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June 7, 2023

Episode 1

Building Customer-Centric Warehouse & Fulfillment Operations

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June 7, 2023

Building Customer-Centric Warehouse & Fulfillment Operations

In this episode of Future Ready Freight, Joe Corniuk, Chief Technology Officer at Mariner chats with Scott Fleener, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Mariner. During this conversation, Scott and Joe talk about how to select a warehouse management system and warehousing solutions that Mariner provides. Other topics include what to look for in selecting a WMS, what is critical and valuable to the customer, the importance of configuration and flexibility of a system, and more.

Guest

Contributors

Scott Fleener

Chief Supply Chain Officer, Mariner

Joe Corniuk

Chief Technology Officer, Mariner

Tags

Warehousing & Fulfillment
Technology

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Read the accompanying blog post from Scott Fleener below. Scott goes into detail about the factors that generated growth for Mariner's warehousing
& fulfillment division.

"The key to our growth has been providing quality service and by establishing key partnerships and relationships with our customers. - Scott Fleener

I started my career in supply chain management with Apple Computer a long, long time ago. I went to a 3PL after 9 or 10 years, and then went on to build supply chains for a telecom and a data storage startup in Boulder. I had the opportunity to go to Southeast Asia to build a global supply chain for a company there. When I came back to the U.S. 3 years later, I was introduced to the Mariner team, and was brought on to build the warehousing offering from scratch.

When beginning this project, we had a little space, 110,000 square feet, but there were quite a few pieces missing. We needed customers, yes, but we knew we would need a WMS to be able to serve customers. A WMS is a critical tool that ensures efficient operations and execution, and it's key to managing inventory. The service that a warehousing team provides is inventory management, and, when you think about it, inventory is money, right? Be it raw materials going into a manufacturing facility, be it finished good and products; all these items are being sold and turned into revenue. So again, inventory is very, very valuable. So having a WMS is a critical piece to overall Warehouse Solutions.

It's an interesting process. Of course, you're going to get sold all these wonderful solutions, but one of the key things to look for is integration capabilities. For us, it was a question of whether or not a WMS's flexibility to integrate with any of the systems our customers may be using. For a shipper, it may be necessary that their WMS integrate with the ERP and e-commerce platforms their products are managed through. That integration piece makes it possible for the WMS to properly manage the flow of information, be it order receipts, and information going back to the customers receiving orders, confirming orders going back to their ERP system, these types of things. So it's very important that we have, you know, ease of integration to ERP systems. Ease of use was another crucial piece for Mariner, you know, for the warehouse management teams. The team that's working in the warehouse and executing the WMS, they need to know: is it easy to use? Are there are checks and balances that you can put into the execution of the WMS to ensure integrity and accuracy? The last key component that Mariner needed, because we manage so many different types of businesses - be it e-comm, B2B, B2C - so we need it to be very configurable, and flexible and dynamic.

For example, we get a lot of customers that are simply looking for FIFO, first in first out inventory management. We're able to collect by receipt dates of when the material came in by SKU, or part number, and manage that FIFO management for them. Alternatively, we have done quite a lot of business with different beverage companies who are looking for FEFO, first expiration first out. So regardless of when the product may have come in, we can configure our WMS to support FEFO and ensure that we're taking the soonest expiration date, and getting that into their retail supply chain first. You know, we have some customers that have requirements for us to collect serial numbers of their products. And so we are able to configure that functionality into either the receiving and/or the shipping process to make sure that we are collecting those serial numbers. Then the customer can track those, typically for warranty reasons, but sometimes for other reasons. So again, the configurability of the system gives us the ability to manage the customer's needs as it relates to their business.

We've established that a WMS is critical to efficient warehouse operations, but it's only a piece of the overall warehousing solution that we offer at Mariner. You can have a great tool, but bad processes, and sub optimal use of the tool and then you may as well have no WMS at all. The number one thing we stress here at Mariner is that we don't make a product. We sell one thing, and that is service. When we are brought on by a new customer, we take that award very seriously, because we understand they have listened to what we can offer, have selected our team to be integrated into their supply chain for warehousing, order fulfillment, whatever that specific case needed. We know we have to deliver excellent service, because that's what we sell.

Sometimes it's a long process, courting a potential customer, and sometimes it's a matter of days. That timeline is really dependent on, again, what specific goals and needs of the client. One of our first customers, Trojan Tracks, came to us in October of 2021. They had a very challenging situation in the Dallas Fort Worth area. The warehouse they were using was going out of business. So, really, I got a call on a Wednesday and they had freight delivered to us on Thursday. I was still working on the contract while they were occupying the space. Those initial conversations we had on Wednesday apparently gave them the confidence that Mariner could manage their business. That isn't to say that we didn't have to continue cultivating that relationship. We introduced the Trojan Tracks leadership to the people that would be working with their product in our warehouses. We met the teams that worked in their facilities. We all worked together to integrate tools like the WMS. Now, four years later, we still work with them, and we are now their largest fulfillment provider in the United States.

Some of our other customers, like G.O.A.T. Fuel, started with an RFP Process. So that process starts with us getting an RFP. We fill out the information and we send the information back. There's very little human interaction going on. Then go to the next stage, you get into the Q&A process, that's when you really start to learn more about each other and what each party's capabilities are, and who the people are. One of the key things I like to do as soon as possible is introduce potential customers to our warehouse management teams, the people that are leading our warehouses. We're very fortunate, we've got great people, and they understand what we're doing and what we're providing for our customers.

Circling back to G.O.A.T. Fuel, G.O.A.T. Fuel was a startup, which is a great project to be a part of. What's cool about working with a startup is that we really get to integrate all of our operations with all the operations on their side. You know, I get the unique opportunity to integrate my experience and my ideas and collaborate with the rest of both teams to create optimal solutions for a young company. And the young companies really get off on the right track, they aren't bogged down with legacy systems or processes most of the time. So it's a lot of fun to work with all the different kinds of businesses and uncovering the problems they need solved.

Being at Mariner, this is the highlight of my career. I've enjoyed this more than anything, but it's not been without a few scary moments. Again, Mariner  did not have this offering when I got here in April of 2019. At that time, we had a 110,000 square feet facility and I was handed a set of keys, got a pat on the back, and told, "good luck"! I had all the support in the world from leadership, and we were actually operating at capacity within two or three months with an integrated WMS.

Next thing you know, we got another 350,000 square feet down in the South Dallas area a couple years ago. Last year we opened another 300,000 square feet in Fort Worth. We are at 100% capacity and these operations execute multi-channel, e-comm, B2B, B2C. The commodities we service, both raw materials and finished goods, are all across the board with automotive, beverage, industrial, spices. We've got a pretty good variety of customers that we're supporting. So I think the key thing to our growth, if I have to narrow it down to one thing, is that we're good listeners. It isn't that we hear the problems, it's that we actively listen to solve. Everything else, the WMS we use, the facilities we operate, the service offerings we add, the customer referrals, everything is a by-product of our ability to listen.

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