ShopTalk: How Plex's Inventory Management Solutions Has Helped Sanders

Sanders' Vice President of Operations, Kevin Jablonski talks about how the inventory management solutions from Plex has helped his business manage every detail about inventory in real time. Watch this video to find out more.

- [Brett] I'm Brett Larson here at PowerPlex, we're talking to Kevin Jablonski, you're gonna talk to us probably about everybody's favorite subject.

- [Kevin] Right.

- Hopefully everybody's favorite subject, which is candy. How can you go wrong with candy?

- Right. You can't.

- And so, we know what your company makes, candy, and the industries you serve, and you've had a pretty good growth spurt as of late.

- Yeah, absolutely. Running years, consecutive years now, double digit growth, it's created some interesting challenges for us.

- Yeah. First, are there any customers you wish to note that have come on board lately that you wanna give them a shoutout?

- Sure. Nationwide it's, we have continued growth in more additional Costco regions, right? And we're new in Targets, selective Targets, and so we're basically looking to grow into quick availability for everybody across the country.

- And what sort of challenges has that presented? Because you went from a smaller organization to now a very, you know, you've got a large footprint. You got a lot to do now.

- Sure. Well, that's increased pressure on planning tools, whether it's used for forecasting or increased on-hand inventory so that we can make on-time shipments. Those are all things that are classic challenges that we've been able to do much better of late.

- Before Plex coming into the picture for you, what were some of the organizational challenges that you faced?

- Overall, we were technology upside-down. We were a slave to that technology, that technology was not working for us, we were working for it, and that means that we were entering data, we were always putting data in and getting very little value return for that. So we had to hire people to enter data, so that was a very hard process to get it in, just equally as hard to get it out. And so, that meant that we were burning ourselves out working just to get the bare minimum. And that left no room for anybody to add value to the position.

- It was kind of a problem.

- It's a major problem, major problem.

- Because really what you wanna burn is the cream when you're making caramel.

- We scorched the cream...

- Scorched the cream. This is how it's made, as I've said earlier, I've tried making it many times and either very liquidy or toffee, so however you guys are doing it, it's perfect.

- Right.

- And coming from that, how has Plex changed the way your organization runs?

- Plex has been a huge part of just making that 180 degree transition, so where things are easier. Part of a data entry department that we had has been fully re-transitioned into a more proactive quality aspect. Instead of capturing data

and typing in lot numbers hoping that they were accurate from what was used down the product line, or manufacturing line, now that information is ensured accurate at the top of the process, so when it flows through automatically, we have higher accuracy and more complete data. So we've repositioned those people into proactive positions, which has been great for us.

- Right.

- And so that's kind of a microcosm of everything, to where now the... Plex has helped us get details more accurate with less people interfacing them or inputting them, and so it's working for us. What it's done, which has been really great over the last year, what it's done is it's allowed those individuals to add value back to the positions. So now they're coming up with new ideas of "How do we do things better?" Right? "How are we faster?" "What about this?" Right? And there was no time for that prior, because everybody was just burned out just getting it done at the last minute of every month close, trying to make it happen.

- I mean that's gotta be good for morale, too, because you're now free to properly do your job with the tools that are actually helping, and now you're free to say, "Hey, I got an idea."

- It's an absolute culture shift that we're still realizing, because as people understand it, they can add value back that they...they can offer something back to the company, it's not just a job, it can be a career. It's not just work, it can be, hey, we can talk to people, we can be friendly. It's not chasing down information, the information is presented to you.

Actually one of our benchmarks of success has been less communication, because when we take that order, we know that we don't have the inventory, and we know when we're going to have that inventory, and then we can adjust that order at the time of taking order, without multiple phone calls, without multiple emails, without trying to chase that down. Where it takes half a day to figure out, "Well, when are we gonna have that product available for that customer?" Now we know at the top of the...during the initial conversation.

- You saw the PowerPlex Keynote...

- Yep.

- What was your takeaway from that that was the most exciting?

