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Transitioning From the Advertising Industry to the Warehousing and Logistics Industry

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

Steve Waller

Steve Waller was born and raised in New Zealand but moved to London in the early 70s to begin his career in advertising. In 1975 Steve was the sixth employee hired by DHL International. He enjoyed spending his 25 years with DHL working in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, and the US.

After retiring from DHL in 2001, Steve became the CEO of two turnaround international courier express businesses, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles. In 2010, he relocated to Napa as Vice President of Operations and COO at a direct-to-consumer wine shipper. For the past eight years, Steve has been working for Western Wine Services operating 10 warehouses totaling approximately two million square feet.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How Steve Waller transitioned from the advertising industry to work at DHL

  • What prepared Steve for his success and new opportunities?

  • Steve's love for London and his experience expanding DHL in Europe and the Middle East

  • Why client-vendor relationships are essential

  • Steve talks about working with Mark Hiddleson

  • Western Wine Services' ideal client, housekeeping strategies, and the company's new automation system

  • What Steve enjoys reading

In this episode…

What does it take to successfully transition from one industry to another? How can you prepare yourself and your company for new opportunities?

Having spent many years working at DHL, Steve Waller learned the importance of listening to customers and serving them diligently. He helped open new offices in Europe and the Middle East and learned the value of being reliable and learning as you go. Steve used these strategies to transition to a new industry and grow a thriving business. His advice to business leaders is to be agile, focus on providing quality and reliable services to clients, and create solid business partnerships to quickly grow and scale a company.

In this episode of The Tao of Pizza Podcast, Mark Hiddleson interviews Steve Waller, the Vice President of Operations and COO at Western Wine Services, about strategies for transitioning from one industry to another. Steve shares his experience working at DHL, explains why client-vendor relationships are essential, and talks about Western Wine Services' automation system.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by Specialized Storage Solutions Inc.


I have been in the logistics and storage industry for several decades. I know I don’t look that old, but it's true.

We provide industry-leading warehouse storage solutions nationwide.

So basically, if you have a warehouse that needs Rack, Shelving, Carts, Conveyors, or Mezzanines, we help engineering, installations, inspections, and repairs to help clients optimize their logistics operations.

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We take a holistic look at your entire business supply chain ecosystem to develop the resources for continually improving your operation.

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I will even give you my personal email address for podcast listeners, so email me at if you’re ready to take your warehouse storage and retrieval systems to the next level.

Episode Transcript:

Intro 0:01

Welcome to The Tao of Pizza where we feature top logistics leaders, entrepreneurs, and supply chain innovators and share their inspiring stories with a holistic twist.

Mark Hiddleson 0:16

Mark Hiddleson here host of The Tao of Pizza Podcast where I talk with top industry innovators in the warehousing logistics and supply chain business with a holistic twist. Before introducing Steve Waller, this episode is brought to you by Specialized Storage Solutions. And listen, I've been in the logistics and storage industry for several decades. And I know I don't look that old, but it's true. We provide leading warehouse store solutions nationwide. So basically, if you have a warehouse and these were actually carts, conveyors, or mezzanines, we help with the design engineering installation inspections and repairs to help clients optimize their logistics operations. He has thieves some people don't even realize we can actually help with permanent acquisition services. We'll take a holistic look at your entire business supply chain ecosystem to develop the resources for continually improving your operations. I even give out my personal email address for podcast listeners. So if you're ready to take your warehouse to the next level, send me an email at

Now today's guest is Steve Waller. He was born and raised in New Zealand and started his early career in advertising, which took him to London in the early 70s where he joined DHL International in 1975. As the number six employee, he enjoyed a 25 year career with DHL in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, and the US. After retiring from DHL in 2001, Steve became the CEO of two turnaround international courier express businesses, one in New York and the other in LA. In 2010, he relocated to Napa as Vice President of Operations slash COO at Wine Direct a direct to consumer wine shipper. For the past eight years he's been with Western Wine Services operating 10 warehouses, totaling close to 2 million square feet on the roof. Steve, welcome to The Tao of Pizza.

Steve Waller 2:16

Thank you, Mark. I appreciate the opportunity. Yeah, this

Mark Hiddleson 2:22

is uh, this is awesome. It looks like you're you're sitting out here, your beautiful winery, that

Steve Waller 2:31

vineyard in the background. That's like, yeah, yeah. Get here.

