On this episode of Labs Live, we are joined by Eric Ristow of Lineage Logistics where we discuss actionable insights. We talk about data, user experience, and how Lineage has been able to create more efficiency across their operations. Video and full transcript below.

 

 

Talk to Detroit Labs about how to make actionable insights out of your data.

 

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Dan:

All right. Welcome. Welcome to Labs Live. Tobi, go with the jingle. There it is. Tobi did the jingle finally, for us, he practiced all weekend for that and we’re very excited and thankful that he did that.

 

Tobi:

You’re much welcome.

 

Dan:

We still had to push you even before the show started to make sure you did that, so we appreciate you being a team player. Dave, you said LinkedIn’s working, right, because I still can’t see it on my iPad. So maybe it’s just a mobile issue for me.

 

Dave:

It’s up and running. Yep.

 

Dan:

Okay, great. Great. All right, so Tobi, we should probably get into this right away, right?

 

Tobi:

Yeah, let’s go. I’m really excited for this episode.

 

Dan:

All right. I should mention though, make sure you go in like or follow on all the different social channels that we have. Again, this episode, like all others, will be available afterwards on both LinkedIn and YouTube. Dave is sporting his Lineage shirt, which is fantastic and well done. Keep going, Dave.

 

Dave:

I’m trying to like 

I like it. I got a little throwback, 2012. Dave Klawitter designed a shirt that he probably no longer likes because anything he designed a week ago, he no longer likes to wear. So with that being said, today’s guest is Eric Ristow from Lineage Logistics. I’m going to let Eric talk about Lineage and introduce that and obviously introduce his role.

 

Dan:

But Lineage has been a partner of ours for several years now and if you have had any type of food probably, you have probably experienced something that has moved through either a Lineage facility and/or process. So their vision, this is right from their website, is to be the world’s most dynamic temperature-controlled logistics company. With that, I’m going to welcome Eric because he will do it more justice than me when it comes to explaining. So Eric, welcome. How are you?

 

Eric Ristow:

I’m great. How are you doing, Dan?

 

Dan:

Fantastic. We appreciate you joining us. As you can see, Tobi is lit up and excited. So Eric, I mentioned Lineage, but you’re going to do it far better. Tell us a little bit about Lineage Logistics.

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah. It’s an interesting company to work for. We occupy a central place in the food supply chain or either very close to where food is being sourced or we’re very close to where food is being consumed. We help people basically consume food all over the world. So we’ll move stuff trans-Atlantic, trans- Pacific, whatever it might be and ensure that we can try to get food most effectively and efficiently to your table without wasting as much as possible, right? So it’s really thinking about how do we do this so that we can enable people to eat food and reduce waste?

 

Eric Ristow:

That’s what we’re thinking about from a global perspective. These companies got started about 12 years ago with a single facility in Seattle, and now we’ve grown to over 280 facilities worldwide. We’re trying to build this network play for our big consumers and big customers so that we can provide them a platform that really enables them a broad network and a broad reach wherever they might be operating their businesses.

 

Dan:

Now you mentioned the overall size of Lineage and I do want to get back to that, but maybe introduce a little bit about what your role is at Lineage. I think we’ve worked together now for, is it four years?

 

Eric Ristow:

It might be close to five.

 

Dan:

So did you, and correct me if I’m wrong, I think you were relatively new with Lineage when we first started. Is that accurate?

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah, I’m pretty new. I’ve been with Lineage now for six years. I run the product management team, in particular. Before I came along, product management didn’t even exist at Lineage and no one knows … a change for Lineage as well. We change in a lot of different ways, acquisitions, new cultures, growth, that kind of way, but we also change with the way that we operate internally and what our internal strategies are. So this was a big part of it. What we’re talking about today, metrics one really was at the cutting edge of what we’re trying to do from a software development perspective as a company.

 

Dan:

When we started talking early on, you mentioned growth and certainly that strategy of growth has been through acquisition, as you talked about. With that comes a lot of disparate systems, a lot of systems that don’t like to talk to each other, yet a lot of data that’s needed to try to oversee all of these facilities. Really, that was kind of the goal of metrics one, correct me if I’m wrong, was to try to figure out how to make actionable insights. Well visible first, I suppose, and then actionable.

