Eight months later, as the leaves turn and we once again head into our colder months, we now have the opportunity to take a look back on the project in its entirety; the successes, the challenges and the strategies used to navigate them and ultimately make the project a gratifying experience for all involved.
Located near Duluth-Superior Harbor in the far west corner of Lake Superior, the Miner’s Inc. warehouse complex is the second-largest of its kind in the Twin Ports area of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin. With a total area now measuring over 160,000 square feet, the Miner’s Inc. warehouse serves as the distribution hub for a fleet of 33 grocery stores, including Super One Foods, U-Save Foods, and Woodland Marketplace Foods stores that comprise one of the largest independently-owned grocery chains in the Midwest. When Miner’s Inc. first contacted us in June of 2014, it was apparent that the job wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill project. The distribution center was in the final stages of its 85,708 square foot addition and was going to need brand new racking for both the addition and the existing space. As a grocery distribution center, the Miner’s warehouse couldn’t simply drop everything for a few months and wait for their new racking to be installed. In fact, the opposite was the case — for a successful project, warehouse operations would need to experience minimal interference in order for the product to continue to flow steadily to and from the warehouse. It was certainly doable, but it would take months of preparation and careful planning to pull off.
On November 17th, 2014, the installation of the first of 9,000 pallet positions officially began. The AK and Miner’s teams had collaborated in the previous months to develop the various stages of the project. The first stage involved erecting the new Steel King pallet rack that would be used in the Miner’s warehouse addition. Once this racking was installed, the Miner’s team would have access to pallet rack on which they could store the product that was, at the time, being stored on the existing rack. Once the existing pallet rack was empty, the AK crew would tear it down and begin the final phase of the project, which entailed the installation of new racking in the existing warehouse area.
While the project went, in the words of Tim Scharte, who manages operations at the Miner’s warehouse, “more smoothly than we could’ve dreamt of.”
While the project went, in the words of Tim Scharte, who manages operations at the Miner’s warehouse, “more smoothly than we could’ve dreamt of,” it was not without its challenges. At one point, the skies opened and an onslaught of torrential rains prevented the scheduled transport of racking to the Miner’s facility, an unforeseen hurdle that threatened to derail the project. Fortunately for both the team at Miner’s and ourselves, we had developed a strong relationship with Steel King, the rack manufacturer for the project. We were able to store the racking at the manufacturer’s facility until the rain finally gave way, and the project then continued where it left off. While the weather-related wildcard and the complexities of grocery distribution center operations made for a challenge, it was flexibility and proactive communication that saved the day. “We’re not afraid to deliver bad news,” AK’s Senior Project Account Specialist Brenda Harrison said. “But timing is everything with a project like this, and we needed to do whatever it took to meet expectations.” Communication would turn out to lay the bedrock for the success of the install as well.“The installers always asked before doing something, which meant we never had to backtrack during the project,” said Scharte. Simply taking the time to make calls, ask questions and convey some of the knowledge our team has acquired over the years allowed a project that could have been fraught with delays and logistical headaches to be executed almost seamlessly. “A major part of the value we provide is our ability to impart our experience and expertise to the customer,” said AK CEO Al Boston. As is often the case in business relationships, it was the little things that wound up making a big difference in our project with Miner’s Inc.
“The most impressive view in the warehouse appears when you turn the corner and can see over 600 feet of perfectly aligned racking.”
Three months and seven days after those first few pallet positions were being installed in Duluth, the last of the pallet rack delivery trucks pulled into the Miner’s warehouse receiving dock. A day later, the guard railing around the warehouse offices was installed to put a cap on the project. Don Olson, who oversees store planning and facilities management for Miner’s Inc., had kind words for the AK installation crew: “The install team was impeccable.” Olson walks the warehouse complex each day and says he still admires the razor-sharp precision displayed in the final product. “The most impressive view in the warehouse appears when you turn the corner and can see over 600 feet of perfectly aligned racking.” Along with the pallet rack that was installed in the new and existing warehouses, end-of-aisle protectors, Guard Dawg office guard railing, and column sentries were included to ensure the long-term protection of the warehouse and its equipment. The decision to include protective equipment has already paid off, as evidenced by blue pallet skid marks on the face of the rails and the approval of members of the Miner’s team. “Everybody loves the guard rail that goes around the office,” Olson confirmed. Along with a well-protected pallet rack system, the new warehouse layout has resulted in a 60% increase in picking accuracy since the implementation of the new racking and layout. According to Olson and Scharte, one of the most noticeable benefits of the new racking and overall revamping of the Miner’s warehouse complex was an intangible one: a renewed feeling of pride in the facility and a deep sense of value that accompanies investing in an organization and its people.
Though the possibility of logistical difficulties continually lingered and Mother Nature tried her best to thwart efforts to keep the project on course, the delivery and installation of Miner’s Inc.’s new pallet was a resounding success for both parties. The Miner’s Inc. distribution center is now outfitted with high-quality pallet rack and protective products, helping to serve growing demand from their regional supermarket locations and reinforcing a sense of commitment to the future mission of the company. As for us at AK Material Handling Systems, we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Miner’s on a rewarding project and even more important, build lasting relationships in the process.