TechSperience

Transcript of Episode 29 - The Magic Behind One of the US Premier Distribution Centers

April 9, 2020

Episode 29 - The Magic Behind One of the US Premier Distribution Centers

with Rob Macintosh

 

 

This transcript was originally posted on the Connection Community

 

Robert McIntosh:

Today's warehouse is much more than just a cost center or a place to store finished goods. Today, distribution centers can help companies transform their business and help cut costs. With e-commerce growing at a rate of 17% year over year, and the demand for speed, efficiency and supply constantly reaching new heights, it's clear to see that innovation and technology will continue to define the modern-day warehouse.

 

Today on TechSperience, we visit one such warehouse and take a look behind the scenes at Connection's TIDC.

 

All right. Good afternoon, everybody. This is Rob McIntosh. And we are here on another episode of TechSperience. I'm actually on the road today. Normally, you hear Penny's wonderful voice, you'd get mine this afternoon. And I am down at our Ohio facility, in Wilmington, Ohio at our TIDC, which is our Technical Integration and Distribution Center. No, folks, it is not a warehouse, which I mistakenly called it one time. (laughs) And I was very generously told, no, we are not a warehouse. We are the TIDC.

 

Coming down here today, I understand why they call it the TIDC and not a warehouse. And I am being joined today by Colleen McMichael, who is the Director of Quality here at the TIDC; and Mark Wulfhorst. Did I say that right, Mark? I never get that right.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yes, you did.

 

Robert McIntosh:

All right, good. And he is the Director of Technical Services and Solutions here at the TIDC. So, first of all, I want to welcome you guys, and thank you for joining me.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Rob, thank you.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Thank you.

 

Robert McIntosh:

All right. I'm going to lead of with one question, and then I'm going to let you guys kind of take it away from there. Why, and I, I've felt this when I came down here and did the tour. First of all, it was a wow tour. All right. When I went in there, I was like, "Oh my goodness, this is everything that they (laughs) said it was.” It's a pretty spectacular site. We'll talk a little bit about the size of it, and what the capabilities are. But my question for you right now is, why are you guys so passionate about this facility? And Colleen, I'm going to actually start with you on this one.

 

 

Colleen McMichael:

Great. Well, thank you. From the standpoint of what we do here at the TIDC, and of course coming from the quality standpoint, quality is my passion. Everything... And people always wonder how operations and quality, you talk about productivity and quality. How do you make it better? How do you make it faster? But how do you make it right? And so that's a challenge. But at the same time, that's what I think we're good at. We're good at being the solution provider to the customer and being able to integrate the quality and how do we empower employees to do it right the first time every time.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Now, I'm going to tell you, that sounds like an elevator speech. So, I'm gonna-

 

Colleen McMichael:

(laughs)

 

Robert McIntosh:

... I'm actually going to bring this down to that the question again though is. I've seen it when you give the tour, and you're talking to folks. Why are you so passionate about this place, seriously?

 

Colleen McMichael:

Because seriously, we are the IT provider for companies. So, what makes us different is smaller companies can go out there and have their own IT. But why spend all that money and all that time when you can have somebody else do that? So, we do that, but we do that with our employees.

 

Robert McIntosh:

So you actually... Now again, so a lot of folks that are listening right now don't really understand exactly everything that you do. So, they're scratching their heads right now going, "What do you mean being the IT solution provider? Aren't you just putting my stuff into a box and shipping it out to me?" Mark, I'm going to turn that over to you.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Okay.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Explain to them exactly what it is that you do? Why you're passionate about it and what makes you guys different?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Okay. All right. As Colleen stated, we are the IT. I always start with our customers, "Hey, we're here to help you. We're here to alleviate the stress of your IT departments." And we're here at the TIDC to really help our customers. Not get rid of anybody's jobs anywhere, but to actually, really, physically help them, and let them use their technical resources where they need to in the environment.

 

We're pretty passionate here at the TIDC. We're all about how do we enhance the end user experience? Because in the end, those are the folks that are actually, physically, getting our devices. And when they open those, you want them to have that aha moment, right? Not, "Ugh, got another broken device from the TIDC," right? So, we're really here to help and assist our customers, to enhance that end user experience.

 

Robert McIntosh:

So, when I took the tour, that was one of the things that was really cool. When I went over and I saw… How do you guys explain it? You call it something in a box. What is that called? It's called?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Oh, that's the Location-in-a-Box.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Location-in-a-Box. And I thought that was really interesting concept. So, you have folks that are coming in here. You have particular customers that are looking for that end-to-end solution in their packaging and in their supplies and their IT. They come to you, and they say, "Hey, we want X, Y and Z." And then you guys go ahead, you take it.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yep.

