Warehousing and Distribution

Male employee who is visually impaired checking bins in warehouse

Last week, we posted about the critical kitting services some NIB associated agencies are providing to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). But putting together kits and supplies for the troops is only half of the story — materials need to be delivered to the field. That’s where NIB associated agencies experienced in warehousing and distributing supplies to DLA come into play.

Industries of the Blind (IOB) in Greensboro, North Carolina, entered the DLA warehouse and distribution business in 1995. “At the time, we knew that if a soldier needed a single lightbulb, he or she would submit a request to DLA and DLA would ship an entire case,” explains Richard Oliver, director of community outreach and government relations. “We told DLA that we could break the case and send the single lightbulb the customer needed.”

Today, IOB warehouses and distributes not only light bulbs, but also springs, wire ropes, cables, and chains of all sizes. The order fulfillment process uses integrated software systems to receive and process orders and a cadre of dedicated employees working together to pick, pack, and ship. IOB’s warehouse and distribution center fulfills an average of 600 orders each day, says Oliver.

IOB is proud of its track record for meeting or exceeding DLA guidelines for processing orders. “Our internal goal is to have every order processed and shipped within 24 hours. We meet that internal goal 99 percent of the time, a metric all warehouse and distribution employees are extremely proud of” says Oliver.

“A government official once told me that IOB’s warehouse and distribution center was 54 percent more efficient than when they ran it,” says Oliver. “Our work has saved government labor and warehouse dollars.”

When IOB opened its warehouse, it was 80,000 square feet and employed 12 people. Over the years, they’ve expanded to 150,000 square feet and 38 employees. “We’ve worked hard to make as many positions as possible accessible to employees who are blind,” notes Oliver.

Jolie Harding, who has been with IOB since 1990, recalls moving to the warehouse and distribution center as a shipping and receiving clerk when it was “an empty shell.” Harding worked her way up to her current position of EDI programmer, where she serves as the go-to for employees who need help troubleshooting a software issue.

“The work we do here is so important,” says Harding. “We’ve seen Desert Storm, Afghanistan, 9/11. Troops can’t move if they don’t have the materials they need. A single lightbulb can ground an aircraft.”

Daryl Wells has seen the value of warehouse and distribution center operations from both sides. Wells, who served in the military until a head injury left him legally blind, joined IOB in 2004 and moved to the warehouse and distribution center in 2006.

Like Harding, he learned new skills and took on responsibilities to his reach his current supervisory position, where he ensures work orders meet quality standards and keep moving. “Having served in the military, I know first-hand how important it is to have supplies delivered quickly and accurately,” says Wells.

These days, the agency is leveraging its expertise to produce and distribute face masks to the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, Army National Guard, and the ROTC at the Citadel in South Carolina to protect soldiers, airmen, and students against COVID-19.

Wells is proud to continue serving his country as part of the IOB team. “We have a great staff,” he says. “We all take great pride in what we do. We really are a family.”