by Tom Gaylord
exclusively for PyramydAir.com. Copyright ©2009 All Rights Reserved
There's a video at the end of this article. Be sure you have your speakers turned on!
In the summer of 2009, Pyramyd Air moved from their space in Bedford Heights, Ohio, to a 22,000-square-foot industrial building they bought in nearby Warrensville Heights. Owning their own building allows them to modify the interior to suit their internet-based wholesale and retail airgun distribution and sales operation.
Before moving in, the interior was carefully planned for the optimum flow of products in and out of the building. Security is always a concern in a sales operation, and Pyramyd Air installed high-tech access and visual monitoring throughout the operations area. Though a large number of products both enter and leave each day, every entry and exit is secure. And, the packing area is kept clean through the constant movement of orders and materials. For example, the shipping boxes that once overflowed into the aisles at their old location are now stored directly above the packing and shipping area. Only the required boxes are brought down a conveyer from the second floor as they are needed. The company makes a lot of its own packing materials on site with machinery that runs continuously throughout each of the daily shifts.
I was invited to attend their Open House in August, where I had the opportunity to film the operation for you. I hadn't filmed the interior of Pyramyd Air since my visit in 2006, and the company sales had doubled in the three years since that time, so this was a wonderful opportunity to show everyone the inside story the way it stands in 2009.
Inside the building
The new warehouse area consists of a large and small warehouse room. Packing is on the fringe of the rooms, and shipping/receiving is located in an adjoining space. Above the packing floor, the shipping boxes and other packing materials are stored and a conveyer brings them down as needed.
One of many racks of pellets in the new buildling.
The products in both warehouses are arranged by category and by manufacturer/importer/distributor within the category. A large supplier like Umarex will have products in many different places. The "pickers," as they're called, are the people who take the orders into the warehouse to select the types and quantities of items requested on the order. They wear an electronic gadget on their wrist that connects them to the dynamic database that runs the entire inventory operation. When they pick an item off the shelves, they update the inventory so the purchasing department knows what their quantities are for each item at all times. The folks in the call center also know at a glance when an item is in stock or not. With thousands of products being shipped and received every day, a system like this is mandatory for control of the huge and dynamic inventory.
Pickers take their filled orders to the packers, who do not move from their stations. They leave the orders in piles at the stations, along with the documentation, so the packers know which products are going to whom. One of the packers is designated to get the shipping boxes down for all the packers as they are needed, which means going up to the second floor directly above the shipping floor and sending hundreds of flat boxes down the conveyer to the first floor, where they're put onto a cart and distributed to each of the many packers. It's impossible to say how many packers there are, because their numbers increase and decrease throughout the day as the workflow swells and subsides; but in August, when I was there, five packers were employed during the day. In busy seasons, that number will more than double, and how the company manages to do that is a management accomplishment of great proportions; but in the world of wholesale/retail operations, it's something that has to be achieved.
One of 17 pallets that arrived on the day I was there. Everything must be inventoried and put on shelves.
On the shipping and receiving docks, the trucks have to be managed as well. Thousands of boxes go out to customers each day, along with dozens of pallets and other larger cartons to hundreds of Pyramyd Air dealers. These outgoing parcels go right past the incoming stream of endless pallets and boxes from vendors replenishing supplies in the warehouse. I took the time to stand and watch it all and could see a slow ballet involving dozens of people and multiple companies--all working toward the same single purpose of getting you the airguns and related products you want in the fastest time.
Remembering back to the summer of 2006, when the daily shipment total might have only been 400-600 a day, I marveled that the company was able to keep up with its current volume in the old digs in Bedford Heights just a few months before. It was obvious, even to a casual observer like me, that the capacity of the former warehouse had been exceeded and the operation had been held together with determination and long hours before the new streamlined building became operational.
There are many facets of technical support, all aimed toward the same goal of keeping the customer satisfied. No doubt, when you think of tech support, you think of repairs, and the company is set up to accomplish them rapidly and thoroughly. But, there are also those customer questions that the sales force cannot answer, such as "Will the scope you want really fit and function on your rifle?" Or, what kind of fitting do you need to go from this hand pump to that air pistol?
Making big bore bullets is another tech support job.
Another unnoticed part of tech support is the rework of some products before they leave the building. Maybe the manufacturer forgot to install a key washer that tightens the stock or perhaps a certain model gun needs to be 100 percent tested for a function to make sure it operates as the customer expects. Tech support gets the call on these issues and is always working on something behind the scenes.
One big service they can provide is the mounting of a scope and preliminary sight-in. For that, they need a safe range, which was one of the things that was built into the building before they moved in. It gets used a lot, and you'll see it briefly in the video. What you will not see are the safety features, like warning beacons and door signs, that prevent accidental exposure to projectiles. You will also not see the water curtain that continuously flushes the backstop, depositing all lead particles and dust in a trap to be collected for responsible recycling.
