Bob Klunk is Director of Fulfillment Services at Distribution Management, Inc. Bob has 24 years of experience in engineering, manufacturing, distribution, and business development. He served as Director of Operations and Vice President of Engineering at a major international third-party logistics provider, where he enabled clients to leverage outsourced fulfillment and distribution as a competitive advantage. Bob became fascinated with the field when he was Director of Distribution for an international manufacturing company, where service levels improved and costs dropped as a result of implementing a third-party logistics solution. He especially enjoys working directly with clients to solve problems that allow them to improve operations and better serve their customers. He is a member of prominent industry trade associations, including WERC, IWLA, and CSCMP; he has served on the board at the Center for Supply Chain Management Studies at St. Louis University. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and a guest lecturer at the John Cook School of Business at St. Louis University. Bob earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
MO: How has the entrepreneurial journey been different than you expected?
Bob: It happened so fast. I was doing some freelance consulting, really just knocking around, disenchanted with the conservative work-for-a-company path. It turned out my skills and experiences were just what the market needed to fill an underserved niche. When I say it happened fast, I mean I spent 20 years gaining skills and developing relationships, and then spent about three years looking for ways to apply them, get funding, talking to a lot of people, etc. When the right conversation finally happened, it went from barely moving to light-speed. I’m also surprised by how little the traditional rules for budgeting and planning apply. When the opportunity is right in front of you, it’s a bad time to sit and write plans. The world won’t wait.
MO: Consumer fulfillment isn’t always the first thing on leaders’ minds. Why should other entrepreneurs consider working with a company like DMI?
Bob: We are entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. When you’re launching a business, you’ve got a million things to do and people to see, and they’re all calling you at once with their hands out. You most likely got into your business because you have a passion for it, and you know everything there is to know about your industry. I talk to people all the time about launching product lines. Their passion spills over while they tell you all the details of what they’re doing. I’m always interested, but I also see, in many cases, that they haven’t considered all the other things that have to happen to make a commercial success of their dream.
At DMI, we are experts at delivering your passion to your customers. We don’t just sell what we do; we know who’s who in the logistics world, and we can help you build a solution of all the services you’ll need. If we aren’t the right provider for you, we’ll tell you that. There’s plenty of opportunity; we don’t need to do something we’re not the best at. It works better if you pull us in early, but it’s just as common for me to talk to someone who has a good product and needs a way to fill orders. In the logistics world, we all know each other, and we know who the good guys are. We’ll make sure you have the right provider, and we’ll provide insight, as fellow entrepreneurs, on things you need to look out for. We’ll work with or refer you to product and packaging vendors, marketing firms, designers, freight forwarders, and customer brokers, and we’ll help coordinate all the activities that get your product to your customers. Clients see we are going to do the right thing, and trust develops quickly. Trust is like lubricant for business relationships. When your customer trusts you, you can make decisions and move quickly.
MO: Your company has been named one of the Top Places to Work in St. Louis. Congratulations! What did that award mean to your company?
Bob: Of course, being able to attract the best talent is the most obvious benefit. More importantly, when you have a team of people who are happy to be at work, it shows. You can hear a smile over the telephone. People like doing business with people they like. DMI customers are no different. When our clients reach out to us, they know that no matter how little information they have or how late they are in following up, they have at least one place to go that’s not stressful. Our people are going to be fun and easy to work with; they take care of problems quickly and without negativity because they’re not stressed in their own workplace.
MO: Distribution Management, Inc. seems to provide a personal touch in an industry that is stereotyped as impersonal. Why is this so important to your company?
Bob: We’re not selling a generic, commodity-grade service. We are projecting your brand, personality, and passion into the marketplace. All these things – trust, experience, a positive work environment, people you like working with – culminate in a great experience for the customer. We’re the last ones to touch your product before your customer sees it. That’s huge! It has to be personal. Your customer purchased an item from you yesterday; today, your customer is going to open the package we prepared. That’s personal! Remember how I said my clients have passion for their businesses? Do you think we have any less for ours?
MO: What new trends are you most excited about in the fulfillment industry?
Bob: The desire for next-day/same-day fulfillment is breaking down one of the last barriers to ecommerce and creating more demand for localization. The fulfillment network is getting tighter, with more distribution centers having more selection closer to customers, many with value-added and customization capabilities. Customers have a huge variety to choose from, and they can have items quickly. Short lead times and small manufacturing runs create opportunity for local production, which can spur domestic output. Fulfillment companies, like DMI, give entrepreneurs access to this network, yet still allow them to promote their brands.
MO: If I could grant you one business-related wish right now, what would you ask for?
Bob: I would like to fire up an old mothballed U.S. factory, making something, and have DMI do the distribution. I’m an engineer; I’d love tool up a factory with modern technology and in-shore production.
MO: Who has been the influential support system for you and your co-workers during the startup process?
Bob: I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of people I’ve worked with over the last 24 years. The balance between what I know and what I don’t know is severely lopsided. I have questions every day. The worst are those “I should already know that” questions that seem embarrassing to ask. I can always call on a contact, who won’t laugh at me, for answers. What makes it work are trusting relationships that took years to develop. I had no idea that people would be so willing to help.