- Most exciting, I would say at a company level, is the user experience. The focus on the user experience and really tailoring towards individual needs, and bringing information, the right information to the right person at the right time. That's paramount, and that's just continuing to make us more efficient.

From a personal perspective, I think that wearable technologies, or really just intelligent use of technology, whether it's wearables or whether it's just the right technology in the right place, like the iBeacons or something that are just, again, going to continue to lever technology appropriately. You know, that it's there for us before we need it.

- I was gonna ask you about the wearables, I know that they mentioned them, and it's, I mean it's exciting now. In the consumer space everybody's getting into it, but the business applications...

- Right.

-  ... almost endless, where you can see something adding. I mean just the Google Glass or the Apple Watch, you mentioned the iBeacons, which I didn't even think of, would be a great way're gonna know where everything is all the time.

- Right. Those were a problem solver, as I understand, for trying to focus Google Glass into the particular area... was producing those beacons as a point of reference, right?

Whether it's in the shop floor environment like the examples in the Keynote address, where someone has Google Glass or a smart watch and they're walking into an area, or one of the applications we're looking forward to, experimenting with, is actually in our distribution center on the pick-line process. Rather we have iPads mounted to carts, and they go around do a pick-path and gather for building an order...

- Right.

- Well, the process of splitting that inventory and staging and eventually loading that inventory for shipment, we're looking for some efficiencies through that Google Glass, which, collaboration with the ring scanner, that's gonna be real exciting to play with.

- Right, we even saw some of they're gonna take the machine information as well, and there's so much information out there that's gonna be literally at your fingertips.

- That was one of my, a favorite part of the Keynote for me was about the plan for efficiencies, and understanding just little nuances that you can pick up on a grand scale through gathering some of that PLC integration, perhaps, and in understanding where you can focus a problem, and understand that really all you need are a couple microwaves and you can get back to producing.

- Right.

- Right? That's an amazing story.

- Seems so simple.

- Right, right, but if you don't know that, hey, exactly where am I losing productivity, it's five minutes extra for lunch.

- Right.

- Right? That makes a big difference to getting everything to running smoothly. So to be able to focus at that level, that's amazing stuff.

- Of the hands-on experiences going on here, what are you gonna try and get in and give a run-through?

- I definitely wanna check out the new interface and get my hands on that really from a preparation perspective in trying to figure out where's the initial value for us, and as that continues to grow, how are we going to consider adopting it?  So I wanna get my hands on that, and I definitely wanna check out, continue to experiment with the Google Glass and the ring scanner and see how that can make our distribution center also much more efficient.

- Do you feel like the Plex platform has allowed you to experience the growth that you have, or has assisted in the growth that you have?

- So we were at a point of, I believe, burden in our growth prior to Plex, and Plex has been a big piece of relieving that burden, but it's also a scalable platform that it's going to continue to relieve or eliminate that burden. I think that we're at a point of use where we have a strong foundation that we can build from, and Plex is ahead of our needs as far as what they're looking to deliver for us. So as we mature as a company, Plex is...we're just behind Plex on a curve, which is a fantastic position for us to be in.

- Right. Another small business, if you were to talk to a small business, someone thinking about growing, would you think that something like Plex gives them a competitive edge?

- Absolutely. Again, having a strong foundation, bringing the information to the right folks at the right time, and then without managing inner data between multiple applications. It's all-in-one, literally every department in the company can benefit from it. Whether it's the maintenance, preventative maintenance in the production schedule, the quality modules all through the inventory, and orders and delivery, it's all integrated. When someone hits a button on one side of the company, it's immediately available for the next person in the process.

- What do you see for the future of technology in manufacturing?

- Continued delivery of the right technology in the right spot to just take the decisions or take the reach out of the equation, meaning that it's already there for them, and whether that's in a wearable, whether that's in a PLC integration that's measuring the machine performance at the time. It's the Internet of Things, or it's just applying technology in the right way to continue to enable.

- Good stuff Kevin.

- All right.

- Thank you for joining us.

- Yeah, thanks for having me.