 

Robert McIntosh:

You configure it. There's a lot of things that you do.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Right.

 

Robert McIntosh:

So, Colleen, do you want to explain that whole process?

 

Colleen McMichael:

Yeah. So, I come from the quality standpoint, and, and Mark comes from the technology solution. So, it's really a solution that he and the company, and we're trying to expand. When I think about it, I think about it as… You're going to set up a store, or it can be a store location, it can be a new-

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

A clinic. Yeah.

 

Colleen McMichael:

...a new clinic. So, you can have a new clinic, and you're ready. And then instead of those people, the customer having to say, "Oh, we need a computer, we need a monitor, we need the printers, we need all of the things that we need," we do that for them. So we'll take that, and we'll put that in a box. And then, when they're ready to open, it's ready. They open it up, it's ready. And that's the wow factor that Mark was talking about.

 

So, when I think about it and you think of our name, what's our name? Connection. We're connecting IT with our customers. And that's what we're doing for them.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yep.

 

Robert McIntosh:

It is pretty impressive. And I know that if I was running a company, and I open up that box, I would be extremely impressed with the time, work and effort that went into it, and the quality control that went into it as well. There's a lot of other things that you guys did that I didn't realize. I'm gonna run down some of the things that I noticed that I thought that was, again, kind of that wow factor. One was the laser engraving. I'll put this out to both of you guys. You can both chat about what that laser engraving is, and what it means to our customers.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yeah. So, laser engraving actually allows us to put a customized logo on somebody's devices whether it's a laptop, an iPad, an iPhone, an Android device, whatever it is that's small and flat enough, that can actually fit inside (laughs) the laser engraver, right, because that is important in case, like a desktop in it.

 

But what it allows us to do is it helps the customer by putting in their logo. So, it's really great to have alternative as well, right? So, not only is it showing the brand to the customers and the customer's buyers, it actually allows it to stay in one place. So, it's a really good value add to discuss with our customers as we go through this process, right? So, if you can assist them by putting on a logo that will not show up in a pawnshop, that's an extra value of layer that we can add to that, to that customer and to the sale.

 

Robert McIntosh:

All right. It's that, it's that security protection. The other thing that you said you can't put a desktop in there, but you certainly can take the cover from a desktop machine and put that in there and be engraved. So that it almost is like putting the desktop in there.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Correct.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Yeah.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

You can take the panel off and do that. Correct

 

Robert McIntosh:

Right, right.

 

Colleen McMichael:

And, and the great thing is we can take their logos, we can design logos, that's the great thing is. We can provide them a solution.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Right.

 

Colleen McMichael:

And, and whatever logo they want, we haven't had any crazy ones yet, but we can put them in there (laughs).

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yeah.

 

Robert McIntosh:

So, I don't know. I saw some there that were pretty intricate.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Right.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Robert McIntosh:

And, when I heard laser engraving, I'm thinking, "Oh, yeah, it's like what the old notebooks used to do. And they kind of laser engrave your name in there." And, now you take the actual logos and the artwork-

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yep.

 

Robert McIntosh:

... and you recreate it through the laser engraving onto the metal. It's pretty cool.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Right. And as Colleen stated, as we do that with the engraving, as you were talking earlier about the Location-in-a-Box, we do the same thing. All right. We're just not providers. We are a services and solutions company down at TIDC, right? So, our architects and engineers physically work with the customers. They come up with image solutions, how they're going to deploy it. A lot of times, they don't know of options A, B, and C. And, and we're here at the TIDC to actually physically help move them along to think of technologies and products that they haven't thought of before, to engage those and build those into their processes. So, the whole purpose of Location-in-a-Box or complex imaging, you know, we're not just taking people's images, we're actually helping them create and build things as well from that aspect.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Very cool. There are a lot of other things, obviously, that we do, one is the configure lab. That was a neat area. Colleen, do you want to talk about the configure lab?

 

Colleen McMichael:

Yep. So, that's where we'll actually configure the computers to whatever the customer requirements, the image that they want on there. We've done mobility. We have, iPods, iPads, you name it. So, we used to be PC Connection. We're now doing business as Connection. And that's because we want to be able to do TVs, printers, you name it, we can do that in our configure lab, and working with the people to produce the products that the customers want. Yeah.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Great. I go there. And I just see all the hustle and bustle that's going on in each one of these departments. Would you say, Mark, that's the busiest place in the TIDC? Yeah.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. So, within the configuration, If you can imagine having 1,000 machines up and running at any given time, that's the number of connections we have within the lab itself. There are 1,000 live connections, not counting Wi-Fi.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Wow.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

So, you can imagine if you're building this up, doing that whole process, it gets extremely busy in there. And it's a mix of complex images and simple images and Chromebook provisioning. There's a lot of action and moving parts in there within the lab facility itself.

