A High Profile

THE IDEA that there is nothing new under the sun is as old as — well, Ecclesiastes, at least. Tried and true methods of improving warehouse efficiencies cannot claim to be that venerable, but the basic principles have certainly stood the test of the last decade. As a case in point, it’s still instructive to look at the 1996 O+F article by Edward Frazelle, Ph.D., on profiling order and item activity.

Titled “How ‘Profiling’ Improves Fulfillment Flow,” the article offers snapshots of how specific catalog operations used profiling to increase productivity in various ways:

  1. One company discovered that because 75% of its completed orders (stationery and office supplies, in this case) could be filled out of a single-item family, zoning the warehouse by item type rather than weight and handling characteristics — as had been done previously — was more productive.

  2. A hobby and craft item catalog analyzed the structure of its lines per order. The results led to cross-docking to handle the 55% of single-line items that represented backorders; batching rush items in location sequence; and creating a dynamic forward pick line for the 10% of orders that were genuine single-line orders.

  3. A general merchandise catalog firm found it could restock less frequently when it assigned “items with high cube turnover to the larger storage locations.” Dr. Frazelle warns, however, that “this example is not the answer to every catalog’s broke case picking system,” pointing out that many other factors need to be considered.

  4. Resizing a pick face to meet demand on an average day plus product “to cover one standard deviation of demand for a 5% chance of restocking and two standard deviations of demand for a 1% chance of restocking” allowed another company to avoid restocking during shifts.

Acronym for Call Center Success

Produce a weekly newsletter
Encourage feedback

Guarantee private workstations
Select equipment with reps’ comfort in mind

Set goals for reps
Give reps feedback

Create theme days
Award points redeemable for prizes

Include a relational database for customer information

Source: O+F, March/April 1996

Demand-Correlation Distribution

Item Number Item Number Pair Frequency
189-2-4 189-2-1 58 An apparel catalog profiled orders and found that families in its case were garment sizes, not types of garment.
493-2-1 493-2-8 45
007-3-3 007-3-2 36
119-2-1 119-2-7 30
999-1-8 999-1-6 22
207-4-2 207-4-4 15
662-1-9 662-1-1 12
339-7-4 879-2-8 9
112-3-8 112-3-4 6
Source: O+F, March/April 1996


  • Return with us now to those thrilling days of 1996, when … hmm, we couldn’t think of anything that happened that year, either. No matter. What’s significant is that in March/April ’96, O+F asked three small catalogs to share the secrets of small call center success. And here they are!

  • Communicate clearly and consistently with CSRs. Before each drop, review the catalog page by page with all reps and backups, so that everyone is familiar with new products.

  • Keep reps happy. You’ll never be able to recruit and retain CSRs “when the work environment is austere or unattractive, and you’re competing for personnel with companies that offer better benefits and career paths.” Some ideas: Give reps freedom to decorate their individual 6×7-ft. “apartments”; treat them to soda, juice, and popcorn.

  • Support reps with the latest technology. For instance, a highly-evolved Rolm Model 10 CTI tool can actually “read” an incoming phone number, match it with the database’s master files, and “pop up” the customer file on a CSR’s screen! And soon, software will eliminate most handwritten orders and logs.

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