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah, we need standardized, normalized data that everyone in our company can consume and recognize that they’re looking at the same thing, apples to apples, regardless of what underlying system and underlying technology the original company came from, or that facility came from. So with 260 plus warehouses, 45 plus acquisitions, you’re going to inherit a ton of different technologies. How do you seamlessly incorporate the data from those different systems and then surface it in a coherent manner that brings the right message to the people that are looking at it, regardless of whether it’s the operations manager, the supervisor on the floor or our COO? How do we tell that story and tell it seamlessly in a way that resonates with the end user?

 

Dan:

You kind of illustrate the sheer breadth of the size of this project. But I think it’s to kind of talk about, if you rewind back five years, it was very much a crawl before we walk type engagement early on. Talk a little bit about the strategy there.

 

Eric Ristow:

Like with most software development, we bit off more than we can chew, right? And it took a while to get over that hump, “Oh, we want to look at these 50 things,” and it was like any discovery process with a new product, let’s build a laundry list or really a Christmas list of the things that we want to show in this tool. At some point, we recognized that we needed to scale back, ensure that we could actually surface data that was a reliable, reasonable, and stable, and then build off of that foundation and expand from there.

 

Eric Ristow:

So things like looking at our volume coming in and out of our warehouses was absolutely critical. It’s a foundational element to what we do and then layering on the different views to that and incorporating other KPIs into that system, whether it’s productivity or warehouse utilization, things of that nature. But it all spawns from being able to tell the fundamentals correctly. You’re absolutely right, Dan. We had a crawl before we could walk and we’re barely getting to the run phase.

 

Dan:

If you don’t mind, I’m going to bring up, you talked about volume and warehousing. I’m going to bring up a view real quick of metrics one. I think one of the other things that even we talked about beforehand was how early on this was much more focused on out- of-the-box design elements, trying to really focus on what mattered at the end of the day, which was the data first and then build on it from there.

 

Eric Ristow:

Again, this is fundamental to what we do. Our business is predicated on product moving in and out of the house for our customers, whether it’s Kroger or Walmart. You name the big food service providers in the world, they’re our customer, right? We need to make sure that we’re not only taking care of their product, but we understand where their product is going, when it’s coming in and when it’s moving out. That’s what we’re looking at right here. So you’re looking at a May month-to-date, look at a group of different facilities. These are big RDC. We call them big boxes because they’re basically just big refrigerators that you can walk into or big freezers that you can walk into.

 

Eric Ristow:

They’re pretty close to the end of the supply chain. They’re sitting close to the distribution side. So they’re going to the Walmart distribution centers as the Costco distribution centers and from there to the local retail stores. So it’s really imperative that we have a good understanding and good visibility as to where this data resides in our system, but also where our product is living and which warehouses and the dynamics associated, not only at a facility level and a warehousing level, but also when we start grouping this up to a distribution type level, which is what we’re looking at here.

 

Tobi:

I was like, how does that, of course it’s obvious that this is really impactful for your business, but how are some ways that it has changed even your operations have made it more efficient?

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah. Great question, Tobi. Look at the environment that we’re in now, the pandemic. There’s all sorts of different dynamics going on and unless you have real time access to data, you can’t make those decisions that are required in an environment that changes not only month-to-month, but week-to-week and even day-to-day, in some circumstances. You need actionable insights a the ready. So now we can see whether inbounds are coming in from a specific customer, whether they’re flowing out to the regular sites and we can actually start managing our inventory.

 

Eric Ristow:

Then once we started managing and understanding what our volume looks like, we can flex our labor accordingly. We’re seeing food service down. It’s pretty obvious, right? Universities, schools, hospitals, they’re shut down and they’re not eating. So a lot of the people that … and our customers have provided food products to those types of entities are seeing a lot of … they’re scaling down their businesses. While with retail, the grocery stores, Krogers, Walmarts, you’re seeing a huge spike.

