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QuickTalk 4 - BACKORDERS: Is There a Solution?

Without a doubt, one of the commonest complaints received in the past involved backordered items, shipping problems and the like. It is not surprising that after the many hours of debate and logistics to attempt a homebuilt project, the last thing a builder wants are delays. In many cases the purchaser feels cheated for not immediately receiving his goods after such a large investment. QBA has contacted two individuals whose positions make them an integral part of that process. We hope these answers will help you in future dealings with their organization.

/Our first interview is with Ron Lundgren, who heads up the Shipping Department for Quickie Aircraft Corporation. Ron joined QAC in June of 1981 and until then was not directly involved with the homebuilt aircraft movement. We pray that he is a little bit better with parts than he was in sending a photo. (Sorry Ron, but you deserved that.)

Q.B.A.: When you first took over at QAC, did you find that there were problems in the past, as far as backorders?

Lundgren: Yes, we did have a problem. There were no records on it. So as we got mail in, we had to work off that. We had nothing showing that they had any backorders. There were files with nothing in them. Nothing at all - no paper or anything.

Q.B.A.: Do you wish to comment on why that may have existed?

Lundgren: Lousy management. I was very concerned about that, so I sent letters out to the Quickie builders asking them to send me a copy of their backordered items. And we filled those as we went along. It was frustrating for me. I didn't like that at all.

Q.B.A.: How are things going now? How many kits are you putting out per month? I'm sure you expect a large backorder after Oshkosh this year.

Lundgren: There were 730 Q2's that have been sold and 540 Quickies. So there are about 1500 people who want their stuff today. I'm going "Fine, I agree with that, but...." We had a slow period for a while, say 3-4 kits per week, now its up to 6-7 per week and we can see an increase again. By Oshkosh, we should be going crazy again. But we've pretty much got the system down to snuff, so we think we can keep up with it. And we're going to be stockpiling parts. So we don't feel there will be a lot of problems. Now we do have a good record system, if someone is backordered something, we can find it and find what's wrong. It was a good education.

Q.B.A.: Let's talk about shipping times. If a person sends you a check for a particular kit, about how long does it take from the time you receive the check to the time the kit is actually made up and sent out?

Lundgren: It's usually about two weeks because, first of all, the girls will get the money and they will type it up on an invoice and then I get it. Sometimes it may sit on their desks for quite a while - maybe a week, because they have a lot of other work or invoices to type up. By the time I get it, then I put it on another list and ship that to Aircraft Spruce who takes care of the foam, epoxy and all those items. So it's usually about two weeks before anything gets out the door.

Q.B.A.: You mentioned record keeping. What is done now as far as record keeping? Do you have a master list for each builder and an individual file that you pull out and check every individual item?

Lundgren: With each serial number there is an individual file. And everything we ship out we have records of it. If you order a wheel kit, we have a Xerox copy that tells you exactly what you'll have in your kit. We mark down what's backordered. We send one of those to the customer and we keep one copy for our records. Then every time we get a new shipment of materials, we go through that. We keep working off of it and working off of it until it is complete. Then we will send him another copy showing that it is complete.

Q.B.A.: Is the record keeping right now done in a normal filing basis or are you planning to update it sometime in the future to put it on a computer system?

Lundgren: Right now they're trying to get it on computer, but trying to get one going is pretty tough. Tom and Gene aren't really jumping into that one. They're worrying about the around-the-world flight now now.

Q.B.A.: How is that going, by the way?

Lundgren: They've put the flight off until, I think, September. They're having heating problems. The engine gets pretty hot on them.

Q.B.A.: If a builder send in his money, how long should he wait before being concerned about not receiving parts, or after receiving his kit, not receiving his backordered materials?

Lundgren: That's kind of tough because our vendors aren't keeping us well supplied. Some of the items take quite a while to arrive, so it could be anywhere from two weeks to a month before anything would show up. Figure two weeks, then send me a letter or give me a call so can start tracing everything.

Q.B.A.: How do you go about verifying missing parts? When you receive the materials from your vendors, how do you go about knowing who needs those parts?

Lundgren: Again, that's on our backorder list.

Q.B.A.: So when you receive, say an order of AN-5 bolts, you would go through each outstanding kit and see who needed those?

Lundgren: Right. And whoever got their kit first would be completed off before we do somebody that bought their kit tomorrow.

Q.B.A.: If they have a half dozen or dozen items that are backordered, which way is better to contact you - by phone or to write?

Lundgren: Writing, in a letter form. I like to stay off the phone as much as possible and get some of the stuff done.

