What's the best way to keep track of perishable inventory?
For Mike Cherim, on-time delivery is, literally, a matter of life and death. Cherim is the founder of the Green Spot LTD, based in Nottingham, N.H., a wholesaler and distributor of biological pest controls -- you know, "good" bugs like miniwasps and parasitic nematodes that devour "bad" bugs like aphids and fleas. With the ultimate perishable product, Cherim has had to whittle his logistics to bee-stinger proportions. "It's a supply-on-demand business," says Cherim, noting the critters' tiny life span. "We can't buy on spec."
What's a bug man to do? When it comes to fulfillment, Cherim has decided to forgo computers for a custom-designed paper trail -- a consolidation sheet called a "Git List" (as in "gotta git it") and routing slips called "Greenies." Though labor-intensive, the system is as reliable for standing orders -- wherein a grower requires, say, a specific bug once a week for the next two months -- as for one-shot requests. "It's very flexible," he says. "That's the beauty of doing something by hand."
When customers call, a staffer takes the order on a Greenie, noting everything from organism (there are 50) to destination. Separate Greenies, one for each week, are used for standing orders. Next the Greenies are stored in cubbies labeled by week. On Wednesday, that week's Greenies are pulled and the items are written on a Git List, whose entries range from preprinted vendor codes to packaging requirements. On Friday, Cherim places the Git List orders with the insectories that breed the bugs. On Monday, employees lay out 120 or so boxes for the week's orders, a Greenie hanging from each. On Tuesday, the bugs arrive, and employees stuff them, along with ice packs, into the boxes. Later that day, the orders are shipped by express UPS.
Cherim's obsessively hands-on system has helped boost his company's revenues by an average of 29% annually for the past five years. "We check things about eight different ways to make sure we don't make mistakes," says Cherim. "The best computers in this office are sitting on our shoulders."