ECRM Behind the Scenes: Freight & Logistics 4/21/2017
For retailers attending ECRM’s EPPS meetings, product discovery and category planning can’t happen if the products and related supplies don’t make it to the hotel, and it’s the role of ECRM’s freight team to ensure that they do – even if it means they have to drive to the local customs office and convince them to release a vendor’s product (which they have done), or track pallets lost in transit and set up a special courier to get them to a meeting on time (which they also have done).
I’ve personally experienced a small slice of what the freight team does -- when ECRM Chief Architect Kurt Repola and I assisted in bringing products from vendor rooms to the donation room during our Candy Planning - Christmas and Halloween EPPS – and I tell you, it can be grueling, physical work. But aside from lugging boxes around the hotel, there is a tremendous amount of meticulous record-keeping and constant coordination and communication involved to make sure everything is accounted for and in the right place.
What’s more, when the freight team does its job perfectly, no one notices. And that’s the whole point. The freight team, along with the travel team, schedulers, IT staff, and logistics folks are the “behind-the-scenes” teams at ECRM who help drive the seamless operations that enable the efficient and effective product discovery and category planning efforts that occur at each ECRM EPPS. This is our effort to give them credit for all they do.
Here’s a Q&A I had with Ashley Jenks, EPPS Logistics Manager, who along with Freight Logistics Manager Rachel Danner, Logistics Manager Jen Williams, EPPS Logistics Director Jackie Cummings, and Logistics Assistant Sarah Weeks make it all happen.
Describe the process of prepping for an ECRM EPPS.
We start working on EPPS meetings roughly 12 weeks out. We are responsible for negotiating the pipe and drape contracts for power halls, the racks that the retail team uses for EESR meetings, ordering supplies, and coordinating all of the client service representative (CSR) travel and assigning the rooms and sections each will oversee during the meetings. We also reach out to the hotel to train hotel staff on our process, and cover any show-specific concerns or challenges. This can include anything from finding refrigeration for suppliers with perishable items, to making sure hotel room dimensions are large enough to accommodate displays or other large freight.
What are the freight activities that occur during the EPPS meetings?
The freight team is the first to arrive on the scene. For a typical Sunday client arrival day, we will arrive on Thursday, and immediately begin work taking inventory of every single box via our mobile freight app. That allows us to know early on if we are missing anything, so we can alert the client. We also organize any items slated for our Buyer Sample Box program, so the account managers can begin preparing them when they arrive.
Other duties on the days prior to attendee arrival day include helping IT unpack the truck and monitoring the pipe and drape and rack set-up to make sure everything is in place. Depending on how early the hotel is able to give us rooms, freight deliveries to supplier rooms will start either one or two days prior to arrivals. Once everything is delivered, we check every supplier room and re-inventory every box to make sure it was delivered to the right place, and addressing any issues related to missing inventory.
When do you start prepping for outgoing freight?
As soon as incoming is completed, we will start to prep for outgoing, by getting a list of everyone that has shipped in a pallet. We contact them to see if they plan to ship a pallet back out, and find the space to build pallets and store them while they are waiting for pick up. During weeks in which we have several EPPS overlapping, we often handle incoming freight and outgoing freight simultaneously, because each EPPS has its own start and end date. Once the supplier attendees are all packed up, we go room to room and record of their outgoing tracking numbers, and then the hotel staff comes to pick up the boxes.
What are the post-EPPS activities?
After an EPPS, we field any questions about any outgoing freight that might be missing. Oftentimes we have to leave before everything is picked up, so we are always following up with carriers and hotel contacts to get everything out. We also total the number of boxes we had per show, and send those to finance, along with final receipt from any of our contracts.
ECRM works with charities at each EPPS. Can you tell us about the freight team’s role with donated products?
We have the privilege of partnering with many charitable organizations at each EPPS, who accept products donated by the supplier attendees once the EPPS ends. For example, we have a particularly close relationship with Operation Shoebox, which sends care packages to troops deployed overseas. They take the majority of our donations throughout the Southwest. We have also worked with numerous food banks, animal welfare organizations and women’s shelters throughout the country. Our donations are often a big deal for these charities, and they sometimes drive up to about 10 hours to make the collection.