Jeff Girard is a catalyst for efficiency at Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), where he has spent twenty-one years ushering in each new evolution of the
billion-dollar company. “I grew as the company grew,” Girard says. “When I started, we had about thirty stores. Today, we have hundreds of stores.” Now, as senior vice president of distribution and logistics, he leads a team of vice presidents and directors spanning vendor relations, fulfillment centers, retail distribution, and engineering for the retailer of designer shoes and fashion accessories—and his innovative approach to productivity is continuing to create savvy business solutions.
Girard earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing from Franklin University, but he trained as an industrial engineer at UPS. He worked his way up from unloading trucks to managing supervisors and union associates. A decade later, he was ready to embrace a new challenge and sought to build his position. He found the ideal opportunity at DSW.
Founded in Columbus, Ohio, DSW went public in 2005. It now operates more than five hundred stores across the United States and Puerto Rico, in addition to 289 affiliates. Girard joined the retailer in 1997 as an industrial engineer and immediately got to work consolidating five underutilized warehouses. His team converted an old aircraft manufacturing plant into the single distribution center, and Girard designed and implemented the warehouse management system, materials, and equipment into the new location conveniently located by an airport. Soon after, he was promoted to director and then vice president of distribution and transportation before he entered his current role as senior vice president in 2014.
It was around 2003 when Girard began supporting the company’s transition from a close-out retailer in selling overstock to an in-line retailer that began selling in-season products. “In the very beginning, our first stores were only open a few days a week so that we could restock with merchandise bought from vendors,” he says. “At that time, almost all of the merchandise came from closeout buys. We opened more stores and changed the model to be open every day of the week. We went from 90 percent close-out and 10 percent in-season to flipping that ratio over the course of six years. One of the strategic benefits of moving towards a more in-line presence is that it enabled us to replenish units at the size level.”
Formerly, DSW would restock stores by the case of a predetermined mix of colors and sizes, which would often double the inventory of sizes that didn’t sell. This resulted in wasted space and more markdowns. Under the new business model, though, individual sizes are restocked accordingly.
Now that DSW has reached a new level of maturity, Girard challenges his logistics team to be on the forefront of innovation to make smarter investments in efficient processes. For instance, roughly half of DSW’s online orders get fulfilled out of stores today, according to Girard, so his team helped to revamp the brick-and-mortar locations as micro-fulfillment centers rather than spending capital on the construction of a massive new distribution center.
“We evaluated our network and realized that our stores are within twenty minutes of 70 percent of the US population,” Girard says. “It made sense to fulfill customer orders directly from them.”
The main distribution center in Ohio has also undergone a metamorphosis as Girard incorporates new technologies on-site. The upgrades have automated all of the receiving, sorting, packaging, and shipping processes, enabling the center to handle millions of units. “All of those departments have to work in concert to make that facility operate efficiently,” Girard explains. “We’ve replaced just about everything over the last five years.”
He also credits his team, whose strong operations experience and engineering knowledge have created solutions that are unique to DSW’s distribution facilities. For example, Girard’s team created specialty pallets to move products around internally. The pallets are larger than standard issue, but they are not heavier. That results in increased capacity and reduces the number of moves overall. The team has also designed carts that expand capacity to perform optimal functions.
Another pivot occurred in 2007, when DSW decided to capitalize on a new trend surrounding online retail. “At the time, we were wondering if selling shoes online would even work,” Girard recalls. “We launched the e-commerce website in 2008, and obviously it was a good decision.”
To this day, DSW continues to invest in increasing the online demand, and while brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled as foot traffic declines, DSW’s new in-store strategy supports the change. DSW’s stores also help with customer returns. “The majority of the returns that we get for online purchases actually get returned to our stores,” he says.
Yet Girard knows that his role is more about the people than system configurations. As a self-described introvert, the logistics leader admitted that it was a challenge at first, but now it has become second nature as he integrates the company’s core values—passion, accountability, collaboration, and humility—in all aspects of his role.
“No matter how complex of a system you put in or how much automation you do in a facility, at the end of the day, it is really about people running the operation every day to do the job,” he says. “It takes everyone in the organization to make it successful, regardless of title.”
Looking ahead, Girard envisions even more progress at DSW. The company recently expanded into Canada and the Middle East, and Girard is making the international logistics as seamless as possible. “What excites me about DSW, and the main reason I’ve stayed so long, is that we continue to grow and change,” Girard says. “There’s always the next big challenge to take on.”
Put Your Best Foot Forward
The core values that Jeff Girard has helped implement at DSW are not limited to the major retailer. They also reach the community, including DSW’s partnership with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), in which Girard initiated Project SEARCH—a workforce training program.
“I am very passionate about transforming the lives of people who have developmental disabilities,” Girard says.
The DSW program invites adults with disabilities to train for six months in all areas of distribution, and it has employed thirty-eight people at twenty employers since 2014. “It’s about doing the job, but it’s also about them overcoming what they may have thought they couldn’t do and teaching the social skills to be successful,” Girard says. “Most of the participants didn’t work before, and they’re now making much higher pay than minimum wage. It’s also filling a void because there is a huge shortage of workforce in distribution.”
Photo: William Potter/Shutterstock.com
Since 1958, Sedlak has provided independent, innovative, and actionable distribution and logistics solutions to companies across the retail, wholesale, 3PL, and healthcare spectrum. Our focus on precision analytics, process improvement, and intelligent use of technology enables operational efficiencies, improved service levels, and cost reductions to accelerate our clients’ business objectives.