Category: The Strongest Link in Supply Chain

The Resilient Supply Chain: Can You Get Trucks?

October 3rd, 2018

Are you able to find trucks?  This is quickly becoming a major question that needs to be answered.  Every driver has at least 12 options. Why will he/she take your load?  Are you attractive to carriers? That is the key question. After all, you can carry inventory so you are responsive (assuming you planned well and have the right inventory at the right place at the right time) but if you cannot deliver, it was all for naught.

According to the Journal of Commerce, truck rates are up in the low double digits half way through the year.  And, they are expected to go up to 15% before slowing down to 7-10% increase in 2019.  However, these rate hikes are quite the shock to businesses. Many clients are tell us that there are times they cannot find a truck, whether they pay 15% more or not. What are you doing to ensure you have a resilient supply chain?

Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • Do you view your carriers as partners or vendors? – Undoubtedly, if you view them as vendors, you probably aren’t delivering on-time or are paying double or triple the going rates.  
  • Do you have a backup carrier? – I learned this lesson from the Director of Purchasing who worked with me at PaperPak.  He kept a backup supply of our critical material so that if anything went wrong in the supply chain, he could “turn it on”.  This meant we were paying higher prices on an ongoing basis to keep this backup supply. Naturally, our board members were not happy about the increased cost.  However, he was “right on”.  Eventually there was a strike at the ports and our supply was delayed. Because we had been bringing in backup supply all along, we were able to turn up the production and cover our needs seamlessly.  Do you have a backup in place you are confident will be there when you need them?
  • Are you proactively partnering with your carriers? – When supply chain challenges arise, do you proactively collaborate with your carriers to resolve the issues?  Are you willing to think outside the box and try new and innovative ideas?
  • Are you an attractive customer? – How you treat people will either make or break success.  People tend to do business with people they know, like and trust. Are you finding ways to improve your customers’ conditions?  Remember you cannot just decide to become attractive when you need your suppliers. It is a way of doing business.
  • Do you need trucks at all?– Perhaps it’s time to re-think your strategy.  Should you consider rail, air or another method?  Can you partner with your customers or suppliers in a new way?  How about collaborating with competitors? Or, you could consider insourcing vs. outsourcing. 

Think outside the box and start early.  Waiting until there is an issue is no time to think about resolving one. 

It seems such a basic element to have trucks where you need them and when you need them.  Yet it often isn’t viewed as a priority.  Why not take stock of where you stand and put some thought into your path forward?

You’ll be more likely to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations with this proactive approach to supply chain resiliency.

 



Let’s Spur Innovation

September 24th, 2018

Last month, I led a manufacturing roundtable on the topic of innovation.  Undoubtedly, if we want to be successful over the long-term, we must innovate. Problem solving only gets us back to our standard level of performance.  Although necessary, it will not be enough!  Instead, to exceed our customers’ expectations while enabling profitable growth in today’s Amazonian marketplace, innovation is a requirement.

Innovation is raising the bar to an entirely new level of performance.  It doesn’t require you to develop the next iPhone or 3M’s famous sticky pad.  In fact, the best innovators might not even think they are creative.  The great news is that everyone can innovate.  It doesn’t have to require significant investments.   What it does require is a culture that enables innovation.

An Innovation Culture
Here are a few “musts” when creating an innovation culture:

  1. Engage your people -You aren’t going to be successful innovating in isolation – at least not for long!  Involve your employees – view each employee as a valuable asset.  You never know what ideas can be unleashed if you have a culture of innovation that values each employee’s input and ideas.  Start here. Until your people are engaged, there is no point in going further.  How long do you think you’ll have happy, innovative customers with unhappy, not engaged employees?  NOT long.
  1. Engage your customers – One of our clients is creating an innovative culture.  They recently purchased a clay manufacturing company and are working to raise the bar.  The owners and executives value the input of their people and extend that to their trusted advisors, customers and suppliers.  I happened to be in Hawaii last month and my best friend wanted to see a pottery shop of an artist she really liked.  So I went along for the ride. When we arrived, I brought up my client because I thought the owner know of them. They were so excited.  They said they were a customer for life of Laguna Clay  (my customer) because they provided exceptional service.  They proceeded to provide input, ideas and much more. I took pictures and texted them back to my client. My client had engaged their customer in the innovative process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Provide opportunities– Next, provide opportunities for innovation.  Do you provide a “safe zone” for your employees, partners and others to collaborate and innovate?  Most importantly, you’ll have to set aside time for them to focus on this priority.  Beyond time, provide your vision and get the process started by spurring idea generation and give them a few guidelines.
  1. Stick by your commitment –  Innovation will create failures which is why guidelines are helpful so the failures can be isolated within a reasonable tolerance.  There is something wrong if failures don’t occur. Thus, be prepared for them and celebrate the progress. Don’t be disappointed, or worse, beat up your people. That will mark the end of their innovation.

