The Weeks Lerman Group

The typical office has changed more in the last two decades than it had in the previous seven. The Weeks Lerman Group and its predecessor companies have been evolving to meet their customers’ office supply needs as a result of the changes in office products and services since 1930.

“We continue to expand our product and service offerings to meet the needs of the modern office and to provide our clients with single-source capabilities,” President and CEO Sid Lerman explains. “Half of our revenues are derived from sales of traditional office products, and the other half is now generated from sales of coffee and break room products, printed items, tech supplies, managed print services, office furniture and advertising specialty items. In the last three years, we have developed strong and successful janitorial supplies and document management divisions that continue to grow. We are pleased that we bring more value to our core customers through these additional category offerings.” 

COO Cindy Ciaccio adds, “We provide our customers with truly consultative approaches to non- traditional categories like space planning and document management, as well sustainability or eco-friendly initiatives. We staff design specialists who can present options for ergonomically correct work stations and cubes, and have in-house sustainability experts who are well-versed in chemical concentrates, as well as eco-friendly and plant-based products for both the jan/san categories and the traditional office products.” 

Technology is another driving force behind The Weeks Lerman Group, which recently transitioned to new mobile technology for its proof-of-delivery processing. “We had some connectivity issues with traditional handheld scanners,” Ciaccio notes, “and when those connections couldn’t be established from the road, their drivers were required to return post-delivery to dock and upload the data. We overcame those challenges with software developed in-house to work directly with the Android handheld phones that were much more reliable. We are hoping to have a similar success with a first-quarter rollout of scan-to-pick, scan-to-box and scan-to-truck functionalities.” 

Although the majority of The Weeks Lerman Co.’s deliveries are in the New York metropolitan area (Ciaccio estimates 90 percent of volume and 65 percent of sales), the company also services some large, well-known organizations on a national level. The company’s corporate offices and 100,000-square-foot warehouse are located in Queens, N.Y., and the company also has sales offices in New York City as well as on Long Island. 

Reconfiguration Project

The Weeks Lerman Co. relies on a fleet of 27 22-foot-long box trucks and six vans to make most of its deliveries. The company took on a large reconfiguration project in mid-2012 that helped it stage and load its fleet and get the vehicles on the road before 8 a.m. 

“Prompt, next-day delivery is an industry standard, so we have to outperform our competition in the area of service to separate ourselves from them,” Lerman says.

Much of the company’s storage media was placed more strategically during its reconfiguration project, allowing for open and unencumbered staging and loading lanes. That open-floorplan access combined with the efficiencies that resulted from software and hardware upgrades to utilize handheld radio frequency devices during the manifesting process are what Ciaccio refers to as the game-changer in providing superior services to Weeks Lerman’s clients. She credits the company’s executive vice president of logistics, Rob Paar, and his team with a seamless implementation and successful rollout of this technology.

“Certain trucks begin arriving as early as 3:30 to 4 a.m.,” Lerman notes. “The arrival times and schedules take into consideration the distance, load and customer requirements. We have trucks that deliver full loads to customers such as the casinos in Atlantic City or Connecticut, and since we hold their proprietary merchandise, there isn’t a lot of room for delivery delays. Their route trucks are staged and broken down by route, and they have a schedule of which time they are supposed to be at the dock to load.” 

The Weeks Lerman warehouse is a large facility and fully automated. It stocks approximately 2,000 office products as well as more than 6,000 proprietary items the company has produced for and ships to its customers. The full-line Weeks Lerman catalog boasts more than 35,000 products available for next-day delivery, so the company relies on same-day delivery from its wholesaler and manufacturers. In fact, two to three full trailers are dropped off every night at the warehouse – which operates 24 hours a day – and consolidated with its other merchandise to provide a single shipment to the customer. 

“We did some software modifications that provided for more efficient data imports and mapping,” Lerman continues. “We were able to import the carton counts, weight and other data from our wholesalers to be captured live to our orders and packing lists prior to delivery.” Here again this single-source specialist recognized the need for consolidation in every aspect of the cycle. 

