The bad examples are easy to remember and the stories get told and retold. Yet, there probably are many more window treatment dealers and workrooms who will attest to the fact that fabricators, suppliers and third-party carriers do a commendable job ensuring quick, reliable delivery with all the necessary parts included. Technology has helped, too. Online tracking of orders and shipments is a convenience that keeps everyone informed along the way. Most of the time, things go smoothly—as they should.
The fact of the matter is that in the custom window treatments industry, with so many shipments of varying sizes, weights and complexities, getting products from Point A to Point B is rarely routine, and those whose responsibilities include packaging and shipping take it very seriously.
RELIABLE, TIMELY, CAREFUL
Most industry manufacturers and suppliers rely on third-party parcel shipping and delivery services, such as United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (FedEx), which for the most part are reliable, timely and careful. In addition, many manufacturers use their own trucks.
One of the industry’s largest independent manufacturers and fabricators, Lafayette Interior Fashions, operates its own fleet of delivery trucks and runs regular delivery schedules. Lafayette’s Leslie Bedrock explains that it’s part of the company’s ultimate objective of providing its customers with a satisfying experience from the point of order entry to delivery.
“Controlling our own fleet of trucks is part of our central strategy, and offering free delivery has been a core value from the day of our conception,” Bedrock states. “This value is still something we hold to very proudly. Our trucks are reliable and maintain a consistent delivery schedule, allowing our customers to take comfort that their orders will arrive in a timely manner.”
For suppliers, much—if not more—emphasis is placed on packaging to ensure products arrive undamaged and whole. Scott Smith, president, Hunter Douglas Fabricator Division, says, “We spend a lot of time on packaging and have invested in packaging technology to ensure speedy and safe delivery. It is a significant focus.”
“We have engineers throughout our organization working on packaging—and test our packaging internally as well as with UPS,” Smith adds.
Joy Belue, shipping manager, ADO, says good packaging requires extra effort. “You do not cut corners on packaging material,” she says. “Just like in draperies, you get what you pay for. You may have to spend a little more.
Just about everyone responsible for shipping items across town or across the country agree on basic tips for packing items for shipment. Things like:
• Use a new box whenever possible
• Do not exceed the maximum gross weight limit of the box
• Cushion items inside
• Close properly (do not use string)
• Label correctly
• Check with specific carriers for special instructions for unusual items.
On their Web sites, individual carriers offer more detailed
United Parcel Service (UPS):
• Make sure the box is rigid and in excellent condition with no punctures, tears, rips, corner damage and that all flaps are intact.
• Wrap each item separately.
• Each item should be surrounded by at least two inches of cushioning and be placed at least two inches away from the walls of the box.
• To close a box securely, do not use masking tape, cellophane tape, duct tape, string or paper over-wrap. Use a strong tape—two inches or more in width.
• Fabric and rolled goods should be shipped in corrugated boxes for best results. If shipped in a bag, use a bag with a minimum thickness of six mils.
Federal Express (FedEx)
• Center contents in sturdy box surrounded by cushioning (bubble wrap, “peanuts” or foam pads).
• Cushion fragile items inside one box, then put into a larger box.
• Do not wrap the outer box with paper.
• Cover sharp or protruding edges with taped corrugated panels or pads.
• Use proper labeling that includes complete delivery and return address information. Make sure to place a duplicate label inside the box. Remove or cross out any old labels or markings on a used box.
• Keep in mind that the maximum gross weight of a used box may have diminished through wear and tear.
• If a fabric roll is shipped in a bag, make sure the bag is tightly wrapped and taped to reduce the risk of tearing. Place duplicate labels inside core or between top layers of material.
• Do not consider “Fragile” and “Handle With Care” labels as a substitute for careful packaging. They are only appropriate for information purposes.for a quality product such as a heavyweight box or thicker mil polybag, but you save in the long run with lower damage costs and ensure that materials arrive in as good a shape as possible.
For dealers and workrooms, the situation is more complicated because they are on the receiving end of deliveries and often must deliver finished products to the end-user as well. Packing product ready to install and delivering it to a homeowner is a fine art. Most dealers use their own trucks or vans, handling each piece by themselves. But even workrooms that have the designer or decorator pick up the draperies must keep proper packaging and handling in mind.
D&WC contributing writer, Kitty Stein, a 29-year veteran of the drapery workroom industry, says in her business everything was wrapped in plastic before it left the workroom. “If we had to fold, we put cardboard tubes in the folds to eliminate some of the creases. We fan-folded all pinch pleat draperies and bound them with paper tape.”
