Hook began working for the company in the 1960s while he was in high school, and for a time ran a satellite ladder manufacturing plant in the state of Washington. When the original owner died in 1977, Hook moved his family back to Kelseyville and took over the operation. "All of our ladders are manufactured to meet applicable ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and OHSA standards," Hook says, "including the various safety and instructional labels we place on the ladders."
As you might have noticed, ladders contain a good number of labels. Some are red to denote danger, some have yellow for caution. Others indicate safety information, such as the recommendation that stepladders be placed on level ground, or advise that a specialty ladder (such as a billboard posting ladder) has the rounded hooks securely over the top of the billboard. In an effort to go even beyond the current guidelines, "We even looked at mounting small bubble levels on the ladders," Hook says. "We had to give up on that because many of our ladders are used on surfaces which are not totally flat - getting that tiny bubble to the center just wouldn't work under the conditions in which these ladders are used." He also says that his company has to create labels for certain conditions, such as those that read "Only one person at a time can safely be on this ladder".
Being a leader in niche-market ladders means having a lot of different shape and size constructions. For example, Stokes' popular double-sided extra heavy duty stepladder comes in 10 standard sizes, from 3' tall up to 12'. Even non-folding stands - used for aircraft refueling, RV maintenance, construction, and auto/van/truck detailing - come in six sizes, from 18" to 48".
"This proliferation of sizes drove us crazy for a while," Hook says, "because we had to have so many different labels just to have the right model number and the particular specifications."
They solved that problem rather quickly by going to thermal transfer printers, utilizing the Zebra model. "Finding the right ribbon that would stand up to all kinds of weather conditions, from rain to snow, from 130° F to below zero took some doing." The company eventually worked out the proper combination of an all-resin ribbon with an outdoor vinyl pressure sensitive face sheet. Now it's a fairly simple process to image the variable specifications onto the label and they can bar code it if needed, Hook says. "We standardize as many of the safety and instructional labels as possible, to allow us minimize inventory. Our vendor, D-Lux Screenprinting Inc. (of Holmen, WI) works with us on setting up economical ordering quantities."
I was surprised at the answer I got when I asked Hook if the printer overlaminated the nameplate labels and some of the safety and instructional labels. "No," he says. "We tried that initially but we kept getting a variance from the weather conditions that caused the laminate to expand or shrink from the base label. Eventually we settled on a very heavy coating of outdoor quality silkscreen ink."
The problems with labels on ladders can be compounded, Hook notes, "because some of our agricultural dealers will store the ladders outdoors for a year or more before they sell them, and after they are purchased they are used outdoors."
Stokes Ladder has experience with custom ladders. "We often will get a call saying 'I'd like a ladder like this particular model but 6" longer or shorter'." The company got into winery rolling ladders in the 1990s, and this has turned into another nice niche. "We make an 18" wide ladder that will fit between the 20" wide space between racks of barrels in the wineries, which are generally stacked up to six high." This particular ladder is too narrow for almost any other use because the barrel racks help support it.
The Mary Kay way
Located about 12 miles north of Dallas, TX, is Mary Kay Inc.'s Southwest distribution center (DC) in Carrollton. "We designed and built the 165,000 square foot facility to service more than 140,000 independent sales force members in 11 Southwest states," says Rick Felton, director and general manager. In addition to its DC duties, the facility, which was completed in 2003, also houses an 18,000 square foot print shop.
While the Carrollton facility is one of five Mary Kay DCs in the United States, it is considered to be the most diversified because it houses not only the core business cosmetics line but also the specialized independent sales director order line and the area for promotions and prizes.
Felton explains: "Each of the more than 140,000 independent sales force members we serve is within three business days of either our ground UPS service or the US Postal Service (USPS). "In addition, we ship nationwide the awards earned by our beauty consultants and our sales directors."
The majority of labels used by the Carrollton facility are the 4" x 6" direct thermal shipping label with a 4" x 14" thermal transfer label used for license plate and/or skid number items stored in the reserve locations. "We really like the fact that we can run the direct thermal printers unattended," Felton adds, "and we do our own maintenance on the printers."
With 40 million items in more than 2.2 million cartons going out the door annually, that's a lot of labels. Amerisource Packaging and Printing in Carollton, just six miles from the DC, is Mary Kay's blank shipping label vendor. The images are added at the Mary Kay DC using direct thermal and thermal transfer. And, Felton says, "Each carton goes out sealed with tape bearing the Mary Kay mission: 'To enrich women's lives'.
The Mary Kay manufacturing plant, which is located about 13 miles south of Carrollton, provides most of the products stored in the DC. They also print the bar coded license plate labels on each case. When an item is moved in the DC from the reserve location, the bar code is scanned by the forklift driver who follows the tasks sent to him via radio frequency (RF) from the Warehouse Management System (WMS).
To get an idea of the volume of labels used (in addition to those applied to cartons and skids by manufacturing), I asked Felton to run through a typical shipping day. "We use a sophisticated Pick to Light system which is tied directly to our WMS. We selected the Siemens Dematic system for its flexibility and its proven value in postal and parcel operations." He went on to say that "pretty much everything is automated prior to the actual picking. The line starter looks at the label to select a carton size, which WMS has pre-selected according to the cube required for the products. When we get the advanced shipping notice, our inventory control group checks the shipment."
Picking is done in waves of orders. Felton says, "We'll complete about 500 orders at a time, using a combination picking label/packing list which will contain the same information as the shipping label - name, address, phone number, weight of the carton, bar code, and whether the shipment is going USPS or UPS."
The picking information is systemcatically transferred to the Siemens Dematic system where there are 13 zones, each consisting of either four bays or three and a skid location. The conveyor line runs at about 18 feet per minute. The Siemens Dematic system recognizes each order and automatically identifies via lights the location and quantities of product to be picked in each zone. The DC works a five day week with two shifts and, according to Felton, "They pick about 2,000 orders per shift or approximately 82,000 pieces of product."
"A sign of the times," says Felton, "is that we now receive 93 percent of all orders electronically. Orders flow in heavy the last few days of the month as the consultants and directors approach the next premium or promotion level, including that prestigious pearlescent pink Cadillac Seville!"