Our 2011 PARCEL Forum surpassed our expectations — and from comments we’ve received, it surpassed those of our attendees and vendors, as well. In today’s economic environment, I think everyone was cautiously optimistic that it would be a good event. Needless to say, it was clear the industry considered it a great event. The session content was spot-on and spoke to the current issues faced by members of the small shipment industry; the exhibit hall was hopping; and the networking receptions were well-attended and much-enjoyed. 

It’s interesting that every year there seems to be one “big” event at the Forum that attendees focus on, something that people continue to discuss long after it’s over. Some years, it’s been the mega-session on the last day of classes; other years, perhaps it was the opening night reception. But this year, the most talked about event was easily our Crate & Barrel tour of their distribution center, which took place during our pre-conference workshop on Monday. Attendees were so impressed by not only the friendliness of the Crate & Barrel employees (they met us at the DC with cookies — who wouldn’t love that?) but also their openness and transparency when it came to their operations. 

I went on the tour myself, and I have to say, I share the assessments of most of our attendees. The tour guides were accommodating and willing to answer all of our questions, and those on the tour had some great ones. I personally was amazed at how manual their operations were. A bin for each order would come to all the stations where the different products for that order were located, and an employee would select all the products that were found at that station and place them in the bin. They would then remove the color-coded pin that corresponded to that station and send the bin on to the next station (a different color-coded pin told them where the bin needed to go next). It was interesting to see, as so often, as I research different warehousing articles for inclusion in PARCEL, the focus of many writers seems to be on how to make your warehouse as automated as possible. While that may work for many operations, it was clear that the manual pick and pack operations of Crate & Barrel has served them well, in part because many of their products are fragile or irregularly shaped, so manual operations clearly work best for this type of operation.

So it was no wonder that in the hallways between sessions, at lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday, and at the opening night reception, I heard many people talking about their experience on the tour — and more than once, I heard those who did not attend say they wished they had. Now the only challenge will be topping this experience next year; a tall order, to be sure.
But, lest you think that the tour was the only highlight of this year’s forum, think again. We got rave reviews on our content; our speakers did an excellent job of providing relevant content in an engaging setting; lots of Q&A was going on, which is something our attendees always like. And the exhibit hall was busy enough to give our vendors some great leads (and our attendees some valuable information), but not too busy to be overwhelming. So it’s no wonder that we’ve already put together our advisory board for 2012 and had some meetings; the staff at PARCEL and EventEvolution is excited to get going on next year’s conference! As always, it will take place at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, so mark your calendars for October 23-25, 2012.

See you there!

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