Q.B.A.: Should they include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE)?

Lundgren: No, that's not necessary. We may not get back with them that same day; it may take two or three days because we have so much to do. There's only two of us back here.

Q.B.A.: When you receive correspondence from people, what is the biggest problem that you have?

Lundgren: What I need is a serial number and a correct address, and preferably phone number - for parts only. If they are going to talk about builder problems, a separate letter needs to be addressed to Tom, Gene or Dave. If I get that back here, with a few parts on it and builder questions - if it gets to them, it will be lucky. Same way if they get it first and there are parts, it gets to be a hassle trying to get it around. A big thing is if they have partners, we like to have one address and only one guy to send it to. Aircraft Spruce has also run into a lot of problems with that.

Q.B.A.: Can you think of anything right off hand that you would like to mention to help builders help themselves when dealing with you?

Lundgren: Yes, as soon as you get the kit, inventory it right away. I like to have a copy of what is missing for backorders within 30 days. There has been a problem with Spruce not marking what is missing, and we've got to have that right away. Then I can call them and adjust their records. We do the same thing.

Q.B.A.: If there is a problem about a part from Aircraft Spruce, should they copy you and Aircraft Spruce?

Lundgren: Yes.

Q.B.A.: Anything else?

Lundgren: A lot of the builders are upset for not getting their parts right away. You've got to understand that during Oshkosh last year there were 200-300 kits sold in one month. So we had a tremendous backlog. We aren't trying to keep parts away from anybody at all. I'll make sure that everybody gets everything that they want in their kit. It just takes time. Like disc brakes, they're made by Hurst and we had an order for three months and we just got the stuff in. It just takes time. I know that's not a legitimate excuse, but it's what I'm looking at.

Q.B.A.: Let's address the problem of shipping. Do you have a lot of comments about items damaged in shipping? Or do you find that a particular shipping line is worse than others?

Lundgren: Yes, we get calls a lot. Roadwaybeats the hell out of everything; they lose things all the time. It puts us in a bad spot because we don't know what to do about it. As soon as we turn it over to a company, they can interline with another company and it's out of our hands. Tracing stuff is tough, because I'll call up the trucking company and tell them, "This item is lost, you picked it up on this date" and they say, "We'll get back to you." Sometimes they don't. I can understand the customer's point of view because they put out $10,000 for a plane, and they torque up when they don't get everything. I can understand that. We had one case where two kits were hijacked. The hijackers took the whole truck and shipped the truck to Hawaii.

Q.B.A.: That doesn't happen every day, does it?

Lundgren: (Laughing) No...we replaced all those things for the people. It was taken care of. When a trucking company delivers a kit, I would like for people to really examine it a lot before they accept it. If it's damaged, they should put the claim in to the trucking company and we'll replace the part. We had a lot of canopies that were torn up...had a forklift go right through the thing.

Q.B.A.: Ron, we've covered quite a bit. Is there any last comment you would like to make?

Lundgren: Just to ask everyone to be patient with us and we'll get everything to them. We can't get everything out at once - the brakes, for example. It's a hunk of aluminum and it takes a long time for the guys to machine it all down. They are bringing up 400 today and we'll still be 100 short.

: Ron, we appreciate your time very much and hope to see you at Oshkosh.

Lundgren: Yes, I'll be there, sure.

Q.B.A.: Going to be taking everyone head on, huh?

Lundgren: (gentle laugh) Yes, that's what Tom said too.

Barbara Warde was hired by Aircraft Spruce almost five years ago specifically to handle the kitting requirements for the new line of Quickie airplanes. Just about every kit sold has gone through Barbara's domain. To most everyone, she is "the Quickie lady".

Q.B.A.: Tell us a little about the background work. I assume that the Quickie organization tells you they have a new builder at "X" location.

Warde: It is basically done on a list and at one time they were waiting until they had a full list before they were mailed to us. It did not help some of the kit builders get their kits as fast as they were hoping, I'm sure. We are basically a distributor for Quickie, so even though they have to purchase their aircraft through Quickie Corporation in Mojave, we wait for the list to come down and they are taken according to the number on the list, not necessarily the serial number. The numbers we see are not in sequence but they are shipped according to the way they come in per that list.

Q.B.A.: Do you have any idea the amount of time it takes from when Quickie receives an order to the time it actually reaches you?

Warde: At one time, unfortunately, we were looking at almost a four-week delay before we saw any of those. Right now, I don't think it's taking longer than 7 days up at Mojave. There are usually just a few on the list. They are sending us one each and every week, so it will help people get their kits much faster. At the present time, we probably have about a two-week turnaround. This isn't bad compared to what some people had to wait when the rush and crush was on.

