We leapt at the chance to sit down with Monique Toohill - Blue Bungalow's Operations Specialist - who has spent time across pretty much every team and function in the business over her 5 year tenure. She's well placed to give us the lowdown on BB's early days as a women's fashion brand selling online, how the company grew across Australia and some of the pains and challenges on that journey. Ultimately, we’ll discuss how bringing Peoplevox in as their warehouse management system has gone a long way to transforming the business into an operational powerhouse.
So where did our journey together start?
How a lot of these go… pain points in the warehouse. Specifically, a lot of room for errors with manual warehouse processes and paper-based picking, challenging onboarding of new staff, and a lack of scalability in the operation.
'We were a classic paper-based operation. For every single order, a piece of paper with the items would be printed out, and a shipping label would get stapled to it. Then, we were sending our team members around the warehouse to try and find the items for that one order, one at a time. As a growing ecomm business that stocks a wide number of SKUs, it was impossible to keep on top of our accuracy, and the number of errors going out was concerning.
Whether it was a miscount at goods-in that meant the wrong number of units were listed online, sticking the wrong label with the wrong order just before shipping out, or anything in between, mistakes were quickly piling up
'We had to have an experienced staff member double checking every single order before it went out, which in some cases would take precedent over a whole day’s normal work. And that was before it went to the packing person, who would check again. There were three separate opportunities to check the accuracy of an order, and yet we were still finding errors daily.'
As Blue Bungalow found out, throwing more and more people at the problem doesn't make it go away.
'It would take as long as 4 months for anyone new joining the business to be even remotely 'useful' within the warehouse, slowly obtaining the knowledge required to be effective and find items first time. We didn’t exactly make it easy for people: the level of detail on locations could be as vague as 'that dress is somewhere in the back right corner, maybe on the third or fourth shelf?!'.
When brands operate in this way, it's not just the individual order errors that add up to harm your business. If you don't know how much stock you've got, there’s a good chance that you could be overselling, underselling, having inaccurate inventory available on your website, or worse, missing out on sales opportunities.
Warehouses are the beating heart of customer experience - for better or for worse
As someone who has worn most of the hats at the company, Monique knows first-hand what letting a customer down feels like.
'The last mile is what the customer remembers. When they're calling you, asking about a top they've ordered for an event, or a dress for a funeral, and you can't even find the stock, it's terrible. We work with a more mature client base and word of mouth is everything. If your friend says to you 'don’t shop there, I had a poor experience', you're not going to double check the reviews, it's straightforward - you just won’t shop there. So even with an overall great review base, one mistake can cost you two customers.'
After chatting to their shipping platform, our pals at Starshipit, BB were put onto Peoplevox as a piece of technology that would integrate with what they were already using, (Shopify and Starshipit), but would totally transform their entire warehouse processes end to end. After discussing the pains and issues they'd been experiencing, we arrived at two crucial goals for a Peoplevox WMS Implementation:
With the combination of Blue Bungalow’s hypergrowth over the past few years and their previous reliance on paper-based fulfilment, having the Peoplevox team on their side to lend their experience and 'train as you go' was a crucial value-add for the implementation of the WMS Project.
'Witold and Blazej were a dream to work with. I was across the entire implementation, but as someone with no previous WMS experience, Peoplevox was so helpful. You guys were able to share best practice and examples from similar companies that you'd worked with, and I could help to align those ways of working with what we really needed as a business, what made sense and what didn't.'
The project overlapped with a transition from the existing warehouse to a brand new one, twice the size. With a blank canvas like this, it meant we could really stretch our consultative muscles, and our input covered areas like warehouse design, aisle and row layout, bin locations and pack bench set-up, as well as the software side of things.
Transformation from Day One
Hit March 2020, and we're going live. Users trained, platform set up, inventory locked and loaded. Monique's initial feedback?
'There was an instant reduction in that error rate. It was so good to get away from the paper-based approach. Before, I spent 30 mins, 3 days a week checking inventory and suspicious 'out of stocks', whereas with Peoplevox in, we can trust the system and we actually know where everything is.'
Instead of tackling their fulfilment operation with a staple gun and a fresh box of printer paper, the team were now equipped with Android scanners, automated and digital pick lists, and 100% confidence. Any potential mistake would now be stopped in its tracks by the signature Peoplevox BEEP that only lets you carry on your action when you've scanned the right barcode for the right items and the right order.
Fixing the 'experience' issue
This new-found accuracy and boost in productivity from the team meant Blue Bungalow' was ready to push forward with their major growth objectives.
'The business was growing massively throughout all of this, hitting new records month after month. But we no longer needed to keep thinking about adding new staff to handle the demand. And when we did bring onboard new people, that process was totally transformed. With Peoplevox, you don't need to know every single detail about our product or have worked in our warehouse for years to know where anything is. I can bring someone into the operation, they bring value almost straightaway on simple processes like picking, and if they have prior fulfilment experience, I can have them a capable enough to supervise dispatch within 4-6 weeks. That speed to onboard has been an absolute gamechanger.'
‘Everyone in the team is also trained across all disciplines now. We don't have siloes where some people can only pick, others only pack. It allows us to be much more flexible with the workforce day to day. In fact, the system is so easy to train people up on now, everyone who joins Blue Bungalow in any role will probably start by spending a few days at the warehouse. That way, on a really busy day for the team, we can parachute other staff members in from the office to help pick and pack. They love it!'
Tracking progress with warehouse productivity data
As a self-proclaimed Excel enthusiast, Monique was keen to use Peoplevox data to understand exactly what was going on in the operation from a people and time management perspective. Drilling into metrics like picks per person per hour, and parcels shipped per day, she was able to draw up some true Key Performance Indicators based on the company's new, realistic performances.
The team can now correlate how many orders they need to fulfil with how many work hours that should take up, and staff accordingly with precision. This stops you deploying more staff than you need on any given shift, keeping costs down, but also encourages positive performance and identifies where team members might need support. Workshops and training opportunities are provided if and when the expected productivity isn't quite met.
'We can see how many hours we've lost or gained versus our typical performances. We know what our operating standard should be, so it's very clear cut and unbiased now, in terms of staff development and training.'
Scaling up for big days becomes a challenge the brand embraces
'The nature of our industry, the women's fashion ecomm world, means demand can be variable and surprises can happen. We've had a couple of exciting examples that really show the Peoplevox difference. When one of our influencer's posts get more traction than we're expecting, sudden spikes in orders must be dealt with there and then, without any time to prep. Recently, someone went on Australian TV wearing one of our hats. Suddenly there was a huge influx of hat orders, 50x more than we're used to for that type of product. Peoplevox meant the warehouse didn't have to panic, and we could pick and pack them all no problem. The hardest part was finding and assembling enough hat boxes to ship them all out in! In the times before having a WMS, if that kind of thing happened, we'd simply not get the orders out in a timely manner, and a whole hoard of new customers would be disappointed.
Having that 'warehouse-first' mentality went a long way to making this project, and the ongoing commitment to fulfilment excellence, so successful.
'Our Head of eCommerce, who was the decision maker on the technology, understands the market really well. We know just how important that last mile, delivery and fulfilment, can be. It's all in the warehouse. We realised fast, accurate customer experience is not just a 'nice to have' - it's an expectation. Your customers are your best, most reliable and most authentic advocates, and we want to do everything we can for them.'