Ascena cuts ribbon on national e-commerce fulfillment center

Friday, May 15, 2015
Big Bounce Fun House Rentals of Greencastle created one of the more unique aspects of Thursday's reception and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Greencastle Ascena facility -- an ice sculpture in the form of the company logo used to cool fruit drinks poured through it. Khara Smith does the honors for visiting Tami Van Rensselaer of the Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center. (Banner Graphic/Eric Bernsee)

Transforming the old Charming Shoppes F.B. Distro distribution center into a world-class e-commerce fulfillment center wasn't exactly what the new owners initially saw coming for the former IBM. building on Greencastle's East Side.

Yet three years after the old "Big Blue" facility was acquired by Ascena Retail Group Inc. with the purchase of Charming Shoppes in 2012, that's exactly what has happened.

Calling it a "transformative event," John Sullivan, president and chief operating officer for Ascena, told company officials, invited guests and assembled Ascena associates that such a project almost never got off the ground.

Addressing assembled guests, Ascena officials and local associates Thursday afternoon, David Jaffe, president and chief executive officer of Ascena Retail Group Inc., talks about the investment in the future his company has made in Greencastle with the recently completed transformation of the old F.B. Distro distribution center into a world-class e-commerce fulfillment center. (Banner Graphic/Eric Bernsee)

Sullivan recalled how he learned that Ascena was purchasing Charming, calling it an "acquisition with gifts" as he was sent to check out the "Tired, old pallet-based" distribution center that was originally built by IBM in 1954 and vacated by the computer giant in March 1987 when it donated the building and property to the city for economic development purposes.

"My first inclination," Sullivan admitted, "was 'We're going to sell it.' And I meant that."

But the more he met with those involved with F.B. Distro and local officials, he kept hearing, "You don't want to sell this building, John, this building is special."

Yet as Sullivan looked around, he "saw a building that needed work."

But he also saw the Ascena company core values of integrity, excellence, respect, passion and sense of community embodied in the workforce he was inheriting in Greencastle.

And the transformation of the building into the 800,000-square-foot national e-commerce fulfillment center that was unveiled Thursday is testament to the "tremendous resiliency and hard work" of those associates during the transition, he said.

"Clearly this building has undergone a transformative change," Sullivan added,"and is arguably a world-class e-commerce fulfillment center capable of serving our five brands and many, many more in the future.

"What is the capacity?" he asked. "We had that conversation today."

Ascena Retail Group President and CEO David Jaffe said he was on the trip with Sullivan when they first laid eyes on the building they celebrated on Thursday.

"It's turned out to be real blessing," Jaffe said, adding, "What we do here in the Ascena mission."

In a facility that is designed to do 400,000 units at its peak, Jaffe said Ascena "can do, as we like to say, it faster, smarter and better than our competition."

And the new Greencastle facility gives Ascena "a sustainable, competitive advantage," he stressed.

In celebrating the completion of the facility's transformation into the "world-class e-commerce fulfillment center," Jaffe says he looks forward to growing with Greencastle.

Senior Vice President of Distribution Steve Daley Sr., who manned the ceremonial scissors in the ribbon-cutting event, wanted to share his take on the initial examination of the facilities.

It came with "a lot of anxiety about this building and the ability to convert it," Daley said. "But we never questioned the workforce here."

Mayor Sue Murray spoke on behalf of the community, noting that "being in this building is a reminder of Nov. 11, 1986 when the builder of this building, IBM, said 'we can't make it here anymore.'"

Those emotions again arose with the 2011 negotiations of the F.B. Distro sale to Ascena and the uncertainty of the local facility's future, she said.

"A lot of heart palpitations went on for several months as Ascena made its decision," Mayor Murray said. "You did all come to understand the people who work her and their dedication is what makes Greencastle a special place."

A ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the transformation of the Ascena facility into an 800,000-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center finds Steve Daley, senior vice president of distribution, wielding the ceremonial scissors Thursday afternoon as Ascena Human Resources Director Teena Bryant clips the ribbon with a sharp pair skillfully hidden. Among the other dignitaries taking part in the ceremony are (front, from left)Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center Director Bill Dory, State Sen. Pete Miller, State Rep. Jim Baird, Ascena Shared Services Group President and Chief Operating Officer John Sullivan, Ascena Retail Group President and CEO David Jaffe and (front, right) Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray as several Ascena associates recognized during the program look on. (Banner Graphic/Eric Bernsee)

The mayor added that she and other city officials "look forward to a bright and promising future" working with Ascena.

She did note that none of the five brands Ascena ships out of its Greencastle facility has a retail store locally.

"Mr. Jaffe noted there were some empty retail spaces around town," she smiled, "so ..."

The ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon marked a 18-month-long transformation from a retail distribution center to an e-commerce fulfillment center.

A reception prior to the ribbon-cutting event featured hors d'oeuvres, a candy bar and signature Ascena fruit drinks created for the occasion and poured through an ice sculpture of the company logo made by Big Bounce Fun House Rentals of Greencastle.

