60 seconds with Don DeSanctis, SDI Group
Title: Founder, SDI Group USA
Location: Pacoima, Calif.
Experience: Nearly 60 years designing and engineering automated materials handling solutions. Founded SDI Group 35 years ago.
Primary Focus: SDI Group consults, designs and integrates distribution centers, with a focus on unit sortation for the apparel industry.
Modern: Don, your company is celebrating its 35th anniversary, and you’re celebrating your 80th birthday. Those are major milestones. What led you to the materials handling industry?
DeSanctis: Back in 1965, I was hired by Allied Stores, a regional department store chain, to design and build distribution centers. There were a lot of family-owned department stores in the country back then that were expanding from one big store to chains of five, six or seven stores, and they didn’t have a clue how to do distribution. Neither did I, but I built my first DC for Allied in Seattle and then worked for them for another four or five years. In 1977, I opened my own operation in California. My focus was distribution systems for retailers and that evolved into a specialty in soft apparel.
Modern: You started out as a consultant, but today SDI Group also manufactures conveyor and sortation equipment. How did you make that transition?
DeSanctis: We started providing the hardware in 1980. A year or two later, I was in Europe and saw some of the first garment-on-hanger sorters. We licensed that technology and began building the equipment. After that, we brought in bomb bay sorters. When we first began implementing those systems, we could sort 200 units on hanger an hour. Today, we can distribute to 1,000 stores at the rate of 10,000 units an hour with two people. We have flat sorters that can do 14,000 units an hour. Those types of technology have really improved productivity in the retail industry. It used to take three to seven days to get an order ready for delivery to a store. Now, it takes about four hours. And, by doing all of this, we’ve seen distribution centers reduce footprints by 50% and 60% in the last 10 or 12 years.
Modern: After nearly 60 years in the industry, are there any trends that you’re watching?
DeSantis: I’m watching to see what happens in China. A couple of years ago, I was running around Shanghai for one of our manufacturing customers in the apparel industry. They wanted us to set up a distribution center in China where we would prepare orders for delivery right to a store or end customer, rather than bring it to California and then distribute it. We were expecting the big retailers to follow suit. For some reason, that never happened. It seems the thinking now is that it still makes more sense to bring the product through customs in the U.S. However, I’m waiting to see if that changes.
Modern: Do you have any plans to retire?
DeSanctis: I retired once. Two years ago, the president of the company asked me to help set up an infrastructure in South America. It’s an enormous market. If I were 45 or 50 years old, I’d move there in two minutes. Right now, I spend about 90 days a year down there, and I expect to do that for another two years. Ask me then, and I’ll tell you if I want to keep at it.