Mark Hiddleson 2:36

It looks amazing. Um, I wanted to ask you, I didn't I think you may have told me before that you were in advertising. But what how did you go from, from the advertising business to DHL

Steve Waller 2:51

have that happen? So I was in advertising in New Zealand, working from the Canon Ericsson, which was a big American firm that had invested down there. But I left them and went to London to take up an advertising position there. That was a two year appointment a year and a half into it, the company that I was working for us, us startup company, failed. And so I joined DHL, and I join DHL. I was playing rugby with David Allen, who founded DHL and Europe. And he, I said, I need a job for six months today. And then I'm going back to New Zealand and he said, Well, you can be a courier, bring your car around on Monday morning, and you can work for DHL there just started I was the sixth employee. So I did that. It turned in that was meant to be a six month deal. It turned into a 25 year career. So I got out of the advertising business and got into the delivery business the express delivery. And DHL of course is now the largest international express delivery business owned by Deutsche Post competing with FedEx and UPS. But overseas they're very clear they're smaller operation in the US. But DHL

Mark Hiddleson 4:09

they are bigger than than either FedEx or UPS right.

Steve Waller 4:14

are in the international in the non US world. Yes. Yes, they are the data go to express carrier, you know, in the Middle East and Asia or South America, Africa. Europe. Yeah.

Mark Hiddleson 4:29

And so you're a rugby player. I've never realized you were a rugby player was good. You know I've always Zealand

Steve Waller 4:38

everyone plays rugby in New Zealand.

Mark Hiddleson 4:40

I love that. I mean, I don't I don't know how to play the rugby or anything. I like football. I mean, I just like chasing a ball and running into people. I don't I don't play American football and basketball and baseball but I have some good friends and rugby. That uh, you know, I'm always really liking for summary and I couldn't figure it out. Must be. That's it. It's the rugby, you probably

Steve Waller 5:06

don't have many friends.

Mark Hiddleson 5:09

I didn't realize you started out as a as a courier for DHL. So, alright. And so when, how did where did you go? Like what kind of what was the steps from courier to you know, and so,

Steve Waller 5:24

you know, I didn't join DHL as a career position. Yeah, you know, it was my plan was to go back to New Zealand at the end of two years, and take up my advertising career continued back in New Zealand. That was the plan. But I needed a job just for six months, I enjoyed living in London, my wife and I. And so I wrote to my principals in New Zealand and said, Look, I'll take care of myself for the next six months. But I'll come back and work with you, my principal back in New Zealand in advertising in six months, so I just needed a job. So this this courier thing, I didn't even know what a courier was pick up and deliver parcels. Dave said, Dave Allen said, Well, why don't you come and do that. And you can do it for six months, and then be on your way? Well, once I got into it, I enjoyed it. And there was a meteoric rise. DHL was expanding greatly. So I was the sixth employee, we had an operation in London only five years later, in 1980, by 1980. So I joined them in 75. And within five years, there's a couple of 1000 employees. We had operations all over Europe, the Middle East, in Africa, and then I transferred in 1981, to the US operation. I'd spent time in the Middle East, I spent time in Iran, I was, you know, when I was mid 20s. And it's been a couple of years down there just before the revolution. I didn't cause that day before that happened. But DHL expanded greatly throughout the Middle East and Saudi and Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, all through that area. No one else was there, no one else was doing it. We went there first, the hot areas and open them up, as well as the across Europe. So that was so and I became, you know, an executive with DHL in Europe very quickly, on their sales and marketing side, primarily transferred to the US operation of DHL and the Bay Area here in San Francisco in 1981, as a regional sales manager, and then grew with them and became CEO and Executive Vice President and, and was a senior guy for quite a few years before I retired. In 22,001, I left him it was bad decision. I should have stayed with him, actually. Yeah, yeah. But I moved on anyway, things like that happen without the in the code well, to make it on my own after being in that envelope for 25 years, you know,

Mark Hiddleson 8:30

yeah, well, I'm glad you you love DHL, even though it wasn't the it was the greatest financial move, because we may have never met if you didn't branch out on your own. That's probably true. That's a really cool story. Because he had he had no idea. And so what were some of the things that prepared you coming because that was a that's a rocket ship, right? If you go from zero to 1000 employees in five years. So what are some of the things that you think prepared you? And for that, that was just a great opportunity? You know, a lot of people get great opportunities, but if you're not ready for it, it just goes away? What do you think?

Steve Waller 9:11

Well, I think, you know, it's, it's a good question. Certainly nothing really prepared me for that, because I hadn't done it before. And that meteoric growth and in foreign environments, however, I think being a kiwi helped me because New Zealand is a great travelers, they often leave their home country to go overseas, usually for a few years and just travel the world and take up jobs in Europe for a short while. So there was an adventurous spirit that's part of that culture and part of the of the New Zealand character, if you will, so I had that going for me. I wasn't fearful of anything. But when they said, Would you like to go down to Tehran and run that for a bit, and I'd only been in the company for six months, by the way. This was in 76. I joined them in 70 Five. And so I did that. So not being fearful and having that Kiwi adventurous spirit certainly was, was helpful, there were quite a few kiwis and Aussies in the DHL environment based on the London operation. So I did that and came back to the UK after a couple of years, and was the marketing director for Europe, and Middle East for DHL. And because I use my advertising experience to do that job, and I introduced the first advertising items and brochures and things like that wrote them all myself. So you had to be a self starter, you had to be something of an entrepreneur and you had to be I'm fearful, I guess. And there were a bunch of guys like me in the company that established DHL. In Europe, Middle East Africa. wasn't the only one by far there was there was a bunch. Yeah. Characteristics.

