Sedlak listens to retailers’ supply chain needs and recommends distribution and logistics methods without bias. By Russ Gager
Retailers face increasingly complex challenges in their supply chains to keep up with consumer demands for an “anytime, anywhere” shopping experience. That requires a seamless mix of mobile, ecommerce and brick-and-mortar solutions along with omnichannel fulfillment. Developing and maintaining the optimal strategies, facilities, operations and systems to meet these challenges can be overwhelming for many retailers. For nearly 60 years, retailers of all sizes and types have trusted Sedlak to find the right answers for their distribution and logistics needs.
“We’ve got a very rich history in retail,” Principal Patrick Sedlak points out. The firm has helped all of the major names in retailing as well as niche retailers, and covers the spectrum of brick-and-mortar and direct-to-consumer companies. “We work across the supply chain –sourcing, inventory and physical distribution,” Sedlak adds. The company also provides services to wholesalers, manufacturers, third-party logistics (3PL) providers and healthcare companies.
Sedlak helps its clients with everything related to the four walls of a distribution center – its location, layout, labor, size, material-handling equipment, inventory and warehouse management and control systems. And after decades in the business, “We’re the most trusted advisor in the physical distribution business for retailers in the marketplace today,” Sedlak asserts.
The company has consulted for all types of retailers, including those who sell soft goods, hard goods and food and beverages. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is listening to the client to learn what their needs are, then fashioning the right solution to support their goals and direction,” Sedlak says.
President Will O’Brien compares Sedlak’s methods to those of a good physician. “We listen to our client and discern their unique needs, then diagnose the core issues and prescribe the right solution for them,” O’Brien says. “Just as a doctor does not prescribe morphine for every patient that asks for it because they have a sore back, we owe it to our clients to challenge their initial requests of us and provide a careful analysis of their situation based on our expertise before offering a cure.”
Not Always Distribution
Problems that show up in a distribution center might not be a distribution problem at all, O’Brien points out. If a distribution center is not meeting service levels, it could be due to a carrier missing appointments, thereby causing stock-outs or starving off a just-in-time cross-dock program. It also might be an inventory management issue that could be solved by removing out-of-season or outdated merchandise to increase the distribution center’s capacity.
“We visited a major U.S. retailer recently, and they wanted us to help their distribution center gain more capacity,” O’Brien relates. “It would have been easy for us to do that and be done, but we realized that they really needed better control of how they buy product and exit each season. Their growth is significant and will require some additional capacity, but we can minimize that by helping them alleviate their inventory management and product flow challenges.” According to O’Brien, Sedlak’s expertise in the retail industry helps the firm relate bigger-picture realities to their clients and land on the right solutions.
Not an Automatic Solution
Sedlak evaluates and recommends automation in distribution centers as it deems appropriate. “Not all distribution centers have to be highly automated,” Sedlak emphasizes. “We go to our clients and suggest the right design and the right level of automation for what their specific needs are.”
He adds that Sedlak’s independence is a critical part of its business model. “One of the reasons that we’re the most trusted group in retail distribution is because we’re independent of all those technologies – we don’t sell any equipment or applications,” Sedlak says. “So when a customer comes to us, we give them the answer that is right for their needs. If we give them the roadmap to success, then we ourselves will succeed.”
One trend in the industry that is driving increased use of material-handling technology – such as automated storage and retrieval systems, multishuttles, miniloads, autobaggers and high-speed sorters – is an increasing scarcity of labor. “There’s a shortage of available labor, or labor coming in at different skill levels, or speaking multiple languages within one building,” O’Brien says. “The concentration of distribution centers in Columbus, Ohio, Louisville, Ky., Nashville, Tenn., and other markets is outstripping the availability of labor. We have a client in Columbus that said, ‘I have been in this market my entire career, and I’ve never had a problem with labor availability until the last two years, and this year is much worse than last year.’” The right level of automation can help reduce labor needs and increase productivity for companies facing this challenge.
In addition to material-handling equipment, a distribution center also needs the right software to support operations. “Without software, none of it works,” Sedlak stresses. Warehouse management, execution and control systems, along with bar coding or voice picking software, might be necessary depending on the client’s situation. Among the considerations for when and how to utilize these technologies is whether a retailer has separate warehouses dedicated to ecommerce and brick-and-mortar, or combines both operations in a single distribution center. In combined operations, the right software can readily drive both case-pick for retail stores and unit-pick for online order fulfillment, Sedlak explains.
The way in which the software is configured also can have unexpected benefits. “If a retailer employs workers with disabilities – who make a great workforce in a distribution operation – and you can present the information to them in a way that they can work with it, they become highly efficient and independent, which can positively impact their lives and be a pretty rewarding part of what we do,” O’Brien says.
Third Parties Can Help
Sedlak also assists retailers in determining whether or how to outsource distribution operations to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to solve supply chain challenges. “A significant part of our business is gathering the requirements and facilitating the bidding process for working with 3PLs,” O’Brien points out. It’s a decision that depends on multiple factors.
One factor might be the addition of a new sales channel. A retailer dedicated to self-distributing its brick-and-mortar retail and wholesale businesses that needs to fulfill ecommerce orders, but projects ecommerce will be a minor portion of its overall business, might consider a 3PL, O’Brien says.
Sedlak might also consider recommending 3PLs if clients need greater expertise than they can provide on their own for a specific distribution function, such as returns processing or product repairs.
Building a Career
Part of the reason for Sedlak’s long-standing success is the way it treats its associates. “We are a family run business, and we treat our employees as family,” Sedlak declares. “We have an average of 13 years’ retention of our associates because we pay attention to their needs. We respect our associates and support them personally and professionally.”
Sedlak encourages promoting employees from within. “We try to provide an environment for our associates to be successful, and we’re very proud of that,” Sedlak continues. “We’ve got the best people in the industry working with us, and they want to keep working with us. We provide for them, and they provide for us – it’s a great ecosystem. Everything we offer – experience, knowledge, personality – is delivered by our associates.”