Q.B.A.: Do you find any differences between the backorders of the Quickie and Q2?

Warde: Yes, I think we've done much better in the Q2. In order to give the people something to start working with, we generally try to get as much out as possible. The ultimate goal and dream is to ship a complete kit each and every time. We, too, are at the mercy of our suppliers and it's always that one crazy little nut or bolt that never seems to come in when it should. It's very frustrating for myself as well as the builders. You no sooner get the backorder paperwork out and into the folders when that particular piece comes in. And there is a delay there; there's no question about it. We would like to see it not be a delay, but there is. Mainly because of the amounts of paperwork with the number of kits out. Some people move very rapidly on their projects; other people get their projects, they find it overwhelming and do not move as rapidly as they think they will. Therefore, if someone calls me and says "I'm really moving, I need.....", I'll be more than happy to get it out immediately. If a person is in dire need, we will do anything we can to get it out to them. And the other people are not that upset if they don't need the part. We would love to have everyone cleared up once and for all and have everybody happy.

Q.B.A.: When you receive a list from Quickie Aircraft, how do you proceed with it? Do you make up a master list and send it down to your kitting operation?

Warde: Exactly. Our kitting operation for the Q2 is not even located in this building. When the Quickie first came out, we found we were able to handle that type of composite kit in our downstairs area. But it has grown so that we realize for the Q2 we really were going to need more room, just for the Q2 project. We rented another building, which means they keep their own inventory over there and their own stocks. We are in touch at least once a day if not more, and when the new list comes in, I make copies of it. One goes into our billing file, one goes to Mark and Red at the other building and I keep one in front of me until it gets filled.

Q.B.A.: Do you have to wait until the order goes to kitting before you realize there are materials you don't have?

Warde: Yes, exactly. I am never aware of exactly what is over there. Now, hopefully...and I know this has been a sad affair with the computer...but eventually the plan will be for us to have an in-house inventory on everything. We will know where we stand on each and every part. And this is why that eventually the kits will go out of here complete. We had a batch not too long ago that was only missing the cable or Nyla-flow tubing, which is not too bad. That's a dream and I really like to see it that way.

Q.B.A.: Any estimate when you would expect to see that computer system available?

Warde: It is in the works here right now. It is not doing what we had hoped it would be doing by now. We're all in the learning process. We're not computer people here, but we're working with people who are experienced. All we can do is wait for this thing to come out the way they tell us it will. Because our business is unique, they, too, are learning. We had gone on a trial run several months ago, but we just weren't ready for it. So we stopped and went back to our old system. These were for our regular orders in-house. Kit builders are going to find that they are going to have to (order extra supplies). Everyone makes things wrong at times and therefore, they will end up with something to redo. So that means we will be in touch, one way or the other. When people receive their kits, it will be more than, "I've inventoried my kit, it's complete and I'll never need Aircraft Spruce again." (laughing) It's kind of, once we've got you, we've got you forever. It's over the years that people do this. It gets so that you worry about people when you don't hear from them.

Q.B.A.: Take the case of a builder who received his initial kit but still has several backordered items. When those items become available to you through your vendors, how do you know who needs those items?

Warde: I have a copy of the same list sent to the customer and also correspondence from the customer. This is one of the reasons we ask our customers to inventory very carefully within 30 days. That is due to the fact that they are being packed by human beings who are setting up maybe 10 at a time. They may have dropped bag number 2 into kit number 3 when the phone may ring or have another interruption. When they go back they may start putting bag number 2 into kit 5. According to their feeling, they have put one into kit number 4. Therefore, it's very important that the customer inventory the kit. When I have my particular copy along with the copy sent to the customer which we feel is on backorder, if they will be good enough to count them out and say "Yes, I do..." or "No, I don't have this bag of...", then I can put on my copy what each builder requires. When they are shipped out, a date is put next to it and a line drawn through it. They are kept in my file according to serial number. It is important that they always refer to their serial number. Part of that is due to dealer sales. I might ship six kits to a dealer, but I don't know who they will belong to. Dealers are very lax in telling me who owns those kits.

Q.B.A.: You mentioned buying through a dealer. I assume that builders that buy their kits through dealers should tell you they have done that when asking about backordered items.