Mark Hiddleson 11:02

And were they all rugby players in the beginning? Was there a lot a lot of them were? Because that's the other thing. I was thinking that's a tough sport. I mean, you talked about, you know, not having fear. I love what you said about travel, because I believe that and I have some of my best friends like, especially if you're young, and I didn't realize that was part of your culture in, in New Zealand. And by the way, I got this shirt in Australia, I know your shirt guy, so I'm bored of it. Wanted to share but the no fear, the traveling to kind of just see the world differently or yourself in a situation where you do have survival. That's awesome. And being surrounded, like you said, never hurts to be surrounded by people with the same, right? Same values.

Steve Waller 11:50

So I'll go ahead I'm sorry. No.

Mark Hiddleson 11:56

So I was gonna I want to ask you, because you've told me this before in and I love it. But what what makes London so cool? to you one of the time you told me that that's the best city in the world or something. Why? Why is it? Why is

Steve Waller 12:12

my father's fan and he didn't write the phrase, but when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. They will Samuel Johnson, or some great philosopher. It's, well when I went there, you know, it was in my early 20s. And it took me by storm it was and it's that was common for Kiwis and Aussies to go there. And I just loved living there. It's cosmopolitan, it's huge. There's so much going on. Coming from a small country, you're always looking out, where you know, you're always out to the world, you're not looking really in New Zealand that small, you know it, you're looking at what's out there. And so when you go to London, which is really, I think principles city of the world, Oh, yeah. And the history of London, and the culture and the, and things like that. So it just was magical. But also I like working throughout Europe, as well and traveling throughout Europe, as we were setting up offices for DHL. You know, it was a carefree kind of existence. We we didn't have training for per se, but we just went and did it and learned as we went. And it was sort of an action oriented concept. We didn't plan studiously the opening of a new office, we would say, Look, we need to open Athens was one of the offices I opened Athens in Greece, in 1978, I believe. And my, my information, there was a pad listed with the, you know, a dozen or so companies that had asked us to open an Athens office, these were international companies that we served. And so I took that list, if you went down there, you know, we've set up an apartment and an office, but we used and started calling on looked up the addresses for these companies and started calling on them. And we were shipping. We were shipping within a week. I mean, so within a week of going down there, we were operating, you know, I got ahold of a lawyer and we set up a company and set up the accounting firm. You know, it was very much an action oriented. Not too much of a planning thing. Yeah, very fast moving. So, you know, once you've done one or two, you know, you got pretty experienced at it. You have to go and do the next one, just a different city in a different country.

Mark Hiddleson 14:46

That's awesome. I like to call it and I'm like this too. I like to fire and then aim and then get ready. Get ready, aim fire, it's fire. And then whether you aim or get ready Doesn't matter, as long as it was very

Steve Waller 15:02

much that way. That was very much that way. I mean, in the modern world, it's not done that way. It's done in a more a planned way. But that certainly was how that company expanded in those early years for sure.

Mark Hiddleson 15:17

Yeah. And I think people, I mean, people still think that way, and everything like that the companies that take off so fast like that they do, there must be some element of that, you know, taking chances to be the first one, the boldest, the first ones to get there.

Steve Waller 15:31

The first being is a critical point, the Middle East process, a difficult environment to work in, that mail service was poor. The political environment was challenging in some way, and the cultural environment. But that didn't stop us. So we went into that market and started setting up a reliable delivery system. In an app, Dillard, a reliable delivery system of documents, and packages to get into the Middle East, which was didn't exist, it was relying on the Postal Service, which was very poorly performing there. So there was a huge pent up demand for reliability, and security. And we came in and said, we'll do that. And we set up operations and made alliances and partnerships with folks and got it going very quickly. And so in the difficult areas of the world, and Middle East, or Africa, South America to some degree, which were more challenging than doing business, say, in the United States, or Canada or Europe. That's where DHL went and did business in the more difficult areas. And that's the culture that was developed. And that to this day, that is the history of the company, and why we and why we, and why DHL is so strong in those areas. Yeah.

