How Anne Hathaway Drives Distribution Center Operators Crazy

anne-hathawayIf Anne Hathaway (or fill in the blank with your favorite star) were hosting a party, I can imagine that she’s want to create a magical evening for the guests, perhaps even sending them home with a special memento of the evening: something elegant, luxurious, personal, and lasting.

This doesn’t sound like an unreasonable expectation from a VIP shopper’s perspective but are the retailers and the distributors fully equipped to handle such an order? You would think, at least for high-end retailers, this would be a piece of cake, but to be very candid, the answer is no. The distribution center managers that support retail operations often lack the tools to help their minimum-wage team of operators meet these high service bars.

Traditionally, distribution centers have provided these services, called Value Added Services (VAS). Often, they involve doing anything that adds extra value compared to off the shelf products.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Assembly work.
  2. Monogramming.
  3. Etching.
  4. Engraving.
  5. Gift wrapping.
  6. Building promotional display vehicles. (PDV’s)
  7. VIP special requests.

At the same time, the workers expected to render the service often lack the necessary tools and support. Perhaps, direction is a single line of text printed on the packing list that describes what should be done. Sometimes, they get something called a planogram, typically for an assembly operation that shows a drawing in a sheet of paper on how the component SKU’s need to be assembled.

Let me share one real-world example from a few years back. I went to a distribution center in a tiny town called Seymour, IN. I was sent to support a warehouse management system (WMS) deployment and met a group of 3PL operations workers assembling Lexmark printers. We were tasked to come up with a work order process that would help operators complete the assembly process and keep the inventory of the components and finished goods intact. Half way through the implementation, the company as sold and the new management halted the project, wanting to change the entire process flow from beginning to end.

Imagine being an operator trying to put this puzzle together. Worse, imagine being the manager of the operation who was expected to train the operators while maintaining the structural integrity and aesthetics of the product amid the business chaos.

Etching, sometimes used to personalize electronics goods or any product made out of glass or metal, for example, offers another example. Apple, for instance, can engrave your name in the mobile device for free as a personalization service (of course there is a catch to this as well, once engraved you cannot return that product). Low-paid workers are expected to deliver perfection to VIP customers with little instruction.

For another retailer that I helped deploy a WMS, it is supremely important to wow the gift receiver as soon as they open their gift order, which was placed by the gift giver. They used as their mantra: “People never forget how you made them feel.” They focused on the details, such as an impressive bow on top of the gift giver because they knew it would truly create that indelible memory in the gift receiver’s head. That’s what’s going to make the gift giver place orders again and again. This retailer dominates the bridal registry market big time—but the same results can be had by any type of retailer from electronics to food items.

Similarly, you might have noticed the big boxes that sit in the middle of the walkways in Wal-Mart, Target, and even Costco. They contain a combination of several items, so you can pick everything you need in one box. This fall, for example, you see back to school supplies, such as pencils, pens, erasers, and markers. Again, operators build these from simple planogram drawings and a few lines of instruction.  A lot of time is wasted as workers try to figure out these puzzles.

This VAS business is growing for two major reasons: the return of manufacturing to the U.S. and the advent of 3D printing, which lets items to be created easily. Technology tools, such as our In Command mobile eco system, puts more detailed instructions into the hands of distribution center operators. These mobile systems can deliver video based training, face-time based communication with managers, and picture based documentation.

With these tools, workers can handle easily all the complicated requirements that come with an order placed by VIP shoppers who want to send out monogrammed iPhones to their friends or hand out floral, multi-colored, 200 count threaded, monogrammed Ralph Lauren t-shirts at a luncheon. Done well, VIP services wow the receiver and the giver alike, and make your organization the go-to service provider when its important to create a deep-rooted memory of a special feeling.

Puga Sankara
Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. So far, Smart Gladiator Wearables have been used to ship, receive, and scan more than 50 million boxes. Users love them for the lightweight, easy-to-use soft overlay keyboard and video chatting ability, data collection ability etc. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 17 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at or visit the company at Also follow him at
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