A Healthy Bottom Line
When Glen Pirie came to Swanson Health Products four years ago with a background in retail operations he was used to serving big customers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. But he soon realized that for a consumer catalog, “A lot of the same business principles apply—like giving customers what they want.”
The difference in the catalog field, he says is that there are “a lot more customers when you’re dealing with catalog orders. At Swanson, we have about 750,000.”
Today, Pirie overseas purchasing, receiving, manufacturing and logistics at Swanson, which markets about 6,000 vitamin and health supplement products, including national and proprietary brands, in addition to healthcare-related items and books.
Swanson’s business is 90-percent catalog; it also has one retail store in Fargo, ND, and a small but growing online business. All product fulfillment is handled from one distribution center. Recently, I asked Pirie how he creates a productive and profitable back-end operation.
Catalog Success: What are your fulfillment goals?
Pirie: To push out every order in an eight-hour time period. Everyone here is committed to that end. Last October we built a new facility to enable us to grow to double our sales. Our old facility didn’t lend itself to that. Previously, we operated out of a two-building facility. We had to double or triple touch every product before it shipped. Now, the whole thing is wireless. Orders flow seamlessly from one end of the building to the other.
CS: Presently, only 8 percent of your business is online—less than most catalogers. How are you integrating the Internet into your business?
Pirie: Swanson serves mostly older customers age 45 and older. And we’ve found that they’ve been somewhat slower to adapt to the Web than other demographic groups. We think that will happen, but slowly.