Mark Hiddleson 17:00

So that's an excellent, it's a good segue into my next question, and it's, I have to share, I'll be honest with you, only about this one thing, when we first met, you went to work for a client that I think it was, I was looking bad. It's about 10 years ago, that a good friend of mine had been, I took his position. And we had served on nonprofits together for five years, and we've done helped them open buildings in Southern California, Central, Central California with you know, several companies. And I was going in, I'm like, Man, at that point, you guys get hired a consultant to do a lot of the stuff that I view. And there were multiple vendors, and I was like, Man, this is, this is just going to be a big time waster for me. So I'm gonna have to go on there, I'll have to be graceful about it. But I'm gonna have to say, you know, look at this really isn't how we do business, say something that and when we met, you gave me a, you know, I brought those things up, and you assured me that you weren't gonna you know, that you'd value my time, even though you had a consultant, because I was looking on consultants specialize in a lot of things. This is what I do in. And a lot of the ideas, you know, we could do it without this guy, and I have a version to consult. It's run the other direction. But you made me feel safe that it like, you value client vendor relationships, right? And so what, you know, it's not just something that's like, Oh, hey, you know, it's nice to do that, but but share with why that makes a difference, you know, not just to do the right thing. But But why does that make things work better for

Steve Waller 18:48

for both? Wow, I do value client vendor relationships, and I'm slow to change your vendor. If the vendor is working well, I'm not going to change that vendor just for a few cents, that they've proven themselves. And so that's something I do to this day, I like to establish relationships with vendors, usually two or three in, in the particular strategic areas, not just one, and stay with them. And to be common non vendor with us means that, you know, something has to have happened on the service side or on the cost side. That doesn't make it sensible for us to continue, that I'm not one who holds an axe over a vendor and leaves them walking on glass thinking that they're always at risk. No, I play the opposite way. And that's proven to be over my years in the business world to be successful as a strategy. I always say when someone solicits me, and I have, say three vendors in a particular area that I'm not looking In portfolio one, I tell the seller statistics, then there's a look, I can't take you on as you wouldn't want me to fire you unceremoniously, just because someone came in the door with the latest offer. And they understand that, and it works. I listen to vendors all the time I listen to salesmen, I always give them time. I don't dismiss them. I always think that I was in that case, cold calling, though I respect that. And I give them a shot, at least to say their piece.

Mark Hiddleson 20:39

Yeah, that's great. And you do. That's one of the things, you know, probably 95%, it might be 90%, it could be 100% of what I've learned, over, you know, my 25 plus year career, a lot of stuff I've learned, I learned it from a vendor. That wasn't an expert in racking until I had a racking vendor that you know, somebody higher up in the company, to me with the winning, they shared about that, or conveyors the same way. And in the long run, it seems like you can call sometimes, if you if you're in a pinch, you can call those people or do something a little bit extra. So the loyalty goes goes a long way. Right.

Steve Waller 21:20

The, you know, you mentioned that project, you're talking about the Zephyr project. Yeah. Yeah, that building about 100,000 square feet. And we were moving from where we were, I was I had that one or two years with Zephyr Express, which I enjoyed greatly, too, before I joined Western Wine Services about eight years ago. But they were moving and we needed to rack that entire building and jam it in because we really had too much stuff for 100,000 square feet, which I learned afterwards. But the racking that we put in there was and you were I forget exactly how we first Oh, we met prior to that, that maybe one direct

Mark Hiddleson 22:07

allow that was the first meeting was was the was the Zephyr meeting.

Steve Waller 22:10

So the Zephyr meeting wasn't? Yeah. And so, you know, I didn't know you, but we got to know each other. And I certainly took your advice. You had actually direct the building that we had here in Napa before we went to the nation. So we did that. And and, you know, I greatly respected your expertise, and knowledge. You're the guy doing it. Yes. We had a consultant in there, who actually actually I hadn't hired that consultant. I sort of inherited that consultant. He was a smart man and did a nice job. But certainly, you were the boots on the ground guy. And that project turned out to be spectacularly successful on time on budget. And we went five Hi there, I believe. We cram that racking in we went very high on it. In it and I remember distinctly the map started from the center of the building. Right and that first, the first hole was drilled, yeah, worked out. It worked out for 100,000 square feet. And we were when it was done we were within an inch all around. So that was that impressed me.