 

Robert McIntosh:

I don't know if you can share this or not, but are you able to talk numbers? Like, how much do you push out per day? And how big is this facility? I know people always talk about football fields.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yep. Yeah. So, the, the actual facility itself is 267,000 square foot. So, if you look at it, it's a football field wide and three football fields long, and about 40 feet tall.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Wow.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

So, a lot of space.

 

Robert McIntosh:

That is a lot of space (laughs).

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

The configuration center itself is 42,000 square feet.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Wooh!

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Which means we have a lot of room for expansion and growth and being agile within the environment because not all the work that comes over is the same, right? If you have something really complex, that stays on the bench longer.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Right.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

And a Chromebook that might take five minutes compared to a Location-in-a-Box, which could take one tech two and a half to three hours to do. So, we have to have that bandwidth in that space to be able to be agile within what we do for, for our customers.

 

Robert McIntosh:

So, how, how many employees do you have?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

We have a little over 200 full-time employees here within the facility. And we work, typically, it's five days a week, Monday to Friday. Three shifts across the whole board. The lab and the depot are now running two shifts a day. They go from 6:00 AM to 11:30 at night every day.

 

Robert McIntosh:

And these were all specialized folks. I mean, these are people that have their practice areas or their areas of specialties. And I'll tell you, watching them in action, (laughs) you guys got a really good crew here. I'm very impressed.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yup.

 

Colleen McMichael:

And there are certifications. I mean, there's different certifications, especially, in our refurb area and all of the individual certifications, manufacturer's certifications. I could name a number of different ones that they have to go through. So, it's really important that they're technical to where they're doing, repairs or configurations. So, that's really important as well.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yeah. We've actually just started working with one of the local tech schools in town. We went down there last year and got their seniors, who are graduating from their technical aspect of high school. They're coming in with their CompTIA A+ certifications already. And it's a great way to build the community in with Connection.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Wow.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Yeah.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

So, we're physically going out there.

 

Colleen McMichael:

There’s only one issue that I found with that. Very few women.

 

Robert McIntosh:

You know, and this has been something that we have been struggling with, and we have a whole initiative with Connection, which is women in technology. We've written a lot of blogs on it. So, if you guys get a chance, you really should check out the connected community. There's a really a, a little plug for me there. But there's a lot of information about women in technology. We have a, a group that was started that's called WOW, Women Empowering Women. I’m sorry, Women Optimizing Women is WOW. And it's a great organization over in Connection that people have been getting involved with.

 

We also found through eSports and team STEM programs that a lot of the women kind of break off in that, from middle school to high school. And we actually found that eSports is just kinda bringing them back in. That whole initiative going on, and it's interesting to hear that you guys are struggling with those same things here at the TIDC as well. Have you figured anything out how you can bring the women in?

 

Colleen McMichael:

Well, one of the things I had talked to them is possibly going to the schools. It's interesting because the tech schools have reached out and said, that's the problem, they're not getting them from the schools. So, of course, we're going to have to start at the younger age, which is really interesting because I don't see any difference between boys and girls when it comes to technology. They're all on their phones.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Yep.

 

Colleen McMichael:

They're all on computers. They all do YouTube. But I did ask the boys if they were intimidating the girls a little bit. (laughing) But, I really think going to the schools and, also when you walk through our configuration lab, we're probably not 50/50, but there's quite a few-

 

Robert McIntosh:

It's close, yeah.

 

Colleen McMichael:

... a really good ballance, yeah, the women to... And, and I don't think they've seen that. So, I thought it would be really good to, at least, get to the schools, so we're gonna take a look at that.

 

Robert McIntosh:

That's great. Now, so, do you offer intern programs that you've been doing?

 

Colleen McMichael:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yep. We actually start with juniors. That the high school to bring in interns. We work with the local colleges. We bring in developers. We have an R&D team up here now, Rob. So, we're always looking for new technology, new ways to push technology out to the environment. How do we speed things up, be more efficient within the TIDC itself? We go out and bring in intern developers and to work with our coding teams to actually come up with new solutions.

