Costly inefficiencies led School Specialty to seek a better way to manage the delivery of supplies to its Greenville warehouse.
A truck carrying a container would arrive at the company, and the materials in most need would be in the back or different products would be stacked next to one another, requiring more time to put materials away before they could be picked and sold. Other times, a container with its products would sit too long in Chicago, which left the company paying extra fees.
Three years ago, School Specialty discovered the Wisconsin Export and Import Container Positioning Platform. The tool helps businesses better control container management and the rising costs of intermodal transportation through the Chicago inland port, a massive area where materials are transported from rail lines to trucks — or vice versa — through a network of warehouses and distribution centers.
“It has been a huge benefit to us,” says Andy Houtz, transportation director for School Specialty. “The containers come in when we want them. We are more efficient.”
The platform is the brainchild of Garry Moss of GKM Inc. Moss, who earned his first patent as a sophomore in college, used a data-driven approach and applied Six Sigma process management to supply chain practices to create a value proposition that improves the flow of material and containers to and from Chicago’s inland port, which is the largest in the country.
“Some manufacturers have service and reliability issues with getting what they need through the area,” he says. “We developed a system that saves businesses time and money.”
The platform eliminates inefficiencies such as transporting empty containers or having to wait for container or chassis availability. It also saves money since it does away with punitive fees for detention or demurrage that some businesses pay due to inefficiencies, says Moss, who runs a firm that researches, designs and oversees the implementation of sustainable solutions that improve supply chains.
“There’s about $52 million worth of product that runs through the platform,” he says, adding that it has a chief operations center and a 450,000-square-foot warehouse run by Donnelly in the Chicago area, which holds the various orders. “(The warehouse) is mammoth. We can hold orders there and our users do not get hit with extra fees.”
Since the platform debuted a few years ago, it has maintained a 100 percent retention rate, Moss says. “We’ve had a lot of vertical growth on the platform where a business starts out with using us for one thing, but then it sees how valuable it is and adds more to it.”
Houtz says the platform uses lean processes, so he knows School Specialty will get “the same result time after time.”
For School Specialty, that means using it to unload floor-loaded containers and palletize by purchase order and product type. That saves the company dock time in the receiving and storage process. “We can then turn around and sell those products more quickly,” Houtz says, also praising the platform’s ease of use.
Another benefit of the platform: less truck traffic on the highways. By combining partial shipments, the amount of freight capacity — which is measured in units equivalent to a 20-foot shipping container — moved across Wisconsin is reduced.
One might think Wisconsin’s proximity to Chicago would be an asset for area manufacturers in getting their supplies and raw materials out of the city or their finished products to it. But that wasn’t necessarily the case, as Wisconsin manufacturers and distributors have worried for years about moving their materials from Chicago to the region via interstate highways.
Moss heard about the concern and then conducted analytics on studies examining the problem, which were conducted by the Brown County Port/Rail Committee and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. He then spent two years developing and perfecting the platform.
In 2016, he met with officials from the Center for Freight & Infrastructure Research & Education at the University of Wisconsin, who were conducting a study looking at the problems facing Wisconsin businesses involving transportation needs. They came away impressed.
“Companies that onboarded (the Wisconsin Platform) eliminated assessorial charges and recovery delays,” the study stated. “Efficiency gains include service reliability and cost savings in most cases.”
While word-of-mouth is the top way the platform gains customers, Moss began holding informational sessions for manufacturers to help them learn more about how the platform works.
School Specialty’s Houtz predicts more manufacturers will turn to the platform, as some transportation companies struggle to find enough truck drivers since everything is managed from a single point. For example, a truck coming from Chicago to the Appleton area could bring items for School Specialty and another business.
“In the tight driver market, the platform operates as efficiently now as it did prior to the driver shortage,” he says. “My containers are pulled from the rail ramp (in a timely manner), avoiding any demurrage fees.”
Consolidating truckloads has been a big time and money saver, Moss says.
“We’ve found a solution that works across the region,” he says. “As the driver shortage gets worse, more businesses will turn to something like this to make sure their supplies and products are getting where they need to in a timely, economical manner.”