Mark Hiddleson 23:33

Yeah, that guy who had the renewal consultant was Bob Bob could tell and I don't know the name of his company, but he did that is I'll give him that. There was a starting point and it was one inch off a building column or slump and that was and then everything it's 135,000 square foot warehouse. I think it was V and a rather a very narrow aisles for now that we've

Steve Waller 23:57

very we didn't do VNA there. He did it in a footman. What do you have some 12 foot

Mark Hiddleson 24:05

you're using order pickers because he had some levels that were single case high. Cross or double case high? Yeah. And then there were full palette half palette. I mean that that layout Bob did that he that was a really

Steve Waller 24:19

I mean, he had it down to

Mark Hiddleson 24:21

one inch and you're right we did we started here and then we ended up in so that was

Steve Waller 24:27

a that I took the credit I took the credit for that with my with my principal of Henry wind group owned Zephyr and they were hugely impressed that we managed to get that job done. And the transfer down out of NAFTA over to there in a really short space of time and just worked from day one. So yeah, I grabbed the credit for that as much as it could.

Mark Hiddleson 24:51

And you deserve a lot of that was a I was gonna take that credit because it's my show. It's true what you inherited. That was an The reason I was a little gun shy because they said, Well, we're gonna move this building that we have in Napa into Venetia. And I think the Napa building was the same. That was 70 80,000 square feet that was pretty big. And I thought, Wow, these guys are biting off more they can choose the new guy isn't going to be able to handle but you were that that was an excellent project.

Steve Waller 25:21

Yeah, it was a great project. And then we've worked ever since. Yeah. Yeah. And you've been a great a great client. You're a pain in the ass occasionally. Mostly, mostly. Works with.

Mark Hiddleson 25:39

Yeah, yeah. Always. I'm always trying to get the client to do most of the heavy lifting and right. So so that's it client vendor relationships. And so what so you, you've been a great client for me, and we're joking. A lot. But but you know, that's a big project. It was a high stakes project. I mean, if things go wrong on that, it was on time it was on budget. But if you look at if it wasn't, you know, that that's a business that you're running every day, because you guys really didn't slow down shipping, right? It was like a weekend or something or yeah, that everything stayed on?

Steve Waller 26:14

Oh, yeah. Yeah, we had I think we you know, I forget exactly. But it was over a weekend, maybe four days or something. Friday to Monday, where we couldn't ship. Which is really a stressful situation. Yeah, our customers, and rewind group and others, because that means they couldn't ship out orders that we got it done over, that we transferred all the product, I think over a four day period 24 hours a day. And I remember I stayed up, I think for about two and a half days. You know, sort of just watching it and going back and forth. And I crashed it and then for a bit of sleep, and then came back on my last day. But everyone pulled their weight on that project. And yeah, it was a nice project. Yeah. Yeah. Scott Avila was was running. Yeah, he was working for in that he was the warehouse manager there. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Hiddleson 27:20

So you've done a great client. I mean, for us, you know, it was a great client, if somebody's running 1010 buildings with just under 2 million square feet. That's a great client for us. They've given us a lot of referrals. You know, which I appreciate because it means you trust us. And but what kind of share with with us with Western? Because what, what is your ideal client? Because there's a lot of different things in the wine industry. And you guys, you're one of the best, but what what are your what's your ideal client?

Steve Waller 27:53

Okay, so perhaps just a little word of intro of who we are, you did it in the beginning. But just to add a little bit of flash to that, but not too much. So we are Western Wine Services were 1.7 million plus square feet. We have about 9 million cases on hand 10 buildings, about 200 employees here in American Canyon, Southern Napa County. When you combine our operation here, which I manage, with our East Coast operation in New Jersey, when you put the two together, they have three or 4 million square feet out there. So they're a larger operation. But when you put the two together, we're the largest, independent, privately owned wine storage business in the country. When I say independent, I'm not comparing us to the Gallo of the world who have huge warehouses, but those customers who come to us that we're the largest in the US, we have competitors, of course, but only where I'm at the tool three, what I would call strategic competitors. There are many smaller warehouses, but ones of substantial sizes only. There's only a handful. The ideal client for the our model is the larger volume client. So you know, we have a lot of square footage we got to keep full. So I like to say that a client with 5000 to 10,000 cases as a start point is the type of client that I'm seeking. And many clients that we have are in the hundreds of 1000s of cases in commercial wine storage. Now customers are wineries and importers. And we do in addition to wine, we do spirits, we are maybe 80% wine and about 20% spirits. We have some very large international customers who use us for their storage and network that is spirits. So, the ideal client is one on a scale basis, five or 10,000. Cases and up. I can't take every customer that 2000 1000 3000 startups, customers are new craft. Customer. And looks, I think they're gonna really grow for us than that I do take them. Yeah, there are there are there are many. I can't take every every customer that that is there in terms of scale and size, we would lose our span of control or our customer service control. And I'm very, very conscious of making sure that we can give the customer service that we need. So yes, we could add customer service people, yes, we could add sales. But there's a scale and a model that has worked for us that I have actually promoted. Since I've been here over the last eight years. And we've had a good run. So it's not broken, so I don't see any reason to really fix it. So that's the that's that now the the perfect customer got to have a high degree of expectation, because we can fulfill that high degree of expectation. It's not just the price game, if it's a price game, that's not our business, and the customer has to and they are, you know in our business accuracy, inventory, integrity, picking orders correctly, picking them on time, receiving without appointments, which we did throughout the day and into the evening. So we do some things like that to make ourselves available constantly to the customer. But the most important thing that we offer is accuracy, and integrity of an of inventory, integrity of shipments, no Miss shipments, no Enders and overs or wrong products. It happens occasionally, of course, that our percentages infinitesimal, and that is worth money to customers. You know, you if you take the lower cost customer, but you have a higher degree of mistakes. Those mistakes are very costly and can cost my customers, their customers. Yeah, so that's the pitch I make. And that's how we position ourselves as the best in class on operational efficiency and service bases. And I see customers who have those same desires, characteristics and needs. And that's about it.