 

Robert McIntosh:

So, if somebody's in the Wilmington, Ohio area and they're listening to this, and they want to get plugged into TIDC. How do they do that?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

What they need to do is just go out to our website and go under Careers. And there's a host list of job openings. And other than that, they can actually call the facility here go into HR, the HR team would be happy to assist them.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Great. So, if you guys are listening, come, plug in, this is a great place to work. A lot of fun, too. And you're going to learn a whole lot. One of the things, taken the tour that you told me about is the certification process that you put folks through. And you really seem to work on career development that they're not just going to stay in one area-

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Right.

 

Robert McIntosh:

... that you want to train them, cross train them, and have them keep moving up. Do you want to speak a little bit to that?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yes. So, we've laid out a career path for our employees. And we pay for the certifications. So, we pay for all books, the certification vouchers and get through that with our employees. And we're really trying to set up a career path. You know, we want to grow from within inside, right? I want that tech one to get to a tech two, to get to a senior tech, to get to an image specialist, or take a leadership role into a leader, a supervisor. So, we're all about it at the TIDC. And how do we build our employees, how do we build them up technology wise or leadership wise and get them the courses and the training that they need so that they can be successful and which in turn makes us successful.

 

Robert McIntosh:

And tenure, I mean, what was the turnover like here? I'm just assuming that when you have people on a career path and you have the type of culture that you guys have here which is really strong. I get to assume that your turnover isn't that high. Is that a correct statement?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

That is correct. The turnover, the average tenure in the lab is I think 9.3 years.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Wow.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

And overall in the TIDC, it's like 14.2.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Yup.

 

Robert McIntosh:

In today's day and age, that's amazing.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Yep. It's, it's also a controlled environment, too, so. That helps in the summertime and the wintertime (laughs).

 

Robert McIntosh:

There you go. So, if, if you want to stay cool, come on in the summer. If you want to stay warm, come on in, in the winter (laughs). We've touched on a lot of things here. Some of the other things I wanted to kind of make sure before we run out of time is, some of the capabilities that the TIDC has. Who wants to speak to mobility because you have a whole station set up or, I should say a whole area set up for mobility itself?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yep. Yeah. So, mobility is one of the areas we haven't covered so far. Within the mobility, any tablet phone-based product we can use within the environment here. And the nice thing within the TIDC is we do have, as we spoke about experience and certifications, we have some of the highest certified people within the Apple and JAMF Markets, and if JAMF really works well with Apple products.

 

Robert McIntosh:

And, and what is JAMF?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

JAMF is a MDM, mobile device management tool device that's specific for Macs and iOS devices. So, that allows us to do provisioning, remote management, the whole process. We are a managed service provider. We were one of the first gold resellers of their product in the United States. There are about maybe 40 integrators worldwide, and we have two of them here at Connection, right?

 

Robert McIntosh:

Wow.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

We take our mobility very serious. It's a large growth factor within the TIDC. We have some of the best Apple engineers. We actually wrote some Apple automated workflow tools that Apple itself has said, "You were the only ones in the country that have this capability." So that goes a long way when we talk about our staff or our employees, and how we grow and build them. We've got two of them at the Apple tech kitchen right now learning more about some of the new Apple products that are coming out this year.

 

Robert McIntosh:

That's awesome. It's a very impressive area that you have there, that whole mobility area is buzzing as well.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Right. Yeah.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Other things that I may not have talked about. I know that up and coming you had that tablet and ring scanner.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Right.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Tell me a little bit about that.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

All right. As we all know, we're going to progress to our new ERP E1. And within E1, all the techs in the lab were going to be using an Apple tablets with a finger scanner. So, what that does is cut down on used time of having to go work at a fixed station to do scanning and work down the lines.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Or move around. Yeah.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

They, they're flexible. We've made them flexible with the new E1 environment. I think when we look at the savings amount in that, there was about seven FTEs savings, just going to tablets inside the lab.

 

Colleen McMichael:

And if you think about it, we use a lot of by serial number. We used to type in the serial numbers, and you can have errors, but now, scanning, walking down, because we database everything.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yep.

 

Colleen McMichael:

We have records. We keep records on anything. If there's any ever problems, you can come back, and we can track it by the serial number.

 

Robert McIntosh:

So, from a quality standpoint, not only have you saved time, but it makes it more efficient and less mistakes. What does it mean for the customer?

 

Colleen McMichael:

Do it right the first time, every time. You knew I was going to get that back in (laughing).

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

If you do it right. That's what we're here for, right?

