NCOF Preview: Seta COO on Breaking Fulfillment Rules

Mar 04, 2009 8:59 PM  By

If you’re going to give advice on breaking the rules of fulfillment, it helps to be familiar with those rules–to be one of the people who helped to create the rules in the first place. Timothy Holody, who describes himself as “an operations guy from way back in the ‘70s,” certainly qualifies as one of those people.

Holody boasts an impressive resume of high-level fulfillment positions, including president of HSN Fulfillment for Home Shopping Inc. and vice president of operations for Orvis, to name just two. He’s been chief operating officer for jewelry cataloger Seta Corp./Palm Beach Jewelry since 1998.

One reason for Holody’s longevity at Seta may be that he truly feels at home there. “There’s a bunch of us here who have been in mail order for a long time,” he notes.

Sharing the knowledge he’s gained in the industry is also a passion of Holody’s—he’s been a part of National Conference on Operations and Fulfillment (NCOF) since it started. This may have helped him land his current job: “I was introduced to [company president] Joe Seta by a friend, and he told me we’d already met,” Holody recalls. “It turned out he had attended my session at NCOF in 1994.”

Holody will present “How to Break the Rules of Fulfillment” on March 24 at this year’s NCOF in Las Vegas. So what has Holody learned about fulfillment over the years? “Good fulfillment can’t necessarily build a company, but bad fulfillment can certainly break a company,” he says.

Part of “bad” fulfillment that Holody hopes to change is the stagnation that comes when people get stuck in a rut—when they’re afraid to break the rules. “We have to know when the rules don’t make sense, and how to break them,” he notes.

For instance, there are certain rules marketers tend to have on customer service policies, Holody explains. “One rule is, don’t give away the store.”

So how do you break that rule? “We tell our first-line reps: Find out what the customer wants. If it’s going to cost less than a $25 refund, break the rule and give it to them; they can also go up to $50 on exchanges,” Holody says.

When Holody was with Orvis, the rule was that all shipments went to receiving and quality control people who did counts, and then went to inventory control people who again counted. “If there were any discrepancies we always took the word of inventory control,” says Holody, “so why did we need the extra steps? We eliminated the other counts and simply relied on inventory control.”

Of course, Holody isn’t advocating fulfillment anarchy. “What I’m really saying is, don’t be governed just by the rule; take a step back and think of the actual intent of the rule.”

That means coming up with new ways of looking at things, says Holody. “You have to take a fresh look at your operations.”

Supervisors can’t just think about their own domain; they must also understand the impact they will have on the flow of the process to other areas, Holody says. “And even if it means they’re going to cost their own area more, they should think of whether they are going to help save the company money overall.”

Jeff Morris is a freelance writer based in South Salem, NY.