Many people used the COVID-19 pandemic to catch up on a hobby. Pop culture enthusiasts queued up TV shows, locked-down jetsetters learned languages, and amateur chefs mastered their favorite recipes. James Nissenberg read a book. He didn’t thumb through his favorite novel; he read Operations Rules: Delivering Customer Value through Flexible Operations.
MIT Press says the book shares author David Simchi-Levi’s “set of…rules that management can follow to achieve a quantum leap in operations performance.” Nissenberg, who earned his Master of Science degree in transportation from MIT, had actually read the book before. The nonfiction bibliophile revisited the tome to uncover new insight and inspiration.
Nissenberg is a logistics and service operations executive with vast experience in network design, capacity planning, process engineering, and systems implementation. He’s worked in corporate and management consulting roles to help clients and companies across multiple industries improve processes, increase revenue, and maximize efficiency.
Currently, Nissenberg is a vice president at Santa Monica Seafood (SMS), where he leads logistics for the high-velocity food processing and distribution operation that uses a fleet of 80 trucks and 5 logistics service providers to deliver daily to 1,300 customers in 20 states. Nissenberg’s team also operates or coordinates supplier pick-ups at key air cargo gateways in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. Besides air, some popular products like wild salmon arrive by truck from British Colombia and the Pacific Northwest.
It’s a complex operation. Nissenberg, who came in to reduce costs and support growth from new accounts and prior acquisitions, spent his early days at SMS in research mode. “I figured all deliveries were made successfully the day before I got there,” he says. “There was no immediate crisis to solve. It was important to avoid the temptation to implement changes too soon, and I wanted to really understand what was already in place.”
The approach earned Nissenberg the trust of his counterparts in sales, production, procurement, finance, and other departments. He then took “parallel paths” to review SMS’s people, processes, vendors, technology, and metrics in search of potential improvements.
Once completing his review, Nissenberg moved quickly. He cut fleet size by 10 percent, worked with vendors to lower expenditures, and automated numerous manual processes. He also centralized logistics management and improved customer service by optimizing routes and making an investment in telematics. These changes also support the company’s goal of delivering to most customers within a three-hour time window and providing real-time ETA’s and delivery alerts.
On the food service side, Santa Monica Seafood serves restaurants, hotels, casinos, event venues, and theme parks among other customers. The coronavirus pandemic threatened to slow much of that business to a halt. Nissenberg and his colleagues, however, took advantage of the situation to open a whole new line of business.
“We’ve been able to navigate many unexpected events and circumstances because we’ve been creative with customer service and implemented process improvements that have put us at an advantage.”
Nissenberg was part of an internal “quick launch” team working together to create Dock Direct, a direct-to-consumer brand and website that offers a variety of curated seafood packages for next-day parcel delivery. SMS launched the new endeavor in less than a month. “COVID-19 has forced companies to search for other revenue sources and we were able to move into e-commerce because we already had a top-quality product, a great brand, and the right infrastructure in place,” he says, adding that Santa Monica Seafood plans to keep Dock Direct active even after the pandemic ends.
SMS took other steps to respond to the crisis. A decline in food service businesses led the company to strengthen its value proposition for grocery customers. SMS started calling stores from one chain for orders and delivering directly with its own fleet while continuing to fill some orders for outlying stores at the customer’s distribution center.
By serving stores directly, SMS enhanced product shelf life by up to two days and increased sales through new items tailored to consumer buying behavior. “We’ve been able to navigate many unexpected events and circumstances because we’ve been creative with customer service and implemented process improvements that have put us at an advantage,” Nissenberg says.
COVID isn’t the only challenge Santa Monica Seafood must overcome. Nissenberg says the company must also respond to supply chain disruptions resulting from social unrest, labor strikes, or capacity reductions in key supplier markets. For example, since late 2019, conditions in Chile have sometimes impacted the company’s ability to source salmon from farms in the country. In early 2019 WOW Air ceased operations in Iceland, reducing air cargo capacity SMS relied on for several products. A diverse network and good business relationships help the company find alternatives when these situations arise.
Through it all, the eighty-one-year-old business is maintaining its longstanding commitment to customer service. “I came to this company for many reasons, including its high-quality reputation and the excellent leadership team,” Nissenberg says.
With these improvements in place, Santa Monica Seafood is poised for continued growth in grocery and food service—as restaurants re-open and travel resumes.