SAN FRANCISCO -- Lever Bros.' investment in trained people has helped to make its vendor-managed inventory program a success, said Barry Clum, who manages VMI for the New York-based firm. "We invested in training before we had the customers we needed to make the program work. Once you get the program up and people are not trained, you will fail," he said, speaking at a VMI conference here sponsored by the Institute for International Research, New York. Clum suggested that planners have a minimum of four years in logistics or customer service. The average for Lever Bros. is nine years' experience within the company in the logistics, customer service or sales areas. "Our planners are trained for three to eight months," he said. "They are trained in logistics as well as in Lever's order management system, VMI systems, customer service, supply chain planning and inventory deployment. "New planners work with an experienced VMI planner on accounts for six weeks before being assigned their own accounts," he said. The VMI planner's responsibility centers around being assigned dedicated accounts, according to Clum. Based on this, planners can monitor account activity daily and deploy planning as required. Planners can review inventory and customer service levels against customer targets. Planner performance is based on how the accounts requirements are met in terms of customer service, inventory level and turns and out-of-stocks, he said. "The result has been better communications with accounts and better supply chain management for both our accounts and Lever," Clum said. "There has been a true partnership role with our accounts." The VMI system with the planners leading the change has also been able to afford a greater attention to detail for orders and inventory, he explained. "We look at Universal Product Codes every day," Clum said. "A two-week inventory is the goal."