A meaty discussion

Ron Eike has been the director of operations for Omaha, NE-based specialty foods mailer Omaha Steaks since 1986. He is responsible for fulfillment, logistics, customer service, order processing, and store inventory. Before Omaha Steaks, Eike’s 35-year career in operations included a stint at Monroe, WI-based Swiss Colony, where he oversaw customer service, the inbound call center, order processing, and fulfillment.

What’s your biggest challenge these days?

The biggest challenge is labor availability. At Omaha Steaks we have a diverse workforce, and many of our employees are from different ethnic backgrounds. Where we run into a problem is the potential pool of candidates we’d like to hire to work in our distribution center. A large percentage of these potential applicants are not in the U.S. legally. About 50% of the potential applicants are disqualified because they do not have the proper I-9 documentation. It just shrinks your available labor force. To get 50 workers, you might have to go through 100 applicants.

If you had a choice: backorders or overstocks?

If I had to pick, I’d say overstocks for the reason that if I was overstocked I would never disappoint a customer. To me an overstock position is better because I can make a customer happy. I rarely deal with backorders because we will substitute a bigger size or a bigger portion of another product if we are out of something. Backorders are rarely a part of my daily life.

On a typical Sunday morning, we can usually find you…

At my lake home in central Iowa sipping a cup of coffee out on the dock, fishing with my six grandkids. In fact, if I wasn’t in operations solving problems and dealing with our customers, I’d be a retired full-time grandfather.

How have operations changed during the past 35 years?

The biggest change is speed of processing the order and getting it to the customer. In the early days, it would take upwards of three weeks to process an order and get it delivered. Today we can process and deliver the order in one day. Technology has had a huge impact because we can process thousands of orders daily. What’s more, the customers can process their order online, and it becomes a shippable order in seconds. That’s fascinating to me.

What’s your most memorable encounter with a customer?

Once, years ago, I dealt with an elderly female customer who placed an order for a big event. She got forwarded to me because she was quite concerned that her order would not arrive in time for her event. The woman had specific delivery requirements. She lived a New York high-rise building and was emphatic that the delivery go to a certain door at a certain time, otherwise she would not get the order. Once I calmed her down and assured her that her order would arrive in time, she began asking me if I knew the pope. I explained that I didn’t. She claimed to have connections at the Vatican and told me that because I helped her, she’d be faxing a special prayer directly to Pope John Paul II in my honor.