Mark Hiddleson 32:55

Yeah, yeah, they you want to find the best solution is in its it's not you know, a lot of times we're the most competitive price just because of you know, my experience of what we're doing. But that's that's not our customers number one criteria is strength or doing business and like he said, the cost is over a year. And you know, especially the one mistake can make up the difference, you know, if you if you're saving, right, once they can make up that that savings. Now, what are what are some of the what are some of the things that you do like just the simple things I've noticed, like one of the things I've looked at, I noticed I'm in a lot of warehouses, your warehouses almost always, almost say perfectly swept, but compared to other places, it's the floor, you just shining the floors. And some people go well, you know, we could be picking orders and we could be doing this what are what is that important? I mean, I just noticed the clients that do that they're just the better, the better operation I mean,

Steve Waller 33:57

so well housekeeping is what you're talking about there. And Western is known for it. We scrub the floors every day, every building. So we have seven scrubbers, machines and seven scrubber personnel. Some of them do have a couple of buildings, but we wash the floors every single day. And it never fails to impress customers when I take a walk through with them to say Wow, your your floors are so clean and tidy and your warehouse is so clean and tidy. So we place a lot of emphasis on housekeeping, Good Housekeeping. When we when I walk the floor, I'll pick up a piece of wood, pick up some plastic, whatever we all do it that's just the Western ways Western culture quite frankly. And it makes a huge impression. When you're with a customer and you're walking around you bend down and pick up a piece of a broken pallet. You know this sit on the floor. And so we do place a tremendous amount of it. Emphasis there, because if we do good housekeeping, then we will also do good operations will do good accuracy will do good safety. And that seems to resonate with the customer that's commonly mentioned. So I love getting prospective customers into our warehouse, just to let them see it and touch it. Look at the racking look how tidy we make it, look how tidy our lanes are, look at our housekeeping. And that translates into good operations and good accuracy, and seems to been a very successful model for us. So yes, we do do that. Thank you for mentioning that.

Mark Hiddleson 35:39

Yeah. And it is. So it's one of those things, that was another question or, you know, I know in our business we deal with, it's a lot of third party logistics. And that's, that's the basis you guys are here three PL you're storing your warehousing, for somebody else. And the best. The best salespeople are the ones who are really good at operations. Like a lot of you have noticed in this business. And it's it's kind of like you said, the scrubbing the floors, it's nice, because that's kind of a sales thing is average, you're polishing the apple looks. But you're also you get the advantages. You know, when I go into the cleaner warehouses, they have less rack damage, right? Like that's the stuff I look at, you got some he's got a bunch of damaged uprights and stuff, there's usually shrink wrap on the floor. And it's not I mean, where else they're busy, like you guys are pulling, you know, 9 million cases, it's easy to try to, you know, well, we'll get to that later. Or the thing about picking up wood, I learned that early early in my career. The very best managers and there's probably, you know, 40 or 50 people I know that won't ever go pass a piece of pallet bigger than that big without writing down to pick it up. And you go, Okay, this guy,

Steve Waller 36:54

this guy knows what he's doing. Um,

Mark Hiddleson 36:58

so we're getting, we're getting kind of close to the end. And I wanted to ask you to share as much as you can you guys have done some automation in the past few years. share as much as you can about that. I call it the robots. Tell us tell us about the room.