Pick and Pack

Merchandise is picked at night and stock-keeping is done during the day. “We start picking at 8 p.m.,” Lerman explains. “The pick process uses a combination of bar codes and color coordination so that everything is easily identifiable to the naked eye without looking at labels or packing tickets. Because everything is color-coordinated, the personnel on the floor and the staging area and the drivers know where everyone’s merchandise is, either by where it’s laid out or what color the picking ticket is.” Bulk items are picked and sorted separately directly from adhesive labels to reduce product movement and save time. 

The Weeks Lerman Group tries to minimize the effect of fuel cost increases. “We couldn’t pass that cost on to our customers and would never even consider it,” Ciaccio emphasizes. “We’re consistently analyzing our data for the number of orders and contents going to specific areas and trying to realign the routes with the volumes. Those analytics create not only efficiencies but cost containment opportunities for us as well. I believe we are doing the same number of deliveries and carton counts but reduced the route trucks by two.” 

Lerman chimes in, “Everything is dependent on the goods. We have cyclical customers and non-cyclical customers, and on any given day, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

One-stop Shop

Becoming its customers’ one-stop source for all office supplies provides both the company and its customers with an opportunity to reduce processing time and duplication of efforts. “Presenting the customer with reductions in costs, ordering and payment processing as well as receiving is a very compelling selling point,” Ciaccio says, adding that there is also the eco-friendly aspect to the single-source model. “If you have fewer trucks on the road, they’re not sitting at tolls and wasting fossil fuels, which helps us all reduce our respective carbon footprints.” 

Some customers still maintain an in-house inventory, though most do not. “We have some customers who take some bulk shipments, but that is the exception, not the rule,” Lerman maintains. Some customers not only consolidate shipments from the Weeks Lerman Group but also use the company for internal deliveries. 

“For example, we actually sell to a very large hospital in New York,” Ciaccio says. “We send two trucks there a day. They order online, and we actually go door-to-door dawn-to-dusk and drop those goods off. We do that in other areas, in law firms and educational institutions. There are many customers who require a higher level of maintenance and service, and in many instances, we become part of their own operations.”

Online Catalog

Online ordering has been eased by software the company obtained approximately five years ago. It can function as a mini-catalog that is personalized to the company and the products in which it is interested. 

“We feel that basically put us on a different level,” Lerman declares. “It’s more user-friendly and point-and-click. We do a fair amount of customization, meaning our customer will design the screens to be user-friendly to make the ordering process easier. In most cases, we can accommodate what they’re asking of us.”

A popular marketing tool is the Weeks Lerman Group’s annual productivity show that is held at a hotel in the New York metropolitan area. Its vendors show off their products in booths to invited customers. 

“We get very good attendance,” Lerman says. “People are very interested in seeing new vendors and new things. Our vendors use the opportunity to give out samples to our customers so they can try the products.”

The Weeks Lerman Group has not only observed the consolidation in the office products industry for years but has been participating in it. Lerman estimates that his group has acquired from 25 to 30 companies over the years. 

“Our most recent acquisition was about three-and-half or four years ago,” Lerman says. “What happened now is there just aren’t that many companies left to acquire.” 

Penciling In Technology

Lerman admits the strategy of adding services is being used even by large, national big-box office supply chains. “Everybody is expanding the product line,” he observes. “Traditional office products are on a decline because technology has made the pencil irrelevant.”

Nevertheless, Ciaccio thinks the Weeks Lerman Group is providing something the big-boxes cannot. “We’re catering to a customer who demands a high level of service,” she stresses. “We think our service level is such that other competitors can’t reach it.”

“We sell consumable products,” Lerman adds. “Customers know us, and they know our reliability. We have dedicated customer service representatives, so the customers can call and speak to the same people all the time and get to know one another. That enhances the relationship between our customers and us. Why not buy these other items from a source that you know and want to do business with? That’s our approach.”

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