We see them every day. We probably have some lying around at home, in the kitchen, on our desk right now. A menu for our local takeaway. A flyer for a newly opened gym. That mug or water flask we picked up in a tradeshow goodie bag. Branded merchandise like this – and promo materials like posters and pop-up banners – are staples of small business marketing, and Vista is taking them to the next level. But what does it take to get cool, high quality, personalized products into customers’ hands? Here’s Roy Wildeman, Domain Lead for Manufacturing and Supply Chain (M&SC) talking about enabling data-driven manufacturing at scale.
Our product strategy is variety
To become the go-to marketing and design partner for small businesses we need to offer the complete gamut of different products. This includes business cards, promotional goods, apparel, signage, stickers, and really any new “hot” product that helps market their business. During the COVID pandemic, we even added face masks and other health and safety gear in response to an urgent need from our customers and local communities.
The complexity of customization
So not only do we offer hundreds of product lines, they’re all 100% made to order. If you think of the scale and complexity of a colossal marketplace distribution warehouse, then add to that all the Vista products that need to be custom-made first, not just picked off the shelf. And when we say customized, we don’t mean “What colour do you want it?”, we mean an end-to-end, bespoke digital design service experience for millions of small businesses.
The process of fulfilling promises
With every order, we make two customer promises: one is a commitment to product quality, the other one is a commitment to a great delivery experience. And when 100% of your orders are custom-made, those are huge promises to make! My team, alongside our internal partners across all of Vista, is focused on fulfilling those promises in a way that is also cost-efficient and resource-smart for our business. Alongside the rest of the data and analytics (DnA) team, we’re doing it with industry-leading data talent and tools that scale with the complexity and volume of our business.
Avoiding manual intervention
Once we get an order, a lot of things on the fulfilment side happen really quickly, and analytics is how we optimize every stage. The first data-driven decision in the process is: which factory, production line or shift – even which specific piece of equipment – should each component of an order be produced on? This calls for a careful balance between speed and efficiency: should we wait for orders with similar items so we can make best use of the space on a production gang, or should we start straight away and find an acceptable degree of waste? Because our delivery offers are always getting faster, all these decisions need to be taken dynamically at speed. And because we need to manage this complexity at enormous scale, we aim to avoid manual intervention as much as possible. That means full automation, and continuous optimization.
Once each item is printed (or decorated, engraved, embossed or embroidered – and for paper or card items – cut), they are packed together for shipping. Since we aim to fulfill all items of an order from a single factory, we need to factor in how all the different components of any given order should be scheduled, combined and ultimately shipped together. We use shipping optimization software to select the best delivery partner for each order and then, off it goes. Then finally, my favourite part of the fulfilment process is one we never get to see: unboxing! Internally we call this the moment of “sweet magic” when our customers get to see how their brand has been brought to life.
Forecasting skills make us agile
Rarely have I come across a manufacturing environment that’s as dynamic as the one at Vista. Manufacturing and supply chain teams love a steady ship: constant volumes and solid predictability. But competitive advantage comes from how you handle curveballs, such as demand spikes on Cyber Monday in the holiday shopping season. Agility puts you in a great place where you can just respond to what’s needed, like last year when our Windsor production team retrofitted one of our cutting machines to make simple face shields for health and emergency workers. To rapidly adapt processes and keep fulfilment promises is not easy, but we have lots of forecasting, planning, operations and talent to help us do just that.
Experimentation is Business as Usual
We are always trying to improve our operations – testing new algorithms on the boundary of cost optimizations and time constraints for example – and that’s a journey of controlled experimentation. We try things, we learn, we eradicate failures and anything that puts at risk our goal of 100% customer satisfaction. This focus on the customer translates into lots of operational KPIs, but our north star is customer loyalty. Ultimately that’s what spells growth for Vista and success for DnA and our internal customers and partners.
The difference data makes
I’ve been here for nearly 11 years and it’s amazing to see how data products are now starting to be embedded throughout the organization. Becoming the design and marketing partner of choice for small businesses, means constantly optimizing for rock-solid reliability: predictably consistent customer experience, choice, availability, quality – and delivery you can set your watch by. The more insight we can get behind our orders, the better. I always try to think about the customer behind every order. What kind of design process did he or she go through? Why did they select “Express” as their shipping speed; do they need these flyers for an upcoming event, or maybe they need this single mug for a Father’s Day gift?
Investment in talent and tools
Leaders in analytics, tech and data science will understand the significant resources required to deliver on the Vista mission: small teams building data products with high speed and laser focus. This means DnA teams are empowered to solve business problems end to end. Here are some of the exciting challenges we’re tackling in the Manufacturing and Supply Chain team (M&SC):
- Using demand data to make sure we can deliver on every order; predict raw materials, plan for equipment and staffing levels and prevent stock outages
- Statistical forecasting to help our Sales & Operations planning teams prepare for and respond to unexpected demand and supply shocks
Developing seamless data flow and interconnected KPIs between Manufacturing and Customer Care teams – because our promise for 100% customer satisfaction never expires.
Next up: next-day delivery?
The next phase for the M&SC team includes some big next-gen capabilities. First, we’ll keep developing that lean manufacturing culture, knowing that every incremental gain in speed or efficiency adds up to big improvements. Second, we’re super excited about introducing faster shipping speeds for customers in select regions. We know this is an important step towards becoming a true partner for small business customers. But when every single order is customised, it’s not just a case of getting faster, we’re getting smarter too.
Are you thinking of making a career leap into data-driven manufacturing? Look at career opportunities with Vista DnA.