Steve Waller 37:17

Okay. Yeah, well, that was a lot. That particular project, we call Robocop rodeo to E. And it's a robotic, automated system for making tray packs. So cases of wine, when they're sold, commonly, by the pallet to say Costco, Costco, like their pallets coming in, already cut into tray packs, so they can just put that pallet on the floor, you'll see it when you go to Costco. And the cases are just the cases of wine, that the tops have been cut off down about three or four inches. They're making them into what we would call a tray pack. So all of those types have got to be cut off. And we have customers who sell to Costco in the high volume area, you know, hundreds of 1000s of cases getting into the millions of some cases. And so we were doing that for the customer. And we decided to automate it. So we put into just in the last year and a half, we established a robotic system where we can feed in the pallets of wine, uncut, at one end. And they go through a robotic de pelletisation system, a cutting system, a top remover system, and then a re palletization robotic system, and then an automated shrink wrapping operation. And that completes it. And so you put a pallet in one hand and it comes out the other end 25 cases per minute, so pallets of you know, two and a half minutes, completely made into tray packs, re palletized corner boards, slipped sheets between the layers, wrapped professionally in two and a half minutes. So that operation is available. And so customers who have that need you know on a one off basis or on a continuous basis can avail themselves of that system that's unique no one else has got it. It's it was unique system and it was built for us it wasn't the second or third of of a system that was the first system built to do this. And so that's the that was that was the major investment we've done in robotics or in automation within the warehouse. Recently. Of course the technology we have for order processing And for receiving and for inventory control is our own home. proprietary system, Anzio, it's cold. It's a proprietary system that we built, programmed and made over the years that predated me actually, of course, I've only been here eight years. So that system is an excellent system. And I'm a believer in having proprietary systems, in warehouses. And in warehouse management systems, every time we've gone and tried to buy something off the shelf and prior lives in private businesses that I've been in, it really doesn't work. You really have to write the thing from scratch anyway, because you've got to write it for your specific needs and requirements. And they're all different one company to the next. So I'm a believer in proprietary systems actually, for WMS. Hold on, sorry about that. Things happen, you know, yeah, I'm in my office, even the hope I'm in the vineyard. So what was I saying? About the system? Yeah.

Mark Hiddleson 41:18

Yeah, yeah. And that's a unique view. I want to hear more about that. You think a proprietary system versus going like Manhattan? Or red per there's a million? Yeah. Yeah. Especially third party logistics? I think, too, because like you said, every, every company is different,

Steve Waller 41:34

how they, yeah, they're different. I mean, you know, I'm not an IT guy. And that being over many years, in different companies, and trying to bring in new technologies, we've always struggled with off the shelf, what they call off the shelf, and then you customize it to well, the customization operation takes just as much time and money and effort or more than doing it from scratch in the beginning with proprietary, proprietary way. So that's just, you know, I'm not in it. That's just my one man's opinion on it, having seen it, watched it. And we did that here. And we maintain it. And so that is a proprietary system here on the technology side. What else

Mark Hiddleson 42:23

that? Well, the thing is, and I have, some of my friends are in that industry, but they don't work for the big companies like Manhattan. They're stealing I think of Mark. And I can't think of the name of his company. But I know a few guys, they have smaller companies, but they basically do that. And a lot of companies don't have their own IT guy like you had in house, they could build it. But then there's a lot of people who are I wouldn't say Freelancer path guide path guide technologies is Mark, I think you might have met him. We hosted an event. That's been about five years ago, since since we hosted that event. Oh, wow. On the panel, I can't believe how much time flies. But that's a lot of what they say, you know, everyone, you know, they'll say things like, Well, you never got fired for using IBM or something like that. But it is true, they can customize solutions for being using a smaller boutique company who's basically gonna help you build your own

Steve Waller 43:19

homegrown, right. My experience, Mark, that's my experience, you know, for sure there's other views, but that's what I learned, if you will. Yeah.

Mark Hiddleson 43:30

So we're getting down to the end. So I wanted to I always love to ask people, either what's your favorite podcast? What are some of the you have conferences you go to, or favorite tools in, and software

Steve Waller 43:48

that you use? If they, you know, podcast, I don't do a lot, a lot of them. And that's why I've been avoiding you for so long since you asked me. You know, it's not something that I'm familiar with. Or reach out to. I'm an avid reader, and an avid student of business. And so I get my information from reading and staying in touch very much in that way. Not only in business, but history and biographies as well. So, I can't comment on the podcast universe, unfortunately,

Mark Hiddleson 44:33

although let's

Steve Waller 44:36

see how it goes. And maybe I'll get more more into it and more knowledgeable about, you know, the characteristics and the the benefits for sure. But I'm doing this because you're my friend and someone I respect and you've asked me a few times and I thought I'll do it. Thanks.

