Doubling down on DCs

By nature Doug Eckrote is not a gambler. Neither is the company he works for. So it’s with a tinge of irony that Vernon Hills, IL-based computer reseller CDW chose North Las Vegas, NV, for its western distribution center, which opened in February. Eckrote, who joined the company in 1989, just five years after CDW was founded, rose through the ranks to oversee inventory management, logistics, and facilities as senior vice president of operations

CDW’s 513,000-sq.-ft. Vegas distribution center is the larger of the two DCs the company owns; its main DC, a 450,000-sq.-ft. facility, is located at its headquarters. The western DC’s automated system can handle 96,000 outbound cases of IT products daily, compared with a maximum of 45,000 cases a day at the Vernon Hills facility. CDW expects to invest up to $35 million in equipment through 2006. It has more than 11 acres of interior floor space and more than seven miles of conveyor belts and features a product configuration center in a near “clean room” setting. At approximately 25,000 sq. ft. — more than three times the size of the company’s configuration center in Vernon Hills — the center offers expanded capability for CDW technicians to configure IT products to customers’ specifications before shipment.

You’re based in Vernon Hills, IL, so how often are you in Vegas?

I go to the western DC every two to three weeks. It’s actually in North Las Vegas, a separate city about 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip.

What’s the biggest challenge at the western DC?

Since it’s a high-tech DC, it’s not a job where someone can walk in off the street and we can give them a packing slip and have them get to work. There’s a learning curve here. Our employees first undergo an overview of CDW. And then it’s primarily on-the-job training with managers and supervisors. That’s the only way to train with this job — to make sure new hires are always with somebody to answer their questions.

Is finding available labor a problem in the Las Vegas area?

We transferred 50 employees to North Las Vegas to implant some of our culture in the new facility. Then we started to bring employees on a temporary-to-permanent basis, where an employee works as a temp for 90 days. At the end of the 90 days they convert to an employee. This area is very transient, and we’ve had a lot of turnover with temps. But if they stay for 90 days, we don’t lose people.

With all the technology, it seems nearly impossible for a package to get lost in the facility.

It is impossible for a package to get lost for any amount of time. Every movement is scanned, so if something does get misrouted all we’d have to do is go to the last scan. We know how long orders should take. And nobody goes home until all orders are accounted for. We start fresh each day.

What’s the most interesting thing or possession in your office?

I have a television monitor in my [Vernon Hills] office that gives me access to all parts of our distribution center in Vegas. So if my sorter is not working, for example, I can get on the phone immediately.

When in Vegas, what do you do for fun?

When I go out there I’m working, so there is no time for that. In fact, in all my time to Vegas I’ve seen exactly one show.

What did you see?

Entertainer Danny Gans.

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