A few weeks ago, my Supply Chain class went to on a field tip to LLBean and Red Hook. Dean Johnson, the professor, is an enthusiastic teacher who is really excited by supply chain and logistical details. We went to Maine first, to explore the LLBean shipping and distribution facility. It was incredible. To see the vast warehouse filled with different products was impressive. I hadn’t thought about how much stuff they need to constantly keep on hand. Not only do they need to keep the blue polo shirts in stock, but they need all sizes and in each size they need all 10 colors. On top of their current product portfolio, they hold onto some past products because of their lifetime guarantee to replace or repair any damaged LLBean good. In addition to the space needed, it was fantastic to see how each order gets picked out of the warehouse, put into a box with the order slip, a flyer, and sent off to the correct person. This happens literally thousands of times per day, with each order specific and individualized.
After LLBean, we went to Red Hook, a brewery. We saw the manufacturing and brewing process, along with the packaging and distribution center. Again, it was fascinating to see the process in detail. Red Hook has specific varieties, but need to make each flavor in a dedicated process, so Red Hook makes large batches and rotates the flavors of beers it makes. And, of course, we had a beer tasting. This, I guess, is the difference between a high school field trip and a graduate school field trip.
The Supply Chain class has been great for me to think between the conception of the product and the marketing of the product. The class has been great to step back and think about the steps and logistics of the many, many decisions that need to be made and managed well between a business plan and a profit. Going to these facilities makes what we were studying more real and tangible and asking questions made it clear how intricate and complex the process is. The scale is very difficult to imagine, so going and walking through two of these distribution factories gives the depth that a business case cannot. The field trip was great.