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.
These are opened, batched, and entered into our computer system.
Some of you order online. Those orders go directly into our computerized order system.
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.
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.
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.
Here are the tickets at the head of the pick/pack line.
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.
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.
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.
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.
...and put into boxes to go down to back stock, where replenishment will relabel them and get them to the pick line.
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.
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.
Once the boxes are packed, sealed, and labeled, they go back on the conveyor to head for Steve and the scale.
The empty bins are returned to the pick line on a conveyor overhead.
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...
...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”.
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.
...and the packing line humming. As you can see, they’ve exceeded every one of their targets for boxes so far today.
The trailer is filling up, too.
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.
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.
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 .
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!!