Efficient and Responsive Production at Wegmans
I was at a Wegmans store earlier this afternoon to pick up some some bread and deli meat to make lunch for the week. The deli section of the store is usually busy during the early afternoons on a Sunday, and today was no different. The digital counter on the wall indicated that the servers were helping customer #42, and I was holding ticket #49. Seven customers ahead of me isn’t that long of a wait, but it was still a wait nevertheless.
While waiting for my number to be called, I walked around the deli area and noticed that the store had replaced the regular contents of one of the nearby refrigeration units. Upon closer inspection, the units now contained prepacked packages of the commonly purchased deli items (e.g., ham, turkey, bologna, cheeses). What an excellent example of efficient and responsive production planning to meet customers’ needs!
Typically, when one places an order for a particular item at the deli counter, one would state the amount of the item required (e.g., number of slices, weight in pounds) and if appropriate, the width of the slices of the deli meat or cheeses. In sum, the slicing, packaging and weighing of the items plus the printing of the price on a sticker can add up to a lot of time waiting at the deli counter for the customer. (If possible, one could place the deli order at the beginning of the grocery shopping trip and then pick up the order when one is done with the rest of the shopping to eliminate this waiting time.)
Because there is often a high demand for certain items, Wegmans have pre-sliced these particular meats and cheeses ahead of time when there are more servers available than number of customers to serve. This is efficient because there is less server idle time (i.e., higher server utilization). Furthermore, a server can now complete a service in less time because of the elimination of the slicing step, and this shorter service time also allows the server to serve more customers. This pre-slicing of meats and cheeses is also responsive because a customer’s service time is reduced (i.e., less waiting). All in all, a win for Wegmans and a win for the customer.
The pre-packing of these high demand items further increases the efficiency and responsiveness factor. The pre-packing can be done during lulls leading to higher server utilization and lower idle time. There is no more waiting in a queue or waiting for the order to be packed for customers who are satisfied with the prepacked items. Because these customers no longer need to enter the deli queue, the queue length is shorter and customers in the queue are attended to much quicker. A big win for Wegmans and a big win for the customer.
Finally, I did think about whether the pre-packed packages were of the “right” size. Wegmans packed approximately 0.5lbs of product into each package, and this seems like a reasonable amount. If a person needs more than 0.5lbs of the product, one could grab multiple packages to meet one’s needs. But if a customer requires an amount that is not a multiple of 0.5lbs, the customer will then have to enter the deli queue. On second thought, perhaps it’s not a complete win-win after all. Like most everything, a customer has to evaluate the trade-off between convenience (prepacked packages) and having the product in exactly the way or amount required. For me, I’m more than satisfied with the convenience of the prepacked items. Well done, Wegmans!