Professional Development

‘Tis the Season for Speed

The Vickerman Company must maintain timely deliveries for its holiday decorations, so the CEO gets hands-on

By John P. Palen
11-18-2015

Remember how hard it was to wait for the holidays as a kid? We’re not kids anymore, but it seems like no one wants to wait for anything. With new, one-day delivery models through eBay, Google and Amazon in major hub cities, their competitors — and vendors — need to respond to new customer expectations for speed.

The owners of a holiday décor manufacturer and distributor founded and headquartered in Norwood Young America anticipated such demands years ago. Here in this semi-rural, west metro city of fewer than 4,000 people, they have a slogan: “The town that knows how to celebrate.” Vickerman Company relies on celebration every day.

The real magic of their season hinges on maximizing their investment in an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system that integrates nearly every aspect of their business e-commerce with distribution, finance and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Since 2004, this investment has allowed Vickerman Company to grow sales an average of 21% each year while adding employees at a rate of 13% per year. To better understand the challenges and develop the necessary solutions, CEO Randy Schuster spends time each year, personally pulling orders and shipping product.  As a result, the solutions they developed match the specific needs of their business.

“We actually discovered better ways to do things by experiencing the work in the warehouse ourselves,” said Schuster. “We asked, ‘Why do we do it this way?’ and we made improvements by talking to our employees.”

Instead of manual pick tickets in the warehouse, fulfillment requests are routed to employees electronically to tablets using internally-developed software, with details that include the most efficient routes through the warehouse and images that help with order accuracy. In 2004, Vickerman shipped its first order from a retailer direct to a consumer. That year, they shipped 39 orders per day on average during peak season. Last year they averaged 747 per day, with a peak daily volume of 2,200 shipments.  For 2015, they are planning for 25% growth in order volume.

Peter Vickerman and Randy Schuster both grew up and worked in family businesses. The roots of their company began in the 1940s when Peter’s grandfather started a business selling holiday lights. Peter learned the business from his father, and the two worked together through the ‘80s. When Peter started his own venture, his father joined him as a partner with Randy Schuster as their CPA. Randy became a partner and CEO to form Vickerman Co. in 2004.

Today, Vickerman Co. customers range from boutique designers to mega-retailers like Amazon as well as corporations and cities that need large-scale seasonal décor. The company has showrooms for its LED light displays, giant artificial trees and shatterproof ornaments in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles.

About 65% of sales now come directly through e-commerce with 35% of product sales to traditional retailers. More than half of their revenue comes in the last three months of the year, so they have learned to manage inventory and storage with precision. At the same busy time, they are taking new orders for the following year.

To anticipate trends and maintain quality control, Peter and Randy travel to China personally each spring to inspect and order most of their product line as well as find and select suppliers. “We are committed to knowing and seeking ways that we can improve, and we leverage technology constantly,” Peter said. He focuses on sales, purchasing and product development while Randy oversees operations, finance and administration.

About 10% of the company’s revenue comes from non-seasonal decorative trees and plants, an area they hope to grow. This is another example of the company’s success, an understanding that they can’t rest on their laurels while the ways of business change around them. Vickerman Co. shows that it’s ok to be grounded in a Midwestern, German work ethic, but you can work smarter and faster instead of harder to meet new demands.

Bio

John P. Palen is CEO of Allied Executives and works with CEOs, business owners and executive leaders on leadership development and business performance improvement through peer groups, coaching and educational workshops.

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