?

I encourage people I work with to have as much fun as they can, and to keep their sense of humor, especially during peak season.

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

Mainly I hang out with my two young sons, doing what they enjoy—skating, hiking, and other sports. I also run, golf, and race bicycles.

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