Meet and Greet with Fabrics and Crafts
Daniel and I had the opportunity and were invited to visit Jo-Ann Head Office in Hudson, Ohio earlier this week. We’ve met with the Jo-Ann Buyers of yarn earlier this year and were invited to see how they operate to bring yarn to stores near our Crochet Crowders. Out of respect of privacy, I am going to withhold the names of our contacts. They know who they are and they have a dear place in our hearts.
A Bit of History
I’ve not made it any secret, I didn’t know much about Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts. Upon being invited I did a search to learn more. Established in 1943 by German immigrants, Hilda and Berthold Reich and their friends Sigmund and Mathilda Rohrbach. Interestingly, the last name of Reich are descendants of myself from Germany on my mothers side. In fact, there is a family re-union each year with the Reich, Hoffarth and Ellig here close to me. Would it be funny if these two are part of my family tree.
The original store started as importing cheese in Cleveland Store and added Fabrics as an option. It did so well that they opened a second location but with no extra money. They would buy inventory and split it up between the two stores. They came to discontinue the cheese side of their business and kept the fabrics. In fact, the first name wasn’t Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts at all, it was the Cleveland Fabric Shop.
In 1969, they decided to expand more and the name Cleveland Fabric Shop was discontinued. The families decided to combine the names of their daughters together. With Joan and Jacqueline Ann as their names, Jo-Ann was created which is a combination of the daughter’s names.
Fast Forward to Today
Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts now has over 850 stores USA wide in 49 states. With three distribution centres to service all of the USA. The main distribution is in Hudson, Ohio, in the north, which is also the same location as the corporate office. A west coast distribution in Visalia, California and southern USA in Opelika, Alabama.
Hudson, Ohio is the main distribution of all three servicing about half of the entire chain and the other two are smaller and service stores closer to those two locations.
The entire chain has about 23,000 team members that keep the entire chain operational. Everything from head office, distribution centers and store associates that keep those shelves stocked.
I’ve never been to a retailer head office before. I was blown away by the size of the office and distribution center. To say it’s massive is an understatement. In fact, they have bike stands strategically in front of the buildings for the employees to use to take bikes back and forth as the office is so big that it’s easier to jump on a bike and pedal to the next area instead of walking.
Boasting 1.5 Million Square Feet, it’s incredibly big. It’s a workout to move from one area to another.
Of course, I chose a bike that was wrapped in yarn. They are free for the staff to use and you see staff members pedaling back and forth.
The office portion has about 800 employees alone. I was floored on the endless areas decided to each component of Jo-Ann’s operations. It never occurred to me that such much planning is involved.
The Fake Jo-Ann Store
While on a tour, we passed through double doors and I thought I had walked into a Jo-Ann Store. But I didn’t remember there being a store in this area of the facility. Staged like a real Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts Store. Of course, like a dummy I ask, “Is this a real store?”
At one time, it used to be a real store but the space was saved to make a mock up store. Other than Cash Registers missing, the set up is nearly identical to a real store. There isn’t the attention to wide aisles as it appears more condensed with usually just 1 item on the shelf complete with shelving. With peg boards, there is 1 item of each on each peg to represent the product that should be stocked fully at the store.
Here, you could see team members re-arranging products on peg boards or adjusting shelves as the products or seasons change. With over 67,000 different items that Jo-Ann carries, attention to space and planning is highest priority.
From here, once the planning is done and approved. Pictures are taken of the display and instructions and stores affected with the changes are notified to change their shelves. This location is the stage set up for what Jo-Ann’s should appear like to the customer.
Sizes of Stores
Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts have been evolving since it’s creation. Stores constantly getting bigger but there are a lot of stores that are in the ‘right location’ and have space limits. We see in social media that people complain some locations have less yarn than others.
There are many different sizes of an official Jo-Ann Store. The Super Store is the biggest Jo-Ann Stores currently but with many other sizes of stores, the smaller stores cannot carry all 67,000+ products that they offer. It’s a space issue more than anything.
So each department has to have a different format for each size location. So for yarn, shelving space is considered. Not just for yarn, but for all departments. Choices need to be limited to what the store can safely hold. While it would be fabulous that every store has the same size yarn aisles, truth is, there’s more to crafts than just yarn. I know, it’s hard to believe.
So in smaller stores, some yarn is eliminated from choice but keep in mind that all other genres they carry also have reduced choices. So it’s not personal, it’s practical.
Part of our tour was a tour hour walk through and information session on how products get to Jo-Ann and work its’ way through the warehouse to be received and stored to satisfying the needs of the customer at the store.
My college education was all about product handling, product inventory and conveyor systems. To say I was in “awe” is an understatement. I kept mumbling to myself, “Holy Cow!”, “Oh Wow”, “You’re Kidding Me”. I could have stayed there all day.
What feels like miles and miles of conveyors to move product automatically around the warehouse. You hear the conveyors rolling as boxes travel near the roof top over your head from sections to sections directly to the trailer that is going to the store.
It’s like a super highway with incredible intelligence, real time response and more.
Intelligence in Real-Time from Store to Distribution
You would not believe how intelligent the Jo-Ann Computer Systems are. Direct from distribution to stores.
