Brian Millsap – Hampton Products International
Watching cases of padlocks glide down the conveyor belt at Hampton Products International’s distribution facility can be mesmerizing, especially with the hum of the machinery in the background. It’s a setting always gets Brian Millsap thinking about how to make the company more efficient.
No doubt, there’s a lot for the company’s CIO to track. Most of the products Hampton sells are actually manufactured overseas and shipped to the company’s headquarters in Foothill Ranch, California. It’s a flurry of activity upon arrival: forklifts chugging around the warehouse as items are picked, packed, sorted and shipped to big box retailers and hardware stores throughout North America.
As Millsap puts it, every time someone touches cases of product, profits erode, so he’s constantly researching system upgrades—cameras, voice-activated technology, advanced automation—to improve operations.
“Margins are very thin and I want to ensure the business is profitable,” Millsaps says. “By looking at data, we can tweak the system. Our IT department strives to be strategic and not just a cost center in itself.”
When Millsap arrived at HPI 22 years ago, the company had one location and a few laptops. Some data was tracked by employees with clipboards. As Millsap recalls, “there was no way Hampton could keep pace with its planned growth without leveraging technology,” he says.
As a first step, Millsap guided Hampton’s investment in an enterprise resource planning and warehouse management system. Now on his third ERP implementation, the new system offers cloud-based capabilities, increased industry-specific features and shorter integration periods for new upgrades—and can leverage more detailed data.
“We’ve incorporated technology that’s more scalable to adapt to our growing company,” he says.
According to Millsap, today’s technology allows for more detailed and efficient data sharing between functions, like electronic data interchange, or EDI; compliance and customer care; forecasting, and sales and finance.
The right tools
These days, many HPI workers have the flexibility to do their jobs remotely, which was crucial during COVID-19.
Long before the pandemic, however, Millsap implemented Microsoft’s collaboration software on mobile devices to support remote work and video conferencing. When the crisis hit, his 12-person IT department only required a few upgrades for employees, like Wi-Fi.
Meanwhile, at its distribution centers, HPI put safeguards in place such as temperature screening, masks, social-distancing protocols and increased disinfection.
“We learned a lot from SARS in 2003, so we continued to focus on bringing our remote teams together using technology to work from anywhere efficiently,” he says.
Danish-based Perfion—a company specializing in product information management solutions—assisted HPI with handling this complex business environment during COVID-19. As CEO and founder Dick Brunebjerg explains, his offering supported HPI’s sales and marketing efforts to update mobile applications and e-commerce channels on brand websites, like those for Walmart and Amazon.
“Hampton’s mobile apps are designed to help contractors quickly choose items they want to order and email them to their supply center special order desk. The apps update dynamically with real-time product information managed centrally in the Perfion PIM system,” Brunebjerg says.
Knowing a little about a lot
Millsap admits his background in business and technology is unorthodox. As a teenager, he learned the basics of retail sales and merchandising. Working for an optometrist, he helped open a small chain of retail sunglass stores and eventually opened another location before graduating from high school.
Still a teenager, Millsap moved to Southern California where he and a friend started a telemarketing group for nonprofits that focused on promoting church “planting” (a process to help establish Christian churches). This experience taught him the value of hiring people with a passion for the work—in this case, working the phones.
Millsap met a new business partner in the early 1990s with some big ideas—exporting heavy equipment and building materials from Western Europe into Russia. Since hard currency couldn’t be traded freely, the idea was to piggyback consumer goods’ sales onto existing Russian contracts.
Millsap soon started work as an operations manager for The Traxel Group. For nearly 10 years he oversaw the company’s North and South American and Asian operations: handling purchasing, logistics of consumer goods, as well as marketing—including the creation of TV commercials for Russian television.
“We worked freely until the Russian government reorganized after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and began to shut things down,” he says. “I needed to come back to the U.S. and reinvent myself.”
For Millsap, that meant getting an education for his next professional foray. Starting at Stanbridge College in Irvine, California, Millsap gained Microsoft certifications as a systems engineer and as a certified professional in 1999.
As luck would have it, a friend of Millsap’s met Hampton’s former CEO and discussed Hampton’s need for a technology leader. Millsap received a call and was hired within days.
Millsap spent his first few years upgrading the company’s systems to support acquisitions. Later, he got involved with technical support and automation of packaging and facilities and taking on additional responsibilities such as consumer care to support 15 new brands (including SmartHome products) and e-commerce initiatives.
“Multiple projects keep it interesting,” says Millsap. “While I’m not an expert on any one thing, I know a little about a lot.”
Now, 22 years later, Millsap’s bonded with Hampton’s new CEO Greg Gluchowski, whose “one team” mantra has resonated throughout the company, he says. “My job is to make sure every Hampton associate has the resources they need to do the work they’re here to do,” says Millsap.
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