Fantastic journey: how your order travels through Avalon

True to King Arthur Flour’s identity, we’ve given Arthurian names to all of our buildings. The retail store is housed in Camelot, the Baking Education Center in Caerleon, and our warehouse/fulfillment building is called Avalon.

We work hard to tempt you with our roster of quality ingredients and fabulous baking toys (er, tools). Luckily for us, you’re happy to have a trustworthy company to buy these things from. We’re heading into our busiest season, and we thought you might be interested in a behind-the-scenes peek at what happens when you order from us.

Orders come in via three different methods. Some of you mail us an order.

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These are opened, batched, and entered into our computer system.

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Some of you order online. Those orders go directly into our computerized order system.

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And some of you call us. When you do, real live people (our CSRs, or customer service representatives) answer your questions, give baking advice, and help you in any other way they can.

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Our customer service team works on the mezzanine level of our fulfillment building, down the hall from where I sit. We intersect in the employee kitchen, where I put out baked goods for snacks and to get tasting scores on whatever I’m working on.

Once your order is in the system, it’s retrieved by our fulfillment (warehouse) staff. They print out the orders we’ve received on an hourly basis. Each time they do this, it’s called a “release.” Here’s a recent 10 a.m. release printing out. Each ticket has the order details, and a shipping label that will go on the box once it’s packed.

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Once the tickets are printed, we keep track of how many there are on a board at the head of the pick/pack line. This tells everyone working on the floor what to expect.

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Here are the tickets at the head of the pick/pack line.

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Each ticket gets put into a bucket, and it travels down the conveyor from station to station. After the items from one section go into the bucket, it’s moved down the line to the next.

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In the background, keeping all this humming, are some of our other departments. When an item is all gone on the pick/pack line, replenishment is there to restock it.

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Receiving is where all the product and ingredients come in. Today they’ve had a ginormous delivery of ingredients that our grain room will be using to make our mixes.

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Up on the mezzanine, Craig and his repack crew are packing mix kits and sets of paper bake-and-give pans. The pans come in as a bulk shipment, then they’re counted into sets.

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Shrink-wrapped…

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…and put into boxes to go down to back stock, where replenishment will relabel them and get them to the pick line.

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Back to your order. Once everything on the ticket is put into the bucket, it travels down the line to the packing stations. This is Deb, at the head of the packing line.

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And this is Harriet, one of our packing ninjas. At the height of the season, we have up to 30 people packing boxes (including our president, Steve Voigt), at a target rate of 20 boxes per person per hour. So when we’re really cookin’, that’s 600 boxes per hour.

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Once the boxes are packed, sealed, and labeled, they go back on the conveyor to head for Steve and the scale.

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The empty bins are returned to the pick line on a conveyor overhead.

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Steve is a blur of motion here: each box is put on the scale, and its UPS shipping label printed out. He plops the shipping tag on the box, and puts it on our flex conveyor…

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…which extends out into the UPS tractor trailer (which is roughly 45-feet deep). As you can see, we load the trailer as tightly as we can, so nothing shifts. My husband, the engineer, always says, “A tight load is a safe load”.

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I made this first lap of the warehouse at 11 am. I went down again at 3 pm, and found the pick/pack board filling up.

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…and the packing line humming. As you can see, they’ve exceeded every one of their targets for boxes so far today.

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The trailer is filling up, too.

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At the height of the season, we’ve had customers call us in a panic, because they forgot something they wanted to add to their order. We’ve been asked, “Can’t you just go downstairs and pull my box off the truck?” Unfortunately, since we move orders out as quickly as we can, your particular package is likely to be buried 20-feet-deep inside the trailer. It’s one of the few times we have to gently say no.

It’s the end of the day, and the trailer is almost full.

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The trailer awaits pickup, while the last few boxes are loaded.

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Soon a driver will be here to collect the trailer and get your orders moving. I left my camera with colleague Spencer Ferland, who did the hand-off to our friendly UPS driver.

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At the same time the UPS driver is pulling away with today’s packages (left), a new trailer is being dropped off (right; reflective tape around the window), so we can start all over again tomorrow .

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As this ballet dance of the semis goes on out back, our second shift of pickers and packers is hard at work, making sure we have a head-start on any orders that arrived late in the day today. Our goal is to have every package out the door within 24 hours of receiving the order. So far, so good; bring on the holidays!!

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. Gayle

    Next time I place an order, I’ll have nice visuals of my items getting ready for shipment. By the way, the customer service KAF gives is the best I’ve ever received from a company. Each time I’ve talked to someone, they have been incredibly polite, patient, and professional. I even called once with a question about a recipe in one of your cookbooks, and someone helped me out. Wonderful company. I recommend you to all my friends (and give them my extra catalogues that come with my orders). :) Thank you!!!

    Reply
  2. Lyne Vendely

    LOL! I sent this comment earlier today and then read this blog! so I’ve cut and pasted – would like to share my experience, especially now that I see it’s no coincidence orders arrive so quickly! As someone said a few comment up, King Arthur’s provides THE best customer service.

    “…a couple of weeks ago I placed an order online with KA, sometime
    > during the day. That night I had confirmation of the order being
    > processed, and the next morning another confirmation that it had
    > been shipped by standard methods. On the third day it was
    > delivered! I couldn’t believe it. What amazing service. Could
    > you please pass my sincere appreciation along to the appropriate
    > party?

    Reply
  3. Allie

    I love things like this, where you get to see something behind the scenes. I also love the term “packing ninja.”

    I placed an order that was shipped I think on Monday and I will have it next Monday (you are a long, long way from here!). What fun to see how my stuff traveled down the line.

