Frontside vs. Backside

In my profession, I deal with many large corporations.  Many of them are household names that everyone has heard of.  I buy products from these corporations, mark them up, inventory them, and resell them for a profit.  I am a middleman, in wholesale distribution.  I suppose you can call me a relic that made it – I remember a long time ago many companies warning their distributors that with the dawning of the internet age that we would beome obsolete.  Nothing could be further from the truth – but I digress.

Consumers, by and large, see the frontsides of major corporations, or their retail marketing arms.  Very few people would know the ins and outs of GE’s locomotive division, but are very familiar with GE appliances such as washers and dryers.  It is very difficult for the average person to comprehend how large some of the companies in the Fortune 500 are, how they go to market, and how diverse many of these companies are.  Everyone who likes golf knows Titlest, but nobody knows who Fortune Brands is.

What I am getting at is the fact that, by and large, most consumers do not see a companies backside, but usually are familiar with their frontside.  I deal on the backside.

Today I received a shipment of heating and air conitioning components from a Fortune 500 company.  If you saw their website (I won’t torch them) you would think they are the greenest of the green companies on earth, and their marketing to the consumer side stresses this.  Below is a shot of my PO, with most information redacted.  As you can see, it is one sheet of paper, with 15 line items that I faxed to an order entry center.  Click photos for larger if you are interested.


I received 14 of the 15 line items in one shipment, and here is the packing list I received for these 14 line items.

pack list

An astonishing 13 pages of bullshit.  They had a separate piece of paper for EACH BOX, along with a master packing list to boot.  So who is the environmentally friendly person in this scenario?  Well, it is ME, of course.  Things like this make my head spin, and when I complain, the complaints usually fall on deaf ears.  At times, the way that companies operate on the backside is 100% contrary to the image they project on the frontside.  When the rubber hits the road, things sometimes aren’t as they should be.

14 thoughts on “Frontside vs. Backside”

  1. Pretty awful.

    I would think that for distributors, most of whom probably deal with this company frequently, they would have an on-line system that you could use to enter orders directly, thereby saving you the faxing and them the data entry.

    Regarding the packing list, I’m guessing that their IT implemented the system without regard for paper consumption, and that no one in the company has felt strongly enough about it to make it an issue.

    Of course, the all-time champion of mindless paper generation is AT&T, for the multi-hundred-page bills they sent out for the initial iPhone service.

  2. Do you have an actual sales rep for this company who comes to visit from time to time, or just a customer call center? If the former, does he appear to have any organizational power?..for instance, if you mentioned to him the excessive paper and he went back and started beating up people about it (or even a more obviously-important issue, like a product quality or delivery problem) would anyone there care?

    My experience is that *good* business-to-business companies have sales forces which have a lot of organizational power and use it to suppress various forms of bureaucratic behavior (although they do sometimes abuse their power, of course, by demanding excessive discounts, etc)..still, if the sales organization is weak in the internal politics, it does not bode well for the future of the company.

  3. Hi Dan,

    I work for a major computer company doing A/R. The problem may be that the company you are dealing with has institutional customers that demand packing slips for each box. It sounds crazy, but it DOES happen. I work with several major NE school districts and they require REAMS of paperwork (a lot of it in duplicate). It IS rather maddening sometimes!

  4. David Foster – I have a sales rep, but she is virtually powerless when it comes to their processes. Some companies I do business with sales reps have actual power and can change things, but not this one.

    Nonnie – I don’t understand why a company would want MORE paper when the simple master packing list would do (plenty of room on there for tracking numbers, box numbers, etc.). It does sound maddening. Computers are supposed to make us have less paper, but it seems that at times the opposite is happening.

  5. Before I was hired at by my present employer, I did a 6 month stint as a temp at IBM working in A/P. It was 1994. At that time, the shipping dept. was still not using barcodes to check in received shipments. Everything was still received manually and we had to have 4 copies of the shipping documents to process the receipts. When a company has been around for 25 years or more and has thousands of employees, institutional inertia is difficult to overcome even when everybody agrees there are better ways to do things.

  6. nonnie…”At that time, the (IBM) shipping dept. was still not using barcodes to check in received shipments. Everything was still received manually and we had to have 4 copies of the shipping documents to process the receipts”….IBM being, of course, a company that for many decades has been selling people systems–including barcode systems–to improve their processes. Shoemaker’s children, and all that…

    Were these shipments production materials, to be assembled into products a factory? Or were they miscellaneous stuff like office supplies? The process sounds pretty awful in either case, but it’s doubly awful if they were doing this for production materials.

  7. Dan, ever work on the dock? I know you have and at your company it may be organized. But at a lot, it’s chaos. At a lot of companies, every box gets paperwork so you know what PO it is associated with because the shipments get split, boxes get separated on the dock, etc. At my companies, if it hasn’t got a PO#, an RMA# or a packing slip on the box, it gets refused.

  8. Mrs. Davis – Yep, I worked on the dock for years. I still don’t see the point of having a “mini” packing list on every box – usually if there is a master packing list, you simply pile all of the order up and bar code it in with the associated PO. I suppose some companies do things differently. Like you said, some other companies are probably chaos and this system may help them, but for me it is an insane waste of paper and filespace.

  9. Being green is just a PR move for companies. Since the environmental movement is ultimately a social/political phenomenon that has nothing to do with the environment itself, companies just need to do what environmentalist do i.e. make a lot of noise and symbolism.

    Environmentalist will eventually reward you for kow towing to them regardless of your actual environmental effect.

  10. Dan, I agree with you. And that’s why neither of us is working on the dock any longer.

  11. David Foster asked: “Were these shipments production materials, to be assembled into products a factory?”

    They were materials for the manufacturing plant. I frequently made sarcastic comments about the fact that IBM had been pushing the technology for years. At the time I took the A/P job, they had been through 8 temps in 6 weeks.

    The only reason I stayed for 6 months was because I had signed a contract. The job and the people were miserable. I once had to go up three levels of management to get an approval for post-it notes. We used them to send back notes to the buyers when there were problems with their POs. After two weeks, I told the office manager that I would only be doing filing until I got them.

    We had one lady in the office that refused to speak to us since we were just temps. I was supposed to back her up when she was out and I couldn’t get her to train me. I kept the paper trail of my requests for training and when she was out told the office manager that I couldn’t do the job since I had never gotten the training.

    I could go on for pages about the idiocy of large companies.

  12. Shannon

    It’s all a game. The corporate-eco thing is about good feelings and not good effects. As long as the customer feels good…it’s all good.

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