How Tech Has Helped Lead Parts Town To Massive Growth

Mike Sajdak, CIO of Parts Town
The IT department has been at the forefront of the foodservice equipment distributor’s rise from mom and pop to a $1 billion global company, says Mike Sajdak, CIO.

Technology has been critical to the enormous growth Parts Town has experienced over the years, according to Mike Sajdak, CIO of the Addison, Illinois-based company. He spoke with StrategicCIO360 about how Parts Town is implementing emerging technologies, how it used tech to thrive during the pandemic and why the company focuses on quality, not speed, during acquisitions.

How has Parts Town leveraged emerging technologies and data-driven approaches to scale up?

At Parts Town, innovation is one of our six core values. We fully utilize emerging technologies to deliver critical products, information and innovation to the foodservice industry and beyond. Digital orders represent over 70 percent of our total orders at Parts Town, which has driven our need to invest so much into innovation.

For example, our contact center is fully integrated with our CRM solution and we employ robotic material handling and workforce optimization in our distribution center, which has resulted in a four to five times improvement in efficiency. These technologies are what allows our team members to help support hundreds of thousands of restaurants and commercial kitchens across the country.

Over a decade ago, we made a promise to our customers that we would lead the industry in speed—if you place an order by 9 p.m., we will ship it within the same day. And although we have now doubled in size several times, we have been able to keep this promise by scaling our distribution center operations and implementing new technologies over the past 10 years.

In 2017, we invested in AutoStore, a goods-to-person automated storage and retrieval system acquired from Bastian Solutions that was relatively new at the time. The system is integrated with our warehouse management software from HighJump (now Körber). Through the new system, we were able to drive a four to five times labor savings on picking with two to three times more accuracy. During the pandemic, our team relied on innovation to overcome numerous business challenges. Through AutoStore, as well as additional technology solutions, we were able to create a system robust enough to absorb multiple disruptive events and continually meet our customers’ expectations.

What role have acquisitions played in this growth and what is the responsibility of the CIO in enabling a smooth transition when an acquired company’s technology is integrated with Parts Town’s existing IT infrastructure?

I actually joined Parts Town through an acquisition of my previous company, Heritage Food Service Group. Parts Town recognizes that each acquisition or merger comes with talented people, a unique culture and values. Parts Town focuses on integrating the two teams, often retaining best practices from the acquired organization and implementing them across Parts Town.

Acquisitions have been a major driver of growth at Parts Town. To be successful, we focus on technology standardization across the company. Any new company added to Parts Town is brought into our current infrastructure and cybersecurity standards. This way we can ensure that any new addition meets our rigorous standards. For Parts Town, the focus is on quality, not speed. Of course, we want to integrate acquired companies to realize the benefits, and we will set an aggressive plan for success.

How was Parts Town able to use innovative technology during the pandemic to keep team members safe while also exceeding stakeholder expectations?

Another one of our six core values is safety, so we knew we needed to find ways to keep our team members safe while still providing an uninterrupted experience for our customers. Although going remote at the start of the pandemic was challenging, we were able to fully flip to a remote work model for our corporate office team within three weeks.

Our team members were able to fully use our contact center and back-office systems to keep everyone connected to the company. Over time, we improved conferencing and video capabilities, outfitted meeting rooms with video conferencing to support remote and hybrid environments, and supplied all of our team members with laptops—not only to support remote workers, but for business continuity.

To keep our distribution center open, our team quickly designed and implemented additional safety protocols such as temperature taking stations, Covid-19 testing stations and extra precautions including increased social distancing between DC staff and partitions to mitigate the spread of the virus. We have a network of video cameras and DVRs throughout our main distribution center which allows for contact tracing throughout the pandemic. We also brought in food to make it easier for employees to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Parts Town was able to adapt quickly to meet the remote challenges during the pandemic, and every step of the way we have worked to emphasize safety, because if we don’t keep our people safe, nothing else matters. 

What could other CIOs learn from Parts Town’s emergency response to pandemic-driven challenges?

My biggest piece of advice for other CIOs is, when challenges are faced, you need to move quickly—and part of that is having strong vendor management relationships. For example, during the pandemic we still needed to receive new equipment and we needed it fast, specifically laptops, switches, routers and so on, in order to support our remote employees. By keeping those beneficial relationships with our partners, we were able to receive the necessary infrastructure to support our remote workforce.

We have also taken this lesson and implemented it into our scalable infrastructure by continuing the evolution to cloud-based access and solutions where it makes sense to do so. An additional piece of advice is to invest in a comprehensive cybersecurity program so your organization doesn’t have an uphill battle when business issues arise. 

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