    Reply
  4. Margy

    Kudos to your company! Your products are fabulous, your service excellent, and your vanilla cake mix is the only cake my niece will eat for her birthday (she’s 19!).

    Reply
  5. Dave

    This is a nice detailed explanation on how a customers order is processed. The pictures and comments work well together!
    Thanks Dave,
    We are happy to welcome UPS back to the KAF family. Glad we got a pic. of the drivers and trucks to share.

    Happy Baking!
    MaryJane @ King Arthur Flour

    Reply
  6. Paul Biba

    I must admit that there is one thing I don’t understand about the process. I live in New Jersey and when I order from you I always specify ground shipment – the cheapest type.

    Now to what I don’t understand. Every single order I’ve received from you arrived THE NEXT MORNING. How is it possible it possible they get here so fast?

    Great work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  7. Charlene

    As somebody who unpacks truck sometimes as part of her job, I find it amazing that you fill that semi without palletizing any of that. It hurts my back to think about it! You guys (and UPS) work hard. Thanks for the goodies!

    Reply
  8. Susan

    Thank you so much for this glimpse of what happens behind the scenes. It’s so interesting! Also, I feel this blogpost shows that the owner-employees of King Arthur believe that all aspects of the company are important (which or course they are!). I enjoy the fact that the wonderful test kitchen people aren’t sitting around assuming their kitchen supplies come from the kitchen fairies. If I ever move to your neck of the woods, I’d definitely apply to work there.

    The test kitchen people definitely don’t think the kitchen fairies bring our supplies! We do our own dishes, pick up our own supplies, do our own grocery shopping – everyone’s job here at King Arthur is equally respected; no one “bows” to anyone else. That’s one of the things employee-ownership is all about. Shoulders to the wheel…TOGETHER. Hey, you ever move here, come on over- we’ll be on the lookout for you! PJH

    Reply
  9. Shirley Meskenas

    Thanks for sharing how our orders are processed. I am always amazed at how quickly my orders get down to TN! I love the products and advise everyone to check out the products and especially this blog. I have learned so much and your company is a model of wonderful customer oriented service. You have a lifetime customer in TN!

    Thanks, Shirley! This employee-owned business appreciates your loyalty- PJH

    Reply
  10. Laura Rogers

    You really captured exactly how everything happens! Working in the pick section I forget the many different things that go on while I am there.

    Reply
  11. Carolyn T

    Loved this posting. It’s always interesting to see the behind the scenes stuff, especially when it’s a company I respect so much. It’s because of your blog that I’ve come to realize that you’re not just a “corporate entity,” but like all companies, big and small, you’re made up of people from all walks of life who have a job to do. And you all do a good one. Next time I order I’ll have a visual picture of that line. Thanks.

    Thanks, Carolyn. Indeed, we’re from all different backgrounds, all different towns here in the Upper Valley (the Connecticut River is the border between Vermont and New Hampshire; the area right along the river is called the Upper Valley). The nice thing is, with this common goal, we all put our shoulders to the same wheel and PUSH. It feels good to work towards a common goal. Especially in these trying financial times, we know we can rely on our teammates; we’re all doing our best, together. Thanks again- PJH

    Reply
  12. Terri

    Loved the adventure through the process! If you ever run out of tasters to get scores on things, my address is in your system! I agree with the other posters that your customer service is second to none.

    Reply
  13. Teresa

    Thanks for a day-in-the-life-of-Avalon! Made in America should come for a visit! From now on each time I place an order, I’ll be thinking of the UPS truck emerging from the mists of Avalon. : )

    Reply
  14. cindy leigh

    Your phone order reps are the greatest! They are always pleasant, helpful, and kind. They have great product knowledge, and are interested in suggestions for new products. Your selection, hiring, and training process must be among the best in business. Next time you set out a recipe for tasting, please paste a copy of this note with it. This Thanksgiving when I use your products to make my magic in the kitchen, I’llthink of all of you who help get those products to me.
    Blessed Thanksgiving!

    Reply
  15. Marguerite

    I miss all of you! So many people work very hard “behind the scenes” to make King Arthur Flour Baker’s Catalogue World Class! I feel proud for having been part of such a wonderfully dedicated team. KAF is truely the Best Place to Work in Vermont! Thank you!

    Hey, Marguerite – we miss you, too. Who am I going to ask how to work my headphones and how to wade through the bakers’ resource online folders when I’m in customer service next week? :) PJH

    Reply
  16. Mandy

    This looks like the greatest place to work! I have just recently found you guys and I am so glad! I have a sister in Wisconsin (I am in KY) that will be thrilled I have found you too! She is getting a few King Arthur goodies for Christmas!

    It is indeed a wonderful place. In fact, we’ve won the “best place to work in Vermont” award the past 2 years, as well as national awards along the same lines. We’re employee-owned (ESOP), and that makes a big difference. Thanks for your kind words! PJH

    Reply
  17. Sherry Lynn

    I was going through the blog list when I came upon this one. Boy did this bring back memories. I managed and organized warehouses, controlled inventory, and ran receiving docks for most of my career. I felt right at home as I looked at your pictures. Thanks for the memories.

    Sherry, did you see this post, too? Glad we provided you with some “throwback happiness”- PJH

    Reply
  18. Maureen

    Thanks for the fantastic journey of the Fantastic Journey.
    I’m always happy to receive my King Arthur box. It’s that feeling
    you get at Christmas.
    Hi, Maureen! This entry got printed and posted with pride downstairs in the warehouse. We feel the same way when we’re packing them, that we’re giving treats to happy bakers. Susan

    Reply

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