 

Robert McIntosh:

I love that. It's a great motto. I think you guys really take that to heart, which is awesome. Green initiative. That’s something else that really stood out when I took the tour. Just how dedicated you guys are to sustainability and going green. Who wants to talk to that?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yeah. From the green initiative side of the house, we do take it seriously. We're always looking at ways to reduce packaging. How can we do that and reduce the footprint of cardboard, paper, plastic, foam, within the environment? So, we work with our customers to try to get them and say, "Okay, if you're ordering all these laptops, let's put 10 in a box. If you're ordering all these minis, right, let's put 16 in a box."

 

Let's cut down that footprint. We recycle everything here. Also, when we're doing end-of-life cycles with our customer's equipment, we'll go ahead and destroy that and e-recycle it and give them certifications. And then, we pay that back. But those pieces are getting recycled. They're not going to our landfill.

 

All right. That's what we're about here at Connection. We're working on the lighting, getting better lighting to reduce the cost, reduce the footprint on that. We're always looking at better ways to figure out how can we help the environment; how can we help the community by not producing more waste.

 

Robert McIntosh:

I love that.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Yep.

Robert McIntosh:

We've... I'm sorry, go ahead.

 

Colleen McMichael:

No. No. That’s exactly that. To try to help the environment is the most important thing.

 

Robert McIntosh:

It really is. And so many of our partners are doing the same thing. They've embraced the sustainability and, and the green initiative. It's great to see that we're aligning, not only with our partners, but with our own beliefs too, and getting everybody onboard. Hats off to you on that, too. We are coming up on the end here. We've touched on a lot of things. I want to throw it out there though. Is there anything that I missed that's really important that you guys want to talk about?

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yeah. There are a couple of things. Some of the new provisioning methods and models that are coming out in the marketplace today. I know a lot of our sales team and folks understand what Microsoft Autopilot is. But we've gone a step further. We've taken Autopilot with Microsoft's White Glove Access. And what that allows us to do is start doing cloud-based provisioning. Instead of just doing the role provisioning and get the hand at stake information, I have the device open. I can tap into their Azure and Intune using the white glove flag. We did a beta testing with Microsoft. We were their pilot test site for this process.

 

As we talk about Autopilot, it's Autopilot with the white glove. And it allows us to provision that device up to about 98-99% ready to go outside that box from our facility here. So, you don't have to worry about where you're at or where your locations are out in the environment. You could have a five-meg line that you want to try to provision this. We can do all types for our customers using Autopilot and White Glove.

 

There are some of the newer technologies. We are getting ready to design our new pod environment here, which is our new project, onboarding the design team. I know the sales staff and sales team members will be seeing this. It will be coming out. It's really going to help us and change how we do our business here at Connection. It's going to have a team that is consolidated, specifically, only for your opportunities to what we call our first article Belt. And that's all they're going to be focused on. You would now have Senior Product Coordinators. You would have architects, you would have image specialists, basically, assigned to each vertical within Connection. So, we're really excited about that. You're going to start seeing a lot more information on that. But it's going to change how we do business. It's going to be a speed value process. We will be able to get our test units and fabs done faster. So that then the customers' orders can get into production much, much faster than they do today.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Sounds like you guys have been really lazy not doing a whole lot. Kind of just sit back, hang out, right?

 

Colleen McMichael:

I know. I know. Yep. Yeah. Yep.

 

Robert McIntosh:

No. My goodness, these initiatives are great. Anything else, Colleen, that we might have missed?

 

Colleen McMichael:

What? The only thing I'm going to throw in is the ISO 9001:2015 certification that we currently hold within the configuration lab. And that's really important. That's keeping the customer, so that the customer doesn't have to come in and do the “Are you following these quality standards?” We get audited every year. And we hold that certification. We're really proud of that.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Yup. That's awesome.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Anything else I missed?

 

Colleen McMichael:

No.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

No. We just welcome people to come here.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Yeah.

 

Robert McIntosh:

Yeah. I get to tell you, again, if you haven't checked it out, they give you tours. They welcome you to come on down here and take a look, and see why this is not a warehouse, that it is the TIDC, Technical Integration and Distribution Center. And they do everything IT. They do all the heavy lifting, so that you don't have to. You don't have the IT resources, so let us here at the TIDC do that heavy lifting for you. It's really phenomenal.

 

Guys, good job. I thank you so much for joining us.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Robert McIntosh:

And, and a little teaser, too. We came down here to do a video. And that video is going to be released. I don't know the exact date, but I just want you guys to keep an eye out for it. We'll have that on social media as well. So, check your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and you'll see some of these, little tidbits coming to you from the TIDC. Thank you so much, guys.

 

Mark Wulfhorst:

Thank you.

 

Colleen McMichael:

Thank you.

 

Robert McIntosh:

All right. Until the next time on TechSperience. This is Rob McIntosh.

 

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