More than a good news story
Wallara Logistics supports employees of all abilities and the results are rewarding
We visit the Melbourne facility of Wallara Logistics to nd out more about how the business operates
It’s a sunny, late winter’s day when ATN visits Wallara Logistics in Melbourne’s south- eastern suburb of Keysborough. But the sun is also shining inside the warehouse for a unique group of workers who are getting more out of their employment than just a pay cheque at the end of the week.
Wallara Logistics is an arm of Wallara, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1959 that now provides meaningful employment to people with intellectual disabilities.
But don’t jump to conclusions. General manager Garry Baker is quick to point out he doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea about what the organisation is about. While it might be all heart, their real heart lies in providing a top-quality, measureable 3PL service.
“We’re not standing out front holding a ‘Please help us’ sign. We market ourselves as a commercial operation,” he says.
The 3PL side of the organisation is relatively new, beginning at a micro level in 2010. But its growth has been fast. The warehouse space now covers more than 8000 square metres. Business has grown more than 400 per cent in six years, and boasts some enviable contracts.
Baker puts this down to attention to detail, a hands-on approach and a clear understanding that KPIs and customer testimonials win contracts, not appeals to charity.
“We sell on commercial grounds,” he says. “There’s not one customer who has come to us because of social or corporate responsibility. Our nice backstory is second.”
“We used to be referred to in the dim, dark ages as a sheltered workshop,” Baker says.
The new business model revolves around
people with disabilities engaging with the workforce and the community to make them equal with anyone else in the community.
“That means doing a meaningful job and feeling part of the community. That builds their self-esteem.”
The workers with disabilities are called “supported workers”. The organisation also employs full-award staff to supervise and do quality-control checking.
“We don’t call it ‘ disabilities’ here. We call it ‘ different abilities’.” Operations manager Simon O’Brien chimes in: “Or ‘ diffabilities’.”
It’s not just a feel-good phrase, either. If you know how to harness it right, ‘diffabilities’ often give a better result.
The logistics arm of Wallara is divided into assembly and packaging in one warehouse, and 3PL warehousing in the other two. The supported workers in assembly and packaging run a production line of packing, labelling, gluing and making up retail products for a diverse range of customers. While it might be considered repetitive and tedious for some, it’s work that suits the skill set of the supported workers, Baker says.
The supported workers demonstrate a high degree of accuracy and aptitude for the tasks, owing largely to their unwavering dedication to following instructions.
“People with different abilities tend to listen to what you say,” explains Baker. They don’t try to cheat the system or try to find a shortcut. Once you give them a process, they stick to that process.”
This results in high accuracy when it comes to warehousing, according to Baker. It’s a matter of psyche. Whereas to save time you or I might scan one box eight times when picking eight boxes of the same item, a supported worker will always scan every box individually. Everything is an individual pick.
“It takes longer but it’s more accurate,” Baker says. “Our customers love our accuracy.”
Supervisors also do a quantity check on a scan-pick before it’s packed, with everything having a secondary check.
“We know it’s been picked 100 per cent because of our process. There are SOPs for everything we do.”
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
Baker’s predecessor and the previous CEO signed a 10-year lease on the Keysborough building in 2010, then left the organisation. Baker stepped in, effectively inheriting a decade-long lease and no business.
“We were lucky to get our first customer,” says Baker, which was the collectable toy Beanie Kids. “And in 18 months we’d outgrown our factory, so we leased a second building next door.”
Over the next two years Wallara marketed heavily and won more customers, filling its 3500-square-metre space. The big Mary Kay contract came in 2014, and they’re currently going through a contract renewal.
One of the challenges any 3PL logistics organisation faces is convincing potential customers to use a 3PL in the third place.
Wallara markets its pitch as, “We love doing the jobs you don’t.”
This is particularly true for the assembly and packaging side of the business. As mentioned, one of Wallara’s major clients is Mary Kay Cosmetics. Out on the assembly floor, raw cosmetic products arrive and are readied for assembly into retail packs. Tables are set up in a communal area and the supported are each assigned a task.
Above: Supported workers in the packaging and assembly warehouse
Top: Wallara’s Logistic’s 10-tonne Fuso tautliner Opposite: Wallara Logistics general manager Garry Baker