Warde: Right, or I have no way of knowing - especially if they don't know their serial number - who they really are or why I have never heard of their name. Basically, I'm pretty familiar with the names of the people on the list, because those names are in front of me. But if it's somebody who calls up and bought through a dealer and I've never even heard of him, it makes it difficult to even find the paperwork. Like other people, dealers tend not to spend a great deal of time wanting to ship things to their customers. They've made their sales. I will pull out my paperwork and show it complete, but I show it complete to the dealer. The customer has maybe now received his package and inventoried it, and he may show that he is in need of two or three more items. There's never really a problem working that out and making sure our list corresponds with it. But the sooner they do, the better off we all are.

Q.B.A.: If a person has an item that is backordered, how long should he wait before he re-contacts you to say, "Hey, I'm still missing something!"

Warde: At this point in time, I would say no more than 30 days.

Q.B.A. Are there any items that builders could do to help themselves in dealing with Aircraft Spruce?

Warde: I think they would help themselves out more, rather than just me, when they receive a complete set of packing lists - there are probably 5 or 6 - to realize that only one of those is sent directly from Aircraft Spruce. And sometimes they become rather upset with us when they are short on...say package 5. We may not even supply package 5.

Q.B.A.: It comes from Quickie or someone else?

Warde: Right, and I can understand their frustration, but on the other hand, they have wasted a call if the parts they are trying to get are not from me.

Q.B.A.: So look at the top of the page and only contact you if it says "Aircraft Spruce".

Warde: Exactly. Anything with a "Q" number is from Quickie.

Q.B.A.: Another problem builders have mentioned is not receiving packing lists. Should they be speaking to Aircraft Spruce or QAC about this?

Warde: They are supposed to be getting a full set of packing lists from Quickie. And that means the first shipment to the last. That's what I've been under the impression of. I've sent a stack of hundreds of packing lists to Quickie so they would have them.

Q.B.A.: Anything else you can think of, Barbara?

Warde: I feel the Q2 builders have come a long way, even some of the Quickie builders. They were a new breed. A lot of the Q2 builders have built a Quickie, so they've learned from their mistakes. On this end, we'd love to have a two-day turnaround on any order. Right now I know it's very discouraging for our customers who wait two weeks before it goes out the back door. In the long run, since this is the way it will be done in the future, that the computer will be a help rather than a hindrance. Right now we are really in a learning experience. When builders contact me directly about backorders, I can pull their backorder and ship it out immediately.

Q.B.A.: Is it best that they call or write you concerning backorders?

Warde: I would say that it would be just as good to call me. If they took the time to call it would probably be better.

: Would it swamp you to have everyone call?

Warde: I don't really think it would be that difficult. If it is, I'll give you a ring, and tell you to hold off on calls! Everything that anyone sends up to Ron (Lundgren), he does send me a copy of. However, if a builder sends me a backorder list and then copies Ron, by the time Ron sends his copy to me, we may accidentally duplicate the order.

Q.B.A.: Barbara, any final comments?

Warde: You might mention to people waiting for package 2 material (instruments), we have switched to a different supplier so this package should be moving better. They are coming to us much quicker and we are trying to fill those orders.

Q.B.A.: Sounds like, overall, things at Aircraft Spruce are improving.

Warde: I think they are and I hope the customer's feel like they are. Anything I can do to help, let me know. Very often, just a phone call can relieve a lot of frustration and maybe they don't realize that they can call here for backorders.

/Ed. Note: A couple of hints may help expedite your backorder problems and protect your investment:

1) Keep records of all correspondence. A Xerox of your letters and records of all calls will be sufficient. Your phone log should include with whom you spoke and what the problem concerned.

2) Before ordering a kit, know exactly what you should receive. This is particularly important for builders with options or those not ordering all three kits. Receive a copy of the shipping list from QAC before sending in a paid contract.

3) It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of inventorying a kit as soon as it arrives. It does not hurt to count individual parts in a bag containing multiple pieces. Also, items damaged inside the kit, which you believe, are the result of poor packing techniques should be brought to the vendor's attention. (Bags of micro are notorious for finding sharp objects.)

4) Keep your own "master parts list" on your inventory sheets indicating the receipt date of all items. This will enable you to tell at a glance what items are still backordered and will avoid confusion when backordered parts arrive at sporadic times.

5) New builders should make a concerted effort to be on good behavior the first time it is necessary to contact a vendor. The people you speak with are human and will respond to your requests much better. It also makes it easier to ask for "favors" down the road. In other words, if it gets your parts quicker, don't be afraid to show your sweet nature.

You can order a PDF or printed copy of QuickTalk #4 by using the Q-talk Back Issue Order Page.