 

Eric Ristow:

So how do we manage that effectively? Which one of our facilities are getting hit hard? How do we flex our labor? How do we move our labor around from facility to facility to support this process and really understand how we need to change our business and how we need to be planful around changing our business next week, next month, as more changes come through. So it’s really understanding what is the current state? How has it changed from over a year ago? How has it changed from a month ago? Then, how do we continue to evolve and change and be ready for that change too?

 

Tobi:

That’s so great.

 

Dan:

Yeah, that’s awesome. I know early on, it was very much focused on as much objective data as possible, right? Starting off with that, trying to understand what is very … anybody could come in, I guess, and look at a number and understand a number.

 

Eric Ristow:

Right.

 

Dan:

But in a lot of ways, well, in all ways, I would say, that is the first step of any type of metrics thing. But eventually you got to, what I will personally call the holy grail of metrics, and that’s the composite score. I think oftentimes, when people talk about wanting to see big picture. As a leader in a company, you want to see big picture and oftentimes, you don’t have a significant amount of time to dive into every single number. And that notion of the green, yellow, red, the stoplight.

 

Dan:

Like I know red’s an issue and I got to look into that, green we’re okay, yellow, maybe I’ll check back later. Getting to that point with data is extremely hard and eventually, you got to that with the composite score and that doesn’t just happen by collecting data. That’s a ton of effort on your side to try to figure out what is that equation and does everyone agree on that equation?

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah, absolutely. We can look at pallets and dollars. That doesn’t change, right? A pallet is a pallet is a pallet. But when you start pulling a couple of these different metrics together and really analyzing what’s important for us as a business and how do we want to measure our business and take these temperature checks, health checks on a monthly basis, this is really what we came up with, right? So looking at things like our safety, keeping our products safe, keeping our customers safe, keeping our employees safe is the paramount, most important thing that we do as a company. Even prior to making money, we want to make sure that we’re keeping food in the supply chain safe and that it’s getting to our end consumer safely.

 

Eric Ristow:

Then looking at financials, looking at how we manage our labor in response to our financials as well, so do we have the right mix in that? Then also, finally looking at our turnover. Turnover’s been, historically, a pretty big challenge for us and in this space, it’s really not that shocking, right? It’s hard to find people that really want to work in such inclement weather. We’re often asking people to case pick ice cream in minus 20 degree weather for 12 hours.

 

Eric Ristow:

That’s a tough job and if someone can find a better job down the road, working in a dry warehouse for maybe a little less money, they might take it. So how do we really ensure that we’re managing those facilities that are struggling maybe with some turnover aspects and really turning it around? If you start looking at this turnover KPI a few years ago, we were 10, 15 basis points higher than this. By enabling these composite scores and this metric to be in the forefront, we’re really forcing our end users and our leaders within the organization to focus on this and try to solve this problem.

 

Dan:

That’s awesome. Every two weeks, we have a business update internally at Detroit Labs. One of the things I’ve always wanted was a gauge on the red, yellow, green, and that’s really hard to get to because I would it and I’d be like, “Oh, I got to have that.” Then the team would look at me and be like, “We don’t know what that means.” I’m like, “Oh, for a point, okay. I can see that there’s so much effort that goes into building this out.”

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah, no question. It’s not only getting alignment among what we want to look at and what’s important and our business is changing and we’re changing this composite score on an annual basis. We’re going to start looking maybe at turn times now that we have turnover a bit more under control. So how quickly our trucks are being serviced at a facility when they arrive, but it’s really important to our customers, so it’s really important to us, right?

 

Eric Ristow:

But how important is that as a metric? Is it more important than managing our labor-to-revenue ratio or our safety? Arguably not, right? So it’s really finding that right mix of and getting alignment among our stakeholders internally across functions, finance, operations, legal, et cetera, and then ensuring that this is consumable, right? So what does this actually mean?

