E096: Interviews from IISE Annual Volunteer Service Project at Southcenter Store near Seattle

In this podcast, I extract the audio from a published video by IISE that recapped our last volunteer service project in Seattle in May 2022. We have been conducting these volunteer events prior to each annual conference since 2012, and this was the first one we’ve had since the pandemic. You can read about prior IISE volunteer events here.

In this episode, we hear from the event organizer Dustin Diep, one of our long-time volunteers Maria Carolina Diaz, and Jesse Duran, the store manager at Southcenter Store of the Habitat for Humanity of Seattle-King County.

The full video can be seen below, or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrXubDV9w68


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Brion: The Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers, IISE, annual conference volunteering event that was organized by the Sustainable Development Division is a yearly project where members attending the annual conference can volunteer to assist a nonprofit agency in the conference’s host city. The 2022 event took place May 21st at the Southcenter store of the Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County in Tukwila, Washington. Twenty-three volunteers offered their time and expertise to help the reuse retailer improve its processes. The group evaluated the customer experience when entering into the store, warehouse donations and processing, warehouse distribution to the sales floor, and they helped create cleaning stations throughout the facility.

The following is a video excerpt that was created by IISE that I’m going to interject my comments for the sections that you can’t tell from the video, but if you go to the show notes of this episode, you will find a link to that video where you can check out all the visuals and the great work done by the staff. The first person you’re going to hear talking is Dustin Diep. He was the primary organizer for this event and has been helping with this event for the last couple of years. Hope you enjoy.

Dustin: There are a few different processes. We’re at the restore right now. The primary purpose is to help with processing donations, which they sell here and use the funds to advance their mission of helping building housing for people. As a part of that, a few of the activities we have going on, one is the latest donations processing, so they’re out in the back and it sounds like that just had a huge influx of materials come through, so we have a group of volunteers working on that. We have one team helping out with building some cleaning stations. The manager said he was very inspired by his previous job; they had some Lean Six Sigma stations, so we called them and they were 5Sed to the nines in terms of their labels and layout, and they really want something like that here. So I’m working with a couple of folks right now to help create some of those cleaning stations. Hopefully, we’ll have a couple of those implemented by the end of this shift, fingers crossed.

But it sounds like there’s a third group right now just chatting with the store manager. They’ve been doing some gemba walks looking around the area to see just what opportunities there are for improvement. I think they’re just having a long discussion on that, so taking a step back, looking at those different processes, and just reflecting and looking for those opportunities for improvement. So three primary groups, and I think everybody’s really getting to enjoy it, like put these skills towards something different than their day-to-day.

Brion: The next speaker is Maria Carolina Diaz. She also is a long-time volunteer with IISE in the Sustainable Development Division. She talks about her experience going through the volunteer event.

Maria: I enjoyed the opportunity go and see what is being done to help out the people in need, and look at how they are doing things, and providing suggestions for improvement. We went through the whole thing. There were groups that were specifically at an area. My group specifically went to all areas and looked at it from a macro perspective kind of thing, and gave suggestions for improvement from that standpoint, so we walked the whole store. We suggested to open a door in the side of the warehouse for easier access. Then there was another door in the front that was also blocked and they were losing that access, so get that organized. I think they have a general view or general organization that these types of products will go in this area, but it’s like everything since they have so much rotation. As a process engineer, you can’t improve what you don’t see, what you don’t experience yourself.

Brion: Next up is Jesse Duran who was the Store Manager for Habitat. He seemed to really enjoy having us volunteers there, and that makes a huge difference in an event like this. You feel confident that they’re going to take what we suggested, not necessarily do exactly what we say, but take some of the concepts and ideas and really run with it.

Jesse: Having engineers here, people who are problem solvers at nature and mechanically inclined is something that we don’t always have that on staff here. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of experience in retail. It’s been my main career for my entire life basically, but not everybody that works in the store does have a retail background. Looking through and knowing some of the things that I know, having engineers come in and be able to look at things like process flow and things that maybe we can change within the warehouse was instrumental for us. Knowing that they’ve worked with multiple Habitat stores in the past and aren’t just coming in blindly to not know anything about us, I think that was also one of the biggest– one of the most exciting things for me personally was just knowing that they’ve got this experience, they have this lifestyle, and they can come in here and they can change things.

We’ve got some really specific bottlenecks that happen in the store. We have a really long, narrow warehouse that, at the very end, has a completely different department in it, so some of the bottlenecks that we get when we get our inventory in, how to work around those things, and then just different little projects that we had throughout the store that we thought might be fun for people to think about and execute. It was fantastic. It was great having everybody in. Again, watching everybody work and watching everybody think about the issues that they saw, and then being able to sit down and have conversations with everybody, it was great.

One of the things that I thought would be fun to do was to come up with some sort of Lean Six Sigma type of cleaning station. We have an inordinate amount of cleaning supplies, brooms and dust pans and garbage cans, and there’s always a little mess to clean up somewhere. So I was thinking if we had a mobile cart that had all of the necessities that we could wheel around or stage in strategic areas within the store, would be something that would be beneficial for us and also something that I think, I would hope, that maybe an engineer would like to put their brain into and start thinking about how can we mass-produce this? how can we make this easy to assemble? how can we make sure that it gets into all of the right places? all of those little nuances to that.

I could take my team and sit down and maybe, in a couple of months, have everything put together and ready to go, but having a group of people come in and that’s their main focus, it was really great. The group was only here for what, four hours total? And an hour and half of that was getting everybody processed in and out, so it’s not a whole lot of time to get a large group of people together, and then have them from, start to finish, create, design, fabricate something, and then also make it reproducible. I think that’s awesome.

Some of the issues that we know are the biggest are in the warehouse. We get a lot of stuff. We move a lot of items, and we get a lot of items donated to us. Because of the limitations of our warehouse, we always get into this overcrowded situation where we’re just pushing up on stuff and it’s spilling out into the store or into the parking lot, and we want to avoid that as much as possible. They talked a lot about utilizing the space that we have in sections and grouping things together for processing, and what that looks like with the actual flow step-by-step. We’ve already got, in the next week or so, we’re going to have a big day off party where we’re closed and we’re going to come clean out and really set up zones in the warehouse so that we can start getting some of that stuff working in and create some of those standard operating procedures that they talked about a little bit in terms of getting that working in our store.

I specifically use it myself use frequently. We’ve got it in our closet right now and it really is just– it’s a good, multipurpose tool to be able to wheel around the store, and it’s something that it’s helpful to us, it’s something that we need, and it’s great to have.

I’ve been in retail my entire career. I’ve been in retail management for most of my career, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of how a building operates and I can probably go in and be successful in it in some way, shape, or form. But just having a large group of people with a lot more knowledge than me on a lot more topics than me, it’s always, always beneficial, and I always encourage everyone to take all of the advice, all of the suggestions. Not everything is going to work for our store, but everything is a good suggestion and everything that they said was valuable in some way. Whether or not we can implement it here in the store or not, it’s something that either got us to think about maybe an issue that we were having a little bit differently, or it’s just something that we know that this is an issue and we know that maybe this solution isn’t the thing, but it’s being brought again to attention, and it’s something that we then I have another idea to look at and try.

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