Henry Schein Boasts Diverse DC Staff

Oct 29, 2008 10:21 PM  By

Looking to reduce employee turnover in your warehouse or distribution center?

You might take a cue from medical, dental and veterinary supplies company Henry Schein, which is using a unique diversity model for staffing its 300,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in Indianapolis.

Roughly half of the DC’s 270 employees are emigres from the Philippines, Spain, Russia, Japan, India, Israel and Central America. But despite their varied backgrounds, they work together as a cohesive whole, pumping out roughly 17,000 packages a day, picked from the warehouse’s 35,000 line items. What’s more, employee turnover has been reduced significantly since the company started using this diversity model back in the early 1990s.

Operations manager Jay Price explains that most of these emigres tend to be older – and many already have secondary degrees from colleges and universities in their home countries. As result, Henry Schein doesn’t have to rely as heavily on recent high school or college graduates, who tend to stay in warehouse positions for months rather than years, before quitting and moving on to another job.

That’s not to say that Schein has made a point of only hiring recent emigres: Price says the company more or less stumbled into this diversity model back in the early 1990s, when it began having difficulty recruiting new employees to work nighttime shifts in Indianapolis.

“We found that hiring people in this market was becoming more and more difficult — in part because we had begun to evolve the business toward the hours that were necessary in order to provide that next-day service,” he says.

As a result, a lot of employees resigned. Some of them, Price says, basically had no choice due to daycare conflicts. Recognizing that their existing emigrant workers tended to stay in their jobs longer, the company made a conscious effort to go out into the community and recruit through alternative sources.

“We went to churches and community centers – and we got in touch with social organizations and community outreach organizations to see what was out there that we could tap into,” Price explains.

For instance, the company got involved in the American-Israeli effort to relocate Russians from the former Soviet Union to the U.S. “They make up 5% or 6% of the approximately 34 nationalities represented in the DC,” Price says. “What we found was that we got a lot of excellent applicants with great education – many of them with secondary education – doctors, lawyers, engineers, book editors – people you wouldn’t expect to find in a DC environment.”

What’s more, most were more than happy to recommend family members and friends to come fill new and vacant positions. As a result, the company hasn’t had to run a help wanted ad for its Indianapolis DC in more than 10 years, Price says.

To help with the language barrier, Schein offers these emigres English-as-a-second-language classes, which the employees take on the weekends. The company also gives these employees an incentive to bring in family members and friends as new hires.

“We pay a small amount to each employee who [brings in a friend or relative who] makes it 90 days – and then bit more if they make it to six months,” he explains. “And that’s more than enough, between that and the gratitude they get back from their friends and family.”

This unique diversity model fits in nicely with the company’s overall philosophy: “Here we have something which we call ‘Team Schein’ — which is all about being respectful to other individuals and making them a part of what we do,” Price explains.

Price says Henry Schein is taking this approach in all five of its DCs, but the facility in Indianapolis has seen the most success with it, due mainly to the city’s high level of diversity. In addition to its facility in Indianapolis, the company has DCs in Reno NV; Dallas TX; Jacksonville Fla.; and Denver, PA.

To celebrate the diversity of its workforce, Schein holds a special companywide international celebration the week before Thanksgiving for all of it warehouse workers.

“People bring in food – they wear their native clothing and bring in their native dishes – and they have games and events that are fun for everyone,” he says. “It’s a real nice event and everyone has a great time.”