 

Eric Ristow:

It’s really easy to see where you are on a dial, but if I’m red and I’m looking at this and it’s just like, “Oh, what do I need to do now? So how do you double click into this? How do you access the underlying KPIs? What does this KPI mean? What is my target now? Why am I red? How can I turn this ship around?” It’s basically what we’re trying to get our users to think of. This is the starting point, right? This is the homepage for the application. This is going to continue to be the focus, the dashboard that people use to measure, not only an individual facility’s health, but regionally, by area and also on a global basis.

 

Dan:

So I’ll put that back now because I want to talk about you mentioned users and then early on, you kind of talked about it kind of stretches across many different profiles of users. I was involved somewhat early in the project where we were going out, we went to Geneva and we interviewed a lot of the folks out there and did other-

 

Eric Ristow:

And being told we had to put on a parka. That’s fine.

 

Dan:

Yeah, that was very cold. That blast cooler was an experience. I still talk about it today, but we were interviewing very specific people at the time. It was great because we were focused on building it for them first. But as you mentioned, that’s grown quite a bit, right?

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah. The tool’s evolved, right? So we’re focusing initially on the people individually at the facility, right? Who’s our persona? The persona was a GM and his leadership team. They need to be managing their overtime on a regular basis. They need to be looking at the volume coming in and out. They need to make sure that the turn times are in line and then everything flows from that, right? They shouldn’t be narrowly focusing on the financials initially as much as the operations, and the financials will fall in line. But quickly, that’s changed, right?

 

Eric Ristow:

With the types of people using this and the information that we’re surfacing and the application, know ranges from finance to project management, to a new hires coming on board and learning about our business, right? So they can go to a facility and learn anything they need to know about a facility. What’s the customer mix look like? Historically, have they been performing well? Before they even go and talk to the GM at a facility, they can download a bunch of information and then ask the GM to fill in those gaps, right?

 

Eric Ristow:

So there’s a lot of legwork that can be done for new resources for a project management team when they’re scoping out different facilities to pick as a pilot site for new initiatives that we have, that are coming along all the time. So it’s really been a useful tool in that regard. I haven’t even mentioned the sales team, right? Our commercial team, they need to understand how the facility is performing, how a customer is performing at various facilities before they even walk in the door, right?

 

Eric Ristow:

Are there challenges going on right now? Do we see a uptake in our turn times? Have we seen our inventory accuracy degrade? Are we taking care of our customer’s product? These are all things that they need to have in their back pocket and need to be able to address before talking to our customer and getting face-to-face with them.

 

Dan:

So one of the things with the tool, I know, is that it’s a responsive web application, so you can run desktop, iPad, all the way down a phone. From a sales standpoint, you mentioned them checking that before they go into the room with somebody, has the responsiveness of the site, from a screen standpoint, has that helped that piece of it so it’s kind of always with them on their phone?

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah. It’s been amazing, right? I primarily use metrics one on my phone, right? It’s always up on my desktop clearly, but the ability to take this with you on an airplane, in the car or whatever you’re trying to do and seeing it. Would it be great to have a native application? Sure. But for what we’re needing as an internal use case, that didn’t make dollars and cents to us, right?

 

Eric Ristow:

What we get out of it and the ability to access information in real time is still available there. As Dave has put in fantastic design elements in there, is this a commercial grade, public facing application? I think we could all agree that no, we’re trying to purvey data that allows for actionable insights for end users to make decisions based off of.

 

Dan:

Well, I think it’s a focused approach, right?

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah.

 

Dan:

And it’s very much understanding what needs to be done, prioritizing that investment where it needs to be prioritized. We’ve talked over the years about whether it should have a native mobile app or if it should stick with the responsive approach. I think eventually, it’s all about what’s the right focus for the investment. It didn’t really make sense to do native. Of course, we’d love to build you whatever you’d like, but it never really made sense.

 

Eric Ristow:

It didn’t. Could we put money and investment into building a native application? Yes. Then we’d have to go maintain it, right? We’d have to get approval from Apple and Google with every change. That’s become a little bit more difficult going forward as well and the trade off there is we can add additional KPIs. We can put in a top customer table in one of these KPIs so people can really look at what their mix is and how different customers are comparing to each other, or even facilities comparing against each other. So there’s a lot that we’re still trying to do as far as heightening awareness and being able to use this as a comparison tool that really creating a native application would have detracted from.

