Bearish on fulfilling careers

As vice president of operations for Shelburne, VT-based Vermont Teddy Bear Co., which includes live-plant merchant Calyx & Corolla and the TastyGram, PajamaGram, and Gift Bag Boutique brands, Katie Camardo has no shortage of responsibilities. She oversees the contact center, training, retail and factory tours, facilities and maintenance, personalization, fulfillment, and shipping. Camardo is also in charge of the remote fulfillment department, which manages Calyx & Corolla’s base of growers who fulfill the orders of fresh flowers and plants.

What are some of the challenges of being a woman in what has traditionally being a male-dominated field?

The biggest challenge has been working through the initial impression that a new vendor may have. When they first meet with me and my team, which is largely female, they are often surprised at the number of women in our company in operations. This has been especially true in facilities management as we have expanded our business, built new buildings, and managed offsite locations. But once we begin business discussions in earnest, they soon learn that we are knowledgeable and serious about our business. We have strong working relationships with our shipping carriers, system integration vendors, town planning and zoning, and outsource contact center partners.

Given your product lines, personalization must be a huge component of your operation. Do you have an entire area devoted to it?

Personalization is a separate department within our distribution center. A large percentage of the bear and pajama orders can be personalized, so it’s the first step of our fulfillment process. Our staff ranges from five people during our slower months to close to 50 for our peak periods. In peak periods the personalization department works 24 hours a day.

How does your Bear Hospital work? Is this the same as handling a return?

In many ways, yes, it is like a return. But it is an item that we must care for, provide medical attention to, and then return to its owner in tiptop shape. Our Bear Hospital has a full-time doctor on staff. We offer 100% healthcare coverage, no fees, no deductibles, for all Vermont Teddy Bears.

How does Vermont Teddy Bear manage its peak periods throughout the year?

Mother’s Day and the December holiday period are very busy times for us, but our busiest peak period is Valentine’s Day. We hire seasonal employees to cover this ramp up in business and have been successful in hiring over 800 seasonal employees each year for the last several years. Most of these employees work for a total of 10 days to two weeks. One of the biggest operational challenges of the holiday is hiring, training, and supervising such a large number of seasonal employees. For instance, the fulfillment department ramps up to over 200 employees and the contact center has over 500 employees for our Valentine’s Day business.

How many Vermont Teddy Bears do you own?

Around 15, but I have given many more as gifts to my friends and family over the years.

If there were a teddy bear designed for operations, what would he be?

Based on the work done by our operations team, it has to be our Super Hero bear.

What’s the most interesting possession in your office?

A solar-powered sculpture of bikers that pedal when the sun shines! I also have a variety of running clothes and shoes for the regular lunchtime run club we have at Vermont Teddy Bear.

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