- Jo-Ann orders product from the manufacturers, Caron Yarns. It’s delivered to Jo-Ann.
- Jo-Ann receivers inspect everything and enter it with scanners. Once ready, the computers assign the fork lift operators to get the product and tell them where to put it. It’s all voice activated. Everyone is wearing a head set and the computers talk to all of the employees by themselves. Instead of typing so much, the operators are giving the computer instructions and the computer is giving them further instructions in return. It’s fascinating.
The Plannogram Room where the head office team members set up the display that I spoke on earlier knows how many products will sit on a shelf. It has contingency for a bit of overstock so the store can manage to keep the shelf full until the next truck arrives. The assignment of product location in the store and how much the store can hold at any one time is in the Jo-Ann Computer Systems.
When the product is assigned to a store. The computers know what each store should have. Each store inventory is known by the computer. It also knows how much yarn is in the warehouse.
- As the yarn begins to be sold to the customer. The stock at the store will deplete down. When the stock inventory hits a set number of minimum on the shelf, it will signal the distribution computer to add the item to the next truck if there is room.
- So essentially, all 850 stores are automatically reporting instantly through their systems without any human hands to tell the computer to send more.
- The computer is also intelligent to know if a product is beginning to sell better than expected. It will notice trends. So suddenly we all go to Jo-Ann and buy Bernat Blanket Yarn over the next week. It will set off a trend alert and increase inventory to the store to keep the stock maintained to prevent sell out at the store quicker.
Back at the Distribution Centre
So let’s say the Bernat Blanket Yarn went low in the picture display above. It hit the level where stock needs to be added to the store. The computer automatically adds the item to the list that needs to be delivered on the next truck.
In the warehouse, all yarn is kept in the packages to protect them.
- When the store truck is being loaded, the warehouse staff are told by the computer in their headsets to go to this section and get a selected number of balls to get the inventory back up to it’s set level at the store.
- The operators will either place the balls into a plastic bin that is recycled back to the Jo-Ann Distribution or if there is big enough quantities, the products are left in the box and the entire box is shifted.
- The operators then place the filled box onto the conveyor with a special bar code sticker on the top of the box.
- It’s scanned and the computer knows it’s on the conveyor. Along with 1000’s of boxes on the conveyor. The conveyor speeds through the warehouse. The conveyor and computers knows exactly the location of the box as it travels at incredible speeds throughout the warehouse. That’s phenomenal on it’s own.
- It eventually gets to where the trailers are and scanned. It goes down a super highway conveyor and the conveyor is intelligent and gently pushes the box to the right conveyor that goes directly into the truck where staff is hand loading the trailer.
- From here… the computer signals that the item is now on the way to the store. Once at the store, the store associates scan the boxes and it tells the computer they have it and the computer knows it’s arrived and resets the inventory at the store.
So you will come along and buy the yarn. Once the minimums once again hit, you will automatically trigger the next truck to bring more to the store.
When inventory runs low at the inventory. It will signal back to order more yarn from Caron where the cycle begins all over again. It’s amazing how much intelligence is involved.
Meeting Jill Soltau, CEO of Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts
Along with our tour, we met many great people that help make Jo-Ann operational behind the scenes. We had an opportunity to meet Jill Soltau.
It was casual and fun. We shared a bit about our community and our mission to be inclusive. We are blunt on how we founded The Crochet Crowd on the need to find ourselves as we use crochet to deal with situations as therapy. Explaining that many of our community members are part of our community have found crochet in the similar manner of seeking creativity to deal the deck of cards we are given with. I realized it sounded somber and apologized if it sounds depressive but it’s a reality of how I came to crochet and how I use it to self heal.
Jill explained the mission of Jo-Ann of helping customers to find their “Happy Place”. She was beyond inspirational my friends. So inspirational, I began to tear up. It was almost embarrassing for me but she just hit my heart so hard. In all of the years we have run The Crochet Crowd, in nearly all circumstances, we approached from a money making point of view before anything. I have never heard a company that sees the customers’ needs from nearly the same point of view of The Crochet Crowd. I felt like she was talking directly to my heart. I was choked up with a shaking voice, that’s our mission of seeing our communities feelings and filling the needs of emotional connection to crochet.
Suddenly, the feeling of the boardroom disappeared and it just all connected like a solved jig saw puzzle together for me.
We flew in and it was a whirlwind. Jo-Ann organized a store visit for us which was a lot of fun. I was floored on how many people showed up and the enthusiasm from the crocheters.
See all of the photos we took. Jo-Ann Store Visit.
I was frankly overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start. My mission during live events is to listen, engage and connect with those who show up. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. Stretching from the front entrance to the back of the store to framing.
Over all, my impression with Jo-Ann from a corporate point of view to the store level was amazing. Everyone at Jo-Ann is important from head office to store associate levels. Everyone plays an extremely important part of the puzzle which keeps them an incredible retailer.
We know our visit to Jo-Ann Corporate is a rare occurrence, especially for our side of the community. While walking through the office, you can feel the sense of community as departments have their own challenges and community spirit. I will explain that in more detail in another article.
While at Jo-Ann, I definitely found my “Happy Place” and I hope you do as well. We thank our contacts for the laughs and engagement. We appreciated their time immensely and thanks for giving us a behind the scenes view.