 

Tobi:

So shifting gears a little bit, I was telling Dave and Dan before the show that the more like I read about Lineage, the more I kind of just like the company as a company. We’ve talked a lot about purpose-driven companies and that’s something personally, I’m passionate about at Detroit Labs. One of the biggest reasons I work here is we’re a people first company, and that’s our purpose, that’s our mission. For Lineage, I know it was to feed the world and talking about in a situation like COVID and how that just to feed the world has been very amplified in things like share a meal, a hundred million meals. Can you just share how impactful and how powerful it is to work and be doing this kind of very purpose-driven work. Yes, it’s great to make money, but sometime and all the time, like pursuing purpose is so impactful. Can you just share a little bit about that?

 

Eric Ristow:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question, Tobi. We’re here to partner with everyone that’s passionate about food and ensuring that food avoids the landfill at all costs and gets into people’s mouths. If we can’t get into their mouths, let’s move it down that the food pyramid to repurposing it for animal feed, using it to generate electricity and then finding other use cases for it.

 

Eric Ristow:

But in particular, in this environment, it’s been exceptionally challenging, right? There’s a lot of just dead ends in the food supply chain that haven’t existed before. We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with a bunch of individuals and organizations to really meet our campaign of a hundred million meals that we’re going to provide for free. So we partnered with the likes of Steph Curry.

 

Eric Ristow:

We partner with Patrice Evra from Manchester United. This is a global campaign that we’re trying to do. Feeding America has historically been one of our big partners in this space. The more we can do to support organizations like that, the more we’re fulfilling our mission. Two weeks ago, we diverted 1.1 million airline meals that were just going to go to waste and go to the landfill in the UK and delivered them to homeless shelters all over the United Kingdom. So it’s really being a connector.

 

Eric Ristow:

We’re fortunate enough to sit in the middle of the supply chain space that we see a lot of different stakeholders on both sides of it. We’re happy to play that middleman role and get people connected to ensure that we are diverting food as necessary. Our goal is to minimize food waste, right? There’s a lot of different ways to do that. Whatever we can do, whatever connections we can make, wherever it … people we can get involved, however we can heighten awareness is critical to that mission’s success.

 

Tobi:

Thank you for sharing that. That is really great. Thank you.

 

Dan:

Yeah, that is fantastic. We’ve seen more and more presence on social of Lineage doing that. That’s even more than I’ve seen on social, which is very telling because then that really means that it is for a purpose. It’s not just throwing it out there from a marketing standpoint, which is awesome.

 

Eric Ristow:

For a person like me, it makes me immensely proud to work for this organization. I’m passionate about food waste. I’m passionate about things like metrics one, because it enables us to see where our food is going and to manage elements of food waste. But there’s people in this company just as passionate about it as me. How do we get food that a customer would normally just ask to get thrown into the landfill and ask the customer, “Hey, can we donate this? Can we repurpose this for you? We’ll do the legwork. Just give a sign off on it and we’ll be happy to do that.” We’ve worked with the likes of Subway and Burger King and a lot of Quick Serve restaurants where they’ve had challenges with their food supply chain and been able to donate food as necessary to organizations like Feeding America.

 

Dan:

You mentioned other people in the organization that are passionate about that. I have to say knowing some of them, right? I don’t know everyone over there, but knowing some of them, that is so spot on. Everybody I’ve talked to, at least my relationships over there, they’re very much about the passion of not wasting food, the passion of feeding people. I don’t know that I’ve ever had any conversation where it’s about the dollars coming in, right? That goes all the way up to Jeff, right? Every single time I’ve talked to him, he’s about that same thing. Then he’s about safety in the facilities and that’s just awesome and encouraging.

