Miles Kimball Meets Seasonal Fulfillment Challenges

For gift catalogers, the holiday season is the busiest time of the year in the distribution center. We decided to check in with some mailers to see how their operations fared for the final months of 2007. Tim Little, vice president of operations for Oshkosh, WI-based gifts and housewares merchant Miles Kimball spoke with MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT’s senior writer Jim Tierney.

Q. How did Miles Kimball fare as far as fulfilling a crush of holiday orders?

A: From a fulfillment standpoint, we were hitting on all cylinders. No bottlenecks to speak of. We averaged 30,000 to 35,000 shipments per day on a two-shift operation at peak.

Q: What aspect of fulfillment worked the best?

A: Our pick and pack processes have been streamlined with improved product profiling that produced a significant increase in picker productivity.

Q: What aspect of fulfillment needs improvement before the next holiday season?

A: We continue to see customers buying later and later into the season– pushing up against our guaranteed for Christmas shipping dates. For a normal line item (non-personalized), this has not been a huge deal. But at that time of the year, over 50% of our orders are coming in with one or more personalized items attached to the order.

As customers continue to purchase later in the season–specifically personalized items–we run into capacity constraints. There were a couple processes where demand simply outweighed capacity. Having said that, we consider this an opportunity and a good problem to fix for next season.

Q: How is Miles Kimball handling returns?

A: Just like every other cataloger: January and February will prove to be a challenge from a returns perspective. But our overall rate is well in-line with historical percentages. We currently do not use any third-party vendors for our returns process.

Q: Compared to last year, what were your holiday staffing levels?

A: Staffing levels were 3% lower than previous years in fulfillment and warehouse due to efficiency gains. For the early part of the season, we ran 18% below previous year in printing and personalization areas until the end of November when volume began to kick in—which, as mentioned earlier, was much later than previous years. At that time we had to handle the volume with overtime because it was too late to bring in another hiring class.

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