Then and Now As we enter the second millennium, it is fitting to dust off an old classic: Fenvessy on Fulfillment: The Catalog Executive’s Guide, a manual published in 1988 but still considered the definitive source of information about the direct-to-customer order fulfillment business. And it is even more appropriate, at a time when industries nationwide are suffering from scarcity of labor, to revisit the book’s advice on how to screen, hire, train, and retain employees. Inevitably, some of this information is dated, but a surprisingly large portion of it remains fresh and relevant. The chapters excerpted in this year’s Operations & Fulfillment Sourcebook concern job descriptions, productivity improvement, and cost reduction – timeless topics that are discussed with a verve, sagacity, and business acumen that today’s operations executives would do well to emulate.
The wellspring of all this wisdom, Stanley J. Fenvessy (1918-1994), was an attorney and management consultant whose clients included such direct marketing luminaries as L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and The Sharper Image, in addition to corporate behemoths like IBM and American Express. A former director of the Direct Marketing Association, honorary chairman of the National Conference on Operations and Fulfillment (previously known as the National Catalog Operations Forum), and moving spirit of Operations & Fulfillment, Fenvessy achieved a reputation as the foremost authority on the fulfillment business.
Remember that Fenvessy was most familiar with catalog operations; his expertise was, after all, gained through countless hours spent in the warehouses of mail order businesses in the 1970s and early 1980s. He could not possibly have foreseen the stress that e-commerce would place on traditional order fulfillment. But his observations are just as insightful, and as robust in their strategic and philosophical underpinnings, as they were many years ago. “Customers today . . . are of the belief that they are entitled to superior service,” he notes in his introduction to Fenvessy on Fulfillment. “Unless the seller satisfies and serves the customer properly, the transaction will be terminated by the customer, and it will be the seller’s, not the buyer’s, loss.” In an uncanny glimpse of the future, Fenvessy begins his chapter on personnel by asserting that “the success of a fulfillment operation depends, in large part, on the quality of its people at all levels of the organization.” The dazzling technological advances of the last years of the twentieth century led us to believe that human beings were dispensable. As the year 2000 draws to a close, with unemployment in the United States reaching an eight-year low of 4%, experience proves otherwise.