Memorial Day Madness – When Systems Get Pushed to the Limit

Typically, I don’t spend a ton of time within our day-to-day operations. More so than anyone else at our company, I’m usually working on developing features that will improve our customer experience and/or save us time and mistakes. Most of the time I’m a few steps ahead, meaning I’m creating/fixing/improving something that’s not quite a problem yet or that we probably don’t need yet, but that we think we will in the future. Having this mentality has largely saved us from ongoing total chaos as we’ve grown.

This past month has unexpectedly pushed us closer to our limits than ever before, but for the best of reasons: sales have been great, our best month ever! March and April were also our best sales months ever at the time, making it three straight record-breaking months for us. That added volume has a huge ripple effect through the organization, primarily in the warehouse where you can only automate just so much. Every product needs to be received, put on a shelf, picked, packed, and shipped. We’ve been adding staff at a faster clip than we ever have, which also means that we’ve had to invest a lot of time in training people, and then evaluate them quicker and let some go quicker (an unfortunate reality of hiring, not everyone is going to be a good fit). We’ve also had an unprecedented number of incoming shipments, with an unprecedented amount of inventory coming in the doors. That leaves even less time and manpower to process, pick, double-check, and pack all of our customer’s orders. Which has led to us adjusting our regularly scheduled pickup times and having staff stay late to ensure everything that’s critical gets done.

While we typically let the warehouse operation run mostly autonomously, we’ve had to become more involved lately. Not physically, thankfully, as we’ve decided that our 10+ year warehouse careers are over unless we’re in an extremely dire situation. Instead we’ve had to spend more time keeping spirits high by letting our employees know how appreciative we are of the hard work. We’ve had to spend more time involved in HR, between hiring and overtime and mediating the minor employee disagreements that inevitably arise when everyone is a little stressed. I’ve spent a lot of time myself improving our order processing “framework”. How we decide what to process and when, when to request a late pickup, when to ask staff to stay late, all taking into account our Shipping guarantees and estimated ship dates presented to customers on the site. I’m happy to say that we’ve met our 1 PM guarantee every day except for yesterday, the day after Memorial Day, which we explicitly mention as a possibility on that shipping page. We also update the website so that customers checking out that day will correctly see their estimated ship date bumped out a day, with their delivery dates adjusted accordingly. These details matter, especially to our customers.

It’s been an exhausting month. I’ve made slower progress on a lot of projects than I was hoping for. However, as a business owner, you dream of the situations where you have more sales than you can handle. It’s also our responsibility, as owners, to jump in when things get stressed and do what we can to keep morale high and improve things going forward. I’m incredibly proud of our team and how hard they’ve worked. I’m also blown away by how much volume we’re able to do now. Our decade of hard work has put us in a good position to ride this wave for as long as it lasts.