 

Eric Ristow:

Well, our philosophy is if we do it right, and it’s driven by purpose and we have a sound purpose, then the financials will follow, right? So we’re here to ensure that 30% of our food that historically gets wasted at the end of our supply chain in developed countries or 30 to 40% by some statistics on the front end of the supply chain in underdeveloped countries, that we reduce that number. If the more we can reduce that number, the more we can save in energy and costs and things of that nature for not only ourselves, but for everyone that we partner with.

 

Eric Ristow:

So if we can enable our customers to have visibility into how much they’re wasting or we’re developing new products, like Lineage Length. It’s our customer enablement platform. For them to see and get notifications when their code date is approaching or their food might be expiring and then provide them that option within the application to donate it to an organization like Feeding America, that’s a huge win for us, right? Not only does it save that food, but reduces the environmental impact and the carbon footprint for them as well. And that’s another topic that’s becoming increasingly important for a lot of our customers, especially as we expand globally and to areas like the EU.

 

Dan:

Well, I have to say, not only are we thrilled to be a partner with you, but also, the current Lineage Detroit Labs team. So the metrics one team at Detroit Labs is watching today commenting quite a bit. They are incredibly, incredibly proud to be working with an organization that is focused on something much bigger than dollars coming in. So actually, there’s comments on YouTube from several people.

 

Dan:

I’ll throw it. Tiana’s up, because that’s always fun to throw a comment up from Tiana. So that’s fantastic. We appreciate the partnership. We’ve enjoyed working on this project and understanding the fact that it’s not just a project, it’s a product and we’ve been working on this for years and it’s fantastic to see how much it’s impacting your business and how much people look to it on a daily basis.

 

Eric Ristow:

The partnership with Detroit Labs has been invaluable to our organization. There no question. You guys really get what we’re trying to do. You bought in early. You’ve listened. You’ve learned and the tool has evolved and grown in that direction. Having great people on the team like Tiana who’s, I think, been here since the outset has really made this work, right? It takes a lot less oversight and a lot less energy on our part as the customer to really convey our messages when there’s folks like Tiana working on that, who get our business and have been there and can think about it in ways that we would personally think about it as well.

 

Eric Ristow:

So it’s been a fantastic partnership. Literally, when we do our town halls there’s, in some sense, a before and after metrics one, right? This is the year that we launched metrics one. This is where we transformed our business from just trying to aggregate data and spreadsheets to really being on the forefront of how we purvey and surface data to our end users. That has led us to different avenues and continues to grow in our organization with every product that we’re building.

 

Eric Ristow:

So things like Lineage Link, our supply chain platform enabling tool to Leno S which is our operating system that sits on top of our WMSs, all of these things have the foundation into what metrics one was the first to really build on and that’s consuming data out of our data lake in a normalized, reliable and accurate fashion. So it was really a pioneering effort that we did as a team. And it’s been such a fruitful and productive relationship. Lineage as a company, wouldn’t be here without the support of Detroit Labs.

 

Dan:

Well, thank you very much. We truly appreciate that. I promise, for anyone tuning in, we did not ask Eric to say that. He came to that on his own, and that’s fantastic and we appreciate it. We’ve had a great time working with lineage. It’s been really inspiring to see metrics one’s growth and we’re looking forward to continuing to work together. You’re an amazing company.

 

Dan:

The team loves working with you personally, which is always great to have somebody on the other end. With that, I think we’re going to wrap it up. Eric, believe it or not, it’s been streaming for 34 minutes. It never feels like…  Exactly. So we’re going to wrap this thing up. Eric, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. You get the honor of being the first external guest on Labs Live, so-

 

Eric Ristow:

My pleasure.

 

Dan:

All right, don’t forget to go to our social channels. Make sure you like us, reshare us, comment. This stuff’s going to be available afterwards. We will be back live on Friday for the Friday 15. Again, that’s a reminder. That’s just kind of our fun little show where we talk to Detroit Labs team members that come in and out, nice and fast. It’s only 15 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on what we want to do because we control the stream. Tobi, do you want to play us out?

 

Tobi:

Oh, for real?

 

Dan:

And with that, we will see you later. Thanks Eric.