A - In the management end of it, you have to make some decisions that affect people's livelihood, their families. For example, you have to terminate someone or make a decision that's going to take away from something a man has already got; I'm not crazy about these types of things.
I do not particularly enjoy the travel delays, spending Friday or Saturday trying to get somewhere, spending the night in some fleabag hotel.
Q - How have computers enhanced your capabilities?
A - Basically we use our computer as an inventory control system, but it's more than that. We use our computer for the preparation of all warehouse receipts, invoices, cartage charges, inventory control, and stock rotation and anything involving the warehouse. We also use the computer to keep our books. When we first got our computer, we said, "This is a warehouse operation. How is that computer going to augment the work that we do? What's it going to help us do better? We don't need it to do payroll. A secretary can do that in forty-five minutes." We have in excess of 3,500 line items, so we can have that computer doing inventory control for us. How long would it take to do that manually?
One of my foremen, prior to the system being installed, was dreaming of retirement. Now six months into the system he said that it has made his job so much less hectic that he thinks he'll stick around for a while. It cut down on the problems.
Our salespeople are getting pressure from customers about being able to supply information more readily. The data bases that we have now as far as transportation costs, product flow, and warehousing costs, make it much simpler, faster, and more accurate.
Q - What are important skills to have?
A - I would say other definite assets would be handling people well, communicating well, problem solving, and writing. Warehousing and distribution involve a lot of paper work. We are pretty sophisticated here, with a lot of on-line systems that have taken the place of paper work, but the systems have to be run by people.
Considering the fact that most physical distribution is unionized, it would be good to pick up a basic knowledge of labor and negotiating.
I think that interpersonal skills are the most important-being able to deal with a wide variety of people, from drivers of your delivery service vehicles to port directors and general managers of other companies, to officers of your own corporation, and so on.
A financial background is extremely helpful. Being able to evaluate projects and allocate resources. I would put a high degree of importance on financial understanding. It is helpful to have a systems orientation and know how to set up a project. It is also important to have a basic understanding of the sales forecasting process and to know how to evaluate statistical data to understand the total inventory management process. There are certain aspects of transportation that are helpful to any manager. You don't have to be a transport expert in trade negotiations and so on, since you have skilled people to do that work, but you need an understanding of it.
Q - What changes have you seen take place in physical distribution?
A - I've seen a change in the last five years. You can't do the kind of job that you've got to do with the kind of people who were doing it five years ago. It's becoming more and more scientific. With the economy getting worse, people started looking everywhere to find a way to save a buck. The distribution end of it was probably the last place a lot of them looked. Some of them haven't looked there yet.
In the distribution end of it there are big bucks, because for every case of goods that is sold, a big chunk of it is spent on transportation and distribution. So I guess people started cutting things, and it got to the point that distribution was one of the last things. People realized, "My god, here is a wide-open field that we've not even touched! Look at all the money involved, look at all the possibilities." So they started tightening up and improving the distribution system, the distribution cycle, the modes of transportation, and you just can't do the job nowadays with the same type of person who did it with five years ago, either in the labor end of it or in the management end of it.
Q - Do you have any advice for someone considering a career in physical distribution?
A - If my son wanted to go into public warehousing or physical distribution, I would pat him on the fanny and say, "Go to it, Pruit!" because I know that it is a lucrative business. The demand in this industry is great for people who can do it. This is true in the public warehousing industry as well. We keep trying to bring some finesse into the business. Most people came up through the ranks just like I did. It's a wide-open field. We just haven't drawn the cream of the crop.
You have to work in it for a while. Summer work experience would be invaluable. We keep two or three college students on the payroll all the time. We don't do that for any real glamorous reason. It's good, well-qualified labor. They need the money, so they're cheap, and they're going to know something about warehousing when they leave. If you want to get into warehousing and know of a small business that has an opening, go for it. A small company is best, because you'll have a finger in every pie. But it's hard to find a small company that's willing to hire you. A small company usually needs someone who is immediately productive, because it can't afford to pay a trainee. We don't put a whole lot of money into training either.
Q - Do you have anything you would like to add?
A - Public warehouses do not draw the cream of the crop. That's a fact. The larger corporations hire people who have an interest in distribution and who have a college degree. Big corporations, big name, big money. You don't need that sheepskin to be successful in this industry. It depends on the person.
It's real easy. Nobody ever wonders how a product gets from one place to another. It's an unknown element. It's one of those things in life that people don't think about. I never would have dreamed when I was younger that I'd be in this business. I never thought about a warehouse. To me, a warehouse was a big two- or three-story building that had cotton bales in it. It's not that way at all. There's an art and there's a science to it. There are elementary things that apply every day, but there are ten thousand variables. It's a long list.