Mark Hiddleson 44:57

Yeah, yeah, and we we Appreciate it. So so sure I know you read the Word of the Wall Street Journal every day. And then you read the the San Francisco paper writer did what paper glad

Steve Waller 45:06

I read Barry, I, I don't read the Wall Street Journal every day. But I read it. But I have several papers that I read. I'm not going to expose to you. What's that? What they are putting me in a little pigeon hole, but I read them avidly? Yes, and I, that's what I did. And I we get and also, of course, we get there throughout the day, in the industry that we're in. There are releases and commentaries daily. And so I read those and subscribe to those. Yeah, this just about the industry. You know, and I make this funny because I'm wondering as I read them in the last two or three months, whether the the, the recession that they're talking about, or slowdown or the uncertainty due to the due to the inflationary aspects, what that's going to do to our industry, and you know, the wine and spirits industry, which is pretty bulletproof. Over history. Every time something happens, it seems that the industry is pretty stable, and consistent, and not as susceptible. Although I read an article just yesterday, I forget who wrote it, who was saying that the 2008 meltdown recession, absolutely took a big hit on wine and spirits. But only for about a year and it came bouncing back. You know, I think people may choose to buy less expensive drinks, and may and more maybe more off premise than on premise selections and things like that. But it is I do myself have a little bit of concern about the economy, not so much about Western Wine Services, that just the economy at large, because it has got a little uncertain political environment. I'm not a great supporter of currently. So I'm hoping that we get through that in and in 2023, and that we don't see any adverse downturns from my customers, you know, who I store for? I want them to be wildly successful. Yeah. Well, this

Mark Hiddleson 47:47

is awesome. So what what is the best way for potential clients to? To get in touch with you to find out more about Western Wine Services?

Steve Waller 47:58

So they can reach out to me? Do you mean with the email address? Or what are you asking me to talk to

Mark Hiddleson 48:06

you, Steve? I know, I mean, you're running Tim warehouses, I'm definitely I'm gonna put the Western Carriers website on our show notes. We have show notes. We mentioned we'll have that. Yeah. But I just any other way, I don't really want to share too much. Because, you know, there's millions of people listen to this. It's, it's more like a few 100, including my mom, but like, what if somebody is, you know, definitely interested, they got 5000 cases or more, and they want to find out more about

Steve Waller 48:33

what's going on. And, you know, if you haven't got 5000 cases, but you're gonna have a lot more than that in a fairly short time. You know, I make a judgment on that. So don't be excluded entirely. Please, you know, you they can call me or my email is probably the best. Okay, which is We use Western Carriers because that's the name of the East Coast company, and we share the website and we share the the email protocol. So that's why it's called Western Carriers out there. Were called Western Wine Services, which are a more descriptive name. They are not a carrier, per se. Well, they do some but they are in the storage business. That name come from when they bought that company 50 years ago was Western Carriers and they moved from a carrier business into the storage business. So that's how that came about. But if you look for there, and the website, of course, or my email, certainly, I answer my own phone. Pick up every ring. Yeah, unlike, unlike some companies and some things, so we stick with the old fashioned way of answering the phone own. I was taught that way back when the DHL answer by the third ring Oh, otherwise you're in trouble. So of course, that's gone the way of history now with most companies, but we still subscribe to that.

Mark Hiddleson 50:16

So mine is I promise I'll get back to you within two hours no matter what. And then there's gonna take me longer than two hours to get back to you means something happened to me. And always send me a text. I'll answer as fast as I can. But I love that I love picking up the phone on the third ring. I mean, it's two hours, like you said, the expectations have changed a little bit. Right. But we're talking about hiring a third party company that can actually answer the phone. Like, yeah, would you rather talk to somebody else? Or would you rather wait?

Steve Waller 50:48

Right, me to call you back? Yeah, you're right. Right. So you know, you have a good, that's a that's my experience with you to mark responsiveness. And it's, it's amazing how businesses have lost track on that. We pay a lot of a lot of a lot of focus on responsive either on email responsiveness to so if you send an inquiry through email, you gotta get back to the customer. Yeah, order processing people. Inbounds people, inventory people. I mean, we are on it all the time, responsiveness, responsiveness to the customer. That's, that's just basic. Yeah. Customer, and excuse me basic business acumen. But it's, it's amazing how it's not followed by many businesses in the modern world.

Mark Hiddleson 51:43

A lot of times, we have to chase people for two or three days that are the short proposal, you know, we're looking for something and we send it it goes to the sales department, it goes through and engineering wherever it goes. And then it gets lost. And unless we're following up, you know, where's our proposal? Where's our proposal? Where's our proposal? Right, right. That's it doesn't happen. All right.

Steve Waller 52:02


Mark Hiddleson 52:03

I really appreciate you coming on here folks. We've been visiting sharing information Steve Waller's inspiring story. Great. business advice. And, man, this has really been looking forward to this, but it's really been a pleasure to have you on.

Steve Waller 52:23

Well, thank you for the invitation mark. I've enjoyed it very much.

Outro 52:29

Thanks for listening to The Tao of Pizza Podcast. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.


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