The front end
All those airguns don't go out the door by themselves. Something is needed on the front end to start the engine turning. Something that fuels those orders and makes sense of the stuff that's for sale. This other side of the Pyramyd Air operation started out as the efforts of a single person--owner and founder, Joshua Ungier. He has taken the time to document his fascinating story in our daily blog and you might want to read it, if you want to read a real rags-to-riches story. Josh shares his childhood with us in the tale How Pyramyd Air got started - Part 1 and My first shooting experience, giving us a window into the lives of Russian Jews so poor they couldn't afford to pay attention. And, you can also read in How and when Pyramyd Air got started - Part 1 and Part 2 about the chance encounter during a business deal for construction marble and wood that turned the switch on--the switch that resulted in America's largest, most successful airgun dealer.
Josh promises to write more stories about starting the company in his basement, including the stories of the first two employees he hired and what it was like to buy and sell airguns from home. He soon outgrew his house and moved into his first real building, followed by the second move to the familiar Bedford Heights location that he expanded several times over the years. Finally, the overcrowding of five adjoined warehouses proved too much, and he was forced to buy a building. Before construction of the interior was completed, he was already talking about adding on space--something the new building is well suited for.
The call center handles sales for those who don't order online.
In the front offices are the kinds of business folks you might expect--management, accounting, personnel and so on. Then, there are the others you don't typically see in most companies, like the photographer who has a dedicated studio for taking product photos for the internet and all the catalogs, ads and other promotional materials. And not everyone works on site. Pyramyd Air has a distributed editorial staff of employees and contractors who work from their homes in other locations around the world, connecting with the office through the internet. They also farm out some of their website development to outside contractors. For this kind of distributed office to succeed, there has to be self-starter management, where people take responsibility for certain areas without requiring supervision.
Don't think for a minute that the company doesn't get involved in product development. Being on the front lines, talking to the end users all day long sharpens their perspective of what people really want. There's a successful product development team that determines what's needed and then discovers the best way to make it happen. It might be a whole new airgun or it could be a small part that a only tiny fraction of customers want. Things as seemingly small as exotic adapters, key lubricants or CO2 cartridges of an uncommon size are all possible when you listen to the people. That's the part of the operation that separates this airgun company from others who just dabble in airguns, both here and abroad.
The Open House
But airgunners are not the only ones to notice what Ungier has done. Pyramyd Air is located in the middle of America's Rust Belt--that part of the nation that used to be the proud, sweating, brawling community filled with skilled laborers who made goods for the entire world, but today has collapsed into a ghetto of politically enfouled social projects whose largest product is need. In this environment of economic miasma that is northern Ohio, Pyramyd Air was recognized in 2009 as one of the 25 fastest-growing companies in the area. You can read about it in an interview of Ungier in the October 2009 issue of Smart Business magazine.
The Open House was organized to introduce Pyramyd Air to the political structure of their new home in Warrensville Heights. The mayor and chief of police were invited, along with other political figures and the entire local media, who would be given a tour of the new building and introduced to several of Pyramyd Air's largest vendors. Crosman brought four representatives down from New York and Leapers drove in from neighboring Michigan to be on-hand for the occasion. Local business that supply Pyramyd Air with goods and services were also in attendance. I was even flown in from Texas to meet and greet because of my status as the company scribe on the blog, as well as my standing in the airgun community.
Pyramyd Air was well-known to the politicians of Bedford Heights, being a favorite hangout for the police force, of whom Ungier has always been supportive. So, he naturally assumed that, as a fast-growing private employer coming into a community of downsizing businesses and engorged government offices, there would be enough curiosity to bring out the town fathers--at least to scope out the potential tax base, if nothing else. He provided a beautiful spread of catered dishes and a generous open bar to help stimulate the festivities. Tour guides that included me were primed to shepherd groups around, show off the new success and answer questions.
The RSVP response leading up to the day of the Open House was positive, but when the event commenced, Warrensville Heights' finest stayed away en masse. No phone calls explained anything; just the loud steady sound of crickets chirping. It was as if the local gangbangers had been invited to tour the opening of a new police precinct. So, we held the party by ourselves, quietly realizing how this part of the country had gotten into its current predicament.
The Open House was a catered affair for Pyramyd Air vendors and management.
The Crosman sales team listens to Pyramyd Air's projections for the future.
But you don't have to be counted among that group, because I filmed the operation while I was there and I made a short video to walk you around the building. It may be too mundane for a politician, but I'll bet you'll find it interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes at America's largest airgun dealer.