Carl Movrich, Drapery Connection, Hinsdale, IL, makes a presentation out of delivering a custom drapery to a homeowner. The panels are carried in by the installer on hangers, wrapped in protective plastic and covered in a velvet cape with bullion fringe and the company’s logo on it.
When it comes to delivering the goods, many suppliers will go the extra mile—sometimes literally. “We adapt to the customer’s priorities,” says Hunter Douglas’ Smith. “We are focused on the customer and can move the product as quickly as needed.”
Speed is a valuable extra. “On-time is very important,” Smith adds. “Customers often need our products as soon as they can get them. We do everything possible to make this time as short as possible.”
ADO’s Belue says, “We ship within 24 hours from the time the order is taken for fabric orders. This is one of the fastest in the industry. We also take great care in researching new ways to pack our products to find the methods that will best ensure delivery of products in good order.”
Steve Walton, Shades of the Future, Beaverton, OR, praises the use of triangular-shaped boxes. Not only does the shape prevent long, narrow packages from bending, it uses less cardboard.
Running a company-owned fleet of trucks provides extra benefits. For example, Hunter Douglas trucks will pick up blinds for repair during regular delivery schedules, and Smith notes that many of its company drivers have keys to dealers’ stores so that they can deliver product even when the dealer is not there.
As far as parts go, Smith says Hunter Douglas pre-packages parts so there is much less chance of a part missing. The packaging also includes a list of everything that is in it so customers know all the parts are included and can easily find and identify them.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Experience is the best teacher and those who have been in the window coverings industry for any length of time have tips to offer when it comes to shipping and receiving.
One of the best is to get to know your delivery driver personally. If a driver knows what he’s handling and understands its vulnerability, he’s likely to take more care in delivering it. Establishing a regular delivery time is also a great help—you will know when to expect a delivery and the driver will know you will be there to accept it.
It’s also important to take time to learn your suppliers’ shipping policies—from order turnaround to how product is shipped and what to do and who is responsible if product arrives damaged or with missing parts.
When sending out boxes it often is less expensive to go directly to a carrier’s distribution center rather than a standalone mail store as found in many strip malls. Although many of these stores are actually owned by the carriers, they operate as profit centers and may charge more.
Find out if you are shipping to a commercial or a residential address. Often, larger and heavier boxes can be sent to commercial addresses for lower charges than to a residence.
Walton brings a bit of do-it-yourself to the area of receiving packages. His prime shutter supplier is Woodfold/Marco, about a half hour drive away, and so he goes right to dock to pickup his shutters. Not only does this save Walton time and money, but he can eliminate much of the container packaging that otherwise would be required, which saves the shipper money.
It’s also important to talk to your insurance agent. A lot can happen while on the way to a client’s home. Don Leggett, Advanced Risk Management, Inc., Tampa, FL, says dealers and workrooms that deliver product should ask about an “installer’s floater” that will cover damage that can occur should an accident happen. Leggett says that in most cases, once a dealer accepts delivery of a product from the manufacturer, it belongs to the dealer and not the end-user until it is actually installed in the home—even if the customer has paid a deposit or paid in full in advance.
Another good tip is to inspect packages immediately and always check them before leaving for a customer’s home to make sure everything is there, undamaged and really ready to install.
When all is said and done—or rather, opened and unpacked—there remains the “peanuts,” rigid foam, paper and cardboard. And it’s a bigger problem than one might guess.
California started initiatives to promote efficient packaging to reduce waste about 10 years ago. The state’s Integrated Waste Management Board reports that every year Californians generate 66 million tons of solid waste, of which approximately one third (22 million tons!) is packaging. Because landfill space is limited, the state’s retailers and manufacturers have been urged to work together to reduce packaging waste. The board offered a few simple ideas: eliminate packaging, reduce packaging, design refillable or reusable packages, and produce recyclable packages and packages made of recycled materials.
Fabricators may struggle with how much packing is enough. They want to ensure undamaged deliveries, yet overreacting makes for packages that are hard to open and create more waste. “Disposing of debris in Oregon is expensive,” Walton says. “There are both financial and environmental reasons to recycle.”
Mailing stores may accept used bubble wrap, plastic air pillows and foam peanuts as long as they are clean. Walton says he throws bubble wrap into a garbage bag and when it’s full exchanges it for an empty bag at a local mailing center. “All cardboard, box stiffeners and paper wrapping is recycled. My recycling center now accepts polybag. I take the time to sort debris after an installation and I recycle almost all packaging,” Walton says.
The most common exception to recycling is rigid plastic foam, which either is not accepted or requires a fee to recycle. Perhaps this industry’s next big innovation won’t be a new product, but a new way to protect the ones it ships.”