Built From the Right Materials: A Look Inside DEC's Stores & Warehouse Department

DEC's current warehouse was built in 2017, and stores all the Co-ops' materials used to maintain the electrical system.

One of the most interesting things about working at DEC is seeing all the employees, who make up the Co-op’s various departments, work together to create a utility our members can count on. Like a sports team, no one “player” is more valuable than the other, and each is integral to attaining the goal of providing efficient, reliable electric to our service area. While the general public is quick to recognize our lineworkers for all they do to maintain the lines that keep their lights on, it’s important to note that their ability to build and repair the system is inherently tied to the diligent work and support of their employee family back at headquarters. In a case of Co-op success, you won’t find a truer example than the employees working in Delaware Electric’s stores and warehouse department.

“In a nutshell, we supply everything that is used to build and maintain our lines,” manager of purchasing and stores Ben Hastings says. All the equipment lineworkers need to complete their daily projects has to be ordered, stocked and its supply replenished to keep up with demands. As the Co-op continues to grow with over 110,000 meters on our system, those demands have followed suit.

“The more we have out there, the more we have to maintain,” Hastings says. “And that means we have to have the materials on hand to maintain our lines and maintain service for our members.”

Managing supply stocks is a constant balancing act, one that requires Hastings to serve as liaison between several different departments to ensure orders are accurate, as well as affordably priced.

“My job is to find the material, get it at the cheapest price I can get it and get it here fast,” Hastings says. “On one side, we are dealing with engineering because we have to prepare the work, and then we’re dealing with operations because those guys have to build the jobs. We also deal directly with the accounting department because we have to communicate – money-wise – what’s going in and what’s going out, and even the work orders. We are also tied with dispatch to a certain degree, because of those service orders. You know, there are broken poles and things like that, things we have to communicate back and forth about.”

Much like at other utilities across the country, DEC’s stores and warehouse department has been heavily impacted by current supply chain issues. According to Hastings, material shortages have forced him and warehouse staff to look even more critically at supply stockpiles when determining the prioritization of jobs. While DEC understands the frustrations these delays cause members, the Co-op must also acknowledge its responsibility to carefully manage our necessary, regularly – needed supplies.

“It’s affected us all over the place, from the availability of materials to the cost of it, and it’s really put the brakes on everything,” Hastings says. “We’re not pulling work orders unless we have the material to replace what we use, because we can’t release everything we have to do those jobs without backup supplies. If we did, and then we had a storm or something catastrophic, we would be stuck.”

Hastings came to the Co-op with prior warehouse experience, previously working at N.K.S. Distributors. It was there that he developed his own personal system for supply management.

“Attention to detail was key there, so that’s what I brought into this role,” Hastings says. “I was keeping a closer eye on things, tightening up inventory. So, when we moved from the old warehouse to the big warehouse where we are at today, I tried to put some of those practices to work.”

Senior accounting clerk Kim Dorey says that the department has changed significantly since she joined the team in 2012, and not only in terms of the warehouse’s size.

“We went from that small storage room to the very large warehouse we have now, and it has evolved a lot,” Dorey says. “We keep a lot more material on-hand now, and we have many more members.”

Dorey’s job is important to the daily functions of the stores department, focusing on inventory as well as financials.

“I oversee accounts payable, which means I make sure we are only invoiced for the material that comes in,” Dorey says. “I also work with adjusting the inventory if we have a discrepancy. I help with the fiscal inventory, and I help any of the warehouse guys when they call. I work with any aspect of material inventory. Basically, my job is all about working with the materials, the numbers, and the guys. We are a team.”

Dorey says stores and warehouse plays a critical role in DEC’s ability to perform at the top level within the utility industry. Working together with operations and engineering, it serves as a backbone to the electrification process.

“If we don’t have the material, we can’t do the work,” Dorey says. “So when our linemen go out, they can do the job, but only if they have that necessary material.”

Just as the rest of DEC depends on Hastings and Dorey for their precise material management, they both depend on the team working in the warehouse to run a tight ship, too. S & E controller Harry Mulrine, along with stockman Bart Tucker and stockman helper Trey Ramey, agree that in their line of work, the importance of running an efficient work environment cannot be underestimated.

“We keep a close eye on all the inventory levels. Especially now with all the issues in getting materials, it’s very important that our numbers are accurate,” Mulrine says.

Maintaining accuracy relies heavily on warehouse staff’s efficiency – running regular checks on inventory and constantly restocking depleted supplies.

“Anything that comes in, from janitorial stuff to materials for the line crews, it all comes through here,” Mulrine says. “Most of it gets received on the computer into a live inventory. Every morning, operations sends us an email with all the work orders that are supposed to be completed for the day, and then the crews will come in with their work orders, get their stuff and head out for the day.”

It's then Mulrine’s job to charge that used material to the appropriate work order, keeping everything accounted for. Mulrine says this part of the job becomes a challenge when an overnight crew comes in for materials after hours. When an emergency strikes or an outage occurs in the middle of the night, crews have to access the warehouse when regular staff isn’t onsite. In the morning, it can be difficult to piece together who took what. According to Mulrine, that is precisely why technology is critical to warehouse work.

“When I came out here, everything was on paper,” Mulrine says. “Now, we have iPads with scanners to help manage inventory. Our crews can send in reports – their name, truck number, work order, all of that – right as they are doing it. Then it goes to us and dispatch, too, for insurance purposes. It’s a big plus, the technology in general. We’re able to use it more to our advantage.”

Regardless of the meticulous, and sometimes stressful work, Mulrine says the people he works with make it all worthwhile.

“My favorite part is getting to talk to all the people,” Mulrine says. “When we’re on a delivery, we get to go visit up in the office, talk to people in operations and talk to all the guys stopping by the warehouse in the morning. We get to stay in the loop of everything that’s going on.”

Similarly, Ramey says the familiarity between coworkers and departments helps employees feel connected. No matter what their skill or talent, they add to the Co-op’s betterment overall.

“What I enjoy most is we’re like a family,” Ramey says. “We have our up-days and our down-days – everyone does – but for the most part when we leave at the end of the day, we tell each other to have a good night. I feel like everybody brings something different to the table. It’s a well-rounded deal.”

A company is great not because of its accolades, but because of the people who work there every day. DEC is no different. Without stores and warehouse, there would be no supplies for line crews. Without supplies, line crews can’t build the engineers’ designs. Without designs, there is no power. Fortunately, the Co-op has been built with just the right amount of all the right materials to power our members for many years to come.