Situated on 12 acres, the Greencastle Fulfillment Center is now serving all five of Ascena's brands: Dressbarn, Maurices, Justice, Lane Bryant and Catherines.

The facility, with its highly efficient material-handling equipment and systems, is home to 350 employees.

"The opening of this facility was a huge undertaking for the team," Sullivan noted. " I am so impressed with their passion in helping us crystallize our vision.

"In addition to thanking our team," he continued, "I'd like to extend my gratitude to Putnam County. The residents of this area have been wonderful neighbors and we believe that by working together, we can continue to create new jobs and further grow the local economy."

During the program, Ascena, which prides itself on giving back to the community, presented a $12,500 check to the Putnam County Community Foundation for the creation of the Ascena Retail Group Community Endowment.

That $12,500 immediately becomes $37,500 as the Lilly Endowment is matching such Indiana donations. And those funds were also matched in kind by the Foundation itself, represented at the ceremony by board President Todd Lewis, Vice President Ken Eitel and Dean Gambill, Foundation director of community development.

Ascena Retail Group, through its subsidiaries, operates approximately 3,900 stores throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.

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  • What about the employees? They deserve some praise for all of the hard work they do!! If you didn't have all of those GREAT employees, customers would not be getting any of their items they purchased online. Great job to all of employees. You deserve it!!

    -- Posted by cen98 on Fri, May 15, 2015, at 6:55 AM
  • The way Ascena jerks there employees around and the disregard of family values as far as work hrs., days off changes etc. is not what made that building good place to be employed at.

    -- Posted by becker on Fri, May 15, 2015, at 2:12 PM
  • Ascena is a good place to work. Employees do get patts and praises. It is a new business and customer demands is what sets our hours. A successful business can not be set on a 9-5 in this industry. Family values start in your homes not at your place of employment! This is a good, safe and fair employer and I am glad to be an associate. Thank you Ascena Retail for choosing Greencastle!

    -- Posted by kat63 on Sat, May 16, 2015, at 7:48 AM
  • I think the mayor should look into these unfair labor practices! The staff have been jerked around long enough! It's not about 9-5, they have changed the days off and hours that has led to many of the staff leaving and the rest scrambling for day care, family time and school activities. I bet the brass don't miss a game, some even coach or teach our youth. It's their own core values that they fail to follow, integrity-excellence-respect-passion and sense of community..I don't think so, please mayor and community leaders investigate immediately!

    -- Posted by unclewayne on Sat, May 16, 2015, at 9:03 AM
  • This article sugar-coats the reality at Ascena. Most jobs there are low-pay, no benefits, on 24 hour call. Some employees are terminated just before they are to earn their benefits! It's all about the almighty corporate dollar there.

    -- Posted by Ben Dover on Sat, May 16, 2015, at 9:54 AM
  • I have a friend who works for this place and to say this article has been sugar coated is a vast understatement. As KAT63 so brown noseingly pointed out, customer demand may influence hours to an extent, but seems the real issue is lack of management knowing how to staff this facility. Too many 20+ year employees have left due to the unfairness of this company. Hiring twice as many part time people and giving them good hours while leaving those who have been faithful to that place for years, to work the late shift, thus not being able to be home with their families is the real issue of everything. Everyone is being used as part timers are not able to earn a full 40 hour check and gain benefits and those with seniority are kind of stuck as they have years of service to think about. And who said family values start anywhere except at home. REALLY?!

    -- Posted by MRK1960 on Sat, May 16, 2015, at 3:58 PM
  • They failed to mention that they had purchased another chain and they may want to enlarge the building to handle it. TAX ABATEMENT TIME????????

    That's why there kissing up to the locals, ya reckon!

    -- Posted by becker on Tue, May 19, 2015, at 2:18 PM
  • So, we used to have a fashion bug store here in (town which is owned by the same group) and they closed...and Greencastle has a population of plus sized women that validates needing a store other than walmart, whose clothing offering for anyone over a size 14 is virtually non existant.

    Then they open an internet order filling station here? Not stores where people can try on clothes, and that's important when it comes to plus sizes, but an internet order filling center.

    When I first moved here it amused me that Starbucks CEO had graduated from Depauw yet we were probably the only college town in the world without a starbucks...we have one now, but it's not exactly accessible with the parking problems.

    We don't even have a dominos pizza anymore.

    darn near the entire strip mall in front of walmart is abandoned, and so are other places along Indianapolis Road and on the town square and there are serious parking issues on the town square.

    As for mail ordering, right now you can't even GET to the post office. They won't deliver packages where I live I have to go get them and I can't get there unless I run a barricade and risk ticket, who knows how long that is going to last.

    Is anyone actually thinking in a practical manner anymore?

    -- Posted by Heron on Sat, Jun 6, 2015, at 3:02 PM
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