Knock, knock: Will you be ready to seize unexpected opportunities?

By Joe Limbaugh, Motion Industries

I never get tired of hearing opportunity knocking, and it happened again in January. It could not have come at a better time.

Throughout December, our team had met to figure out how to heighten our distribution center (DC) service levels to our internal customers in the Pacific Northwest. This meant looking at each of our nearly 600 branch locations and understanding how any move would affect the balance of the current structure. It proved to be like Newton’s (the physicist, not the cookie guy) Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's not unlike my refrigerator at home. If you want the pickles, you'd better develop your strategy carefully. If you don’t consider the adjacent jars, they will all come raining down on your feet.

So by mid-December we had puzzled and puzzled until our puzzlers were sore. Then we gave up just like before. We all went our separate ways over the Christmas break and returned determined to sort this out once and for all. But then our parent company called. Like us, one of the other Genuine Parts Company (GPC) subsidiaries had been looking at its service footprint and determined that a consolidation was in order. In doing so, they would be vacating their distribution center in – are you ready for this? – Auburn, WA, which is about 25 miles south of Seattle. Best of all, it came with all the racking, it came with all the shelves; it came with all the lift trucks, and even the elves.

We asked for and received a number of documents and in short order created a pro forma, and the numbers looked good. We moved it up the ladder and held our breath. And then at last, approval.

A few weeks ago, I took a small group to Auburn to see the facility and meet the team. It’s an absolutely stunning building in a terrific area. The employees there were eager to learn more about Motion and will make a superb addition to our team of superstars. Talk about a win-win.

On the way back, we developed our strategy for implementing this wonderful opportunity. This time last year the DC in Dallas was finally built and we were knee-deep fine-tuning the relocation process. The playbook that we had developed (after borrowing from yet another GPC sub) was about 2 inches thick and nearly complete. At that time, the entire experience was new to many of us and we had a lot to learn.

This time, our team showed a confidence that wasn’t as pronounced during the early initial planning stages for Dallas. True, this will be much less complicated. (The building already exists, the shelving is in place, and the logistics ironed out.) However, there is a lot more to digest and plan. It’s the little things that can get lost in the process, such as how the building looks from a branding standpoint. And while adjusting our WMS (warehouse management system) is fairly straightforward, we need to make sure that our information technology team is well-informed and has plenty of notice about our plans.

To manage all of the moving pieces, we will once again implement our weekly meeting strategy. There are two groups, technically identified as the small group and the big group. The small group comprises our DC and logistics teams and is responsible for making sure that the overall project is successful. To help make that happen, they meet every other week with the big group. Representatives from each and every corporate department as well as stakeholders in the field will hear what we are up to and offer guidance and support in their respective critical areas. All of this boils down to planning and learning. Each time we do this, we learn a little bit more.

I believe that operations people have an inherent natural curiosity and desire to learn. They love to learn. And conscious learning leads to unconscious knowledge.

If all goes well, we should be up and running in our newest distribution center in the early summer. Once everything gets off the ground, the benefits to this important and valued market will be numerous.

Like the old saying goes, “When opportunity knocks, don’t complain about the noise – answer it!”