Creating an innovation culture is “the” key to innovation. Start there. End there.  We’ll talk through more of the details in the middle in future editions (or feel free to contact us to help you accelerate progress); however, this is the 80/20 of success.  It’s well worth raising the bar of performance.



When is it the ‘Right’ Time for a Supply Chain Network Assessment?

September 4th, 2018

Supply Chain networks that are not set up to support scalable, profitable growth have a high likelihood of negatively impacting your customers, impeding your growth and consuming far more resources than they were ever imagined to sustain.  What is ideally mapped out one year is likely to change the next in today’s Amazonian marketplace. Thus, assessing your supply chain network from your suppliers’ suppliers through your manufacturing and logistics networks to your customers’ customers with an eye to customers, cost and cash will undoubtedly yield results.  

What are some hints to know when it’s the ‘right’ time?

  1.  Renew your lease, buy or move? – As your lease comes due, it is a natural time to re-evaluate your supply chain network to make sure you are positioned ideally to support your customer base at maximum value for your customers and your organization.
  2.  Cost considerations – As you think about how to reduce your cost base, re-evaluating your supply chain network is a ‘must’.  Most likely, you can save a few pennies here or there.  But, for substantial savings, you may need to review your infrastructure.
  3.  Customer demands – In today’s Amazonian environment, customer demands are ever-increasing.  Is your supply chain network positioned to support your customers’ needs, delivery points and sales growth expectations?
  4.  Space constraints – As you start to think about space, it might be an opportune time to re-evaluate your supply chain network.  First, do you know how much space is needed to support your growth plans (and where)? Do you have the opportunity to maximize space?  Or should you re-position?
  5.  Insourcing/ outsourcing– As you think about whether you should insource, outsource (ex. 3PL) or utilize a combination of both, it is definitely an opportune time to evaluate your supply chain network and logistics infrastructure.
  6.  Supply chain partners – If you are re-evaluating key supply chain partners, it is likely a good time to do a quick assessment of your supply chain network.   

We have found that a supply chain network assessment can be valuable even if you decide not to change a thing.  Performing a quick review of customers, suppliers, operations and logistics infrastructure from a customer, cost and cash flow viewpoint can provide substantial benefit every so often.  Contact us if you’d like to talk further.



What’s Next in the Supply Chain?

August 10th, 2018

Our most successful clients always ask “What’s next?” as they want to stay ahead of the curve.  It is quite clear that staying on top of current trends and what is expected down-the-road is essential to successfully navigating your business to scalable, profitable growth.

For example, if you think your industry might develop a new way of servicing customers, you need to attack it quickly as you afford to be left in the dust.  Clearly, providing an exceptional customer experience is important but so is developing this new service method in a scalable, profitable way. It will be much harder if behind the eight ball. Are you thinking about what is next?

With our definition of the supply chain from creation to customer, there are countless topics to be thinking about when it comes to What’s Next:

  • New Products and Services: What new products and services will your customers want?  We have found that most customers (just like most of our clients) might not know yet.  You better be thinking about it and prompting ideas!
  • Suppliers: What new materials, components and supplies will you need to improve performance at a lower cost? (These win-win successes require innovation and collaboration.)
  • Transportation: What’s next in transportation?  Think of the relevance – from suppliers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to distributors, from distributors to end customers, from one facility to another facility, and so on.
  • Technology:  What’s next in technology as it connects each of these people along with equipment, and much more (think IoT) with data and information flows.  We find that this often-times can be the bottleneck to achieving scalability.
  • Manufacturing:  What’s next in manufacturing?  Even if you aren’t thinking about using 3D printing, you should be considering the impacts if your competition, your suppliers, your customers and more start using this additive manufacturing capability.  It is likely to impact every step of the supply chain. What else is likely to happen in your industry?
  • Distribution:  What’s next in distribution?  In your industry, what is essential?  To think about distribution, you must think about your customers’ needs.  You also should be thinking about the rest of your supply chain. For example, if 3D printing takes off, it changes the distribution model.  If e-commerce continues to be important, your entire setup would change if you are more traditional currently. Do customers want you to take over worrying about what to stock and where to stock it?  Perhaps you should suggest taking on VMI/ replenishment.
  • Customers: What’s next with your customers?  How about your customers’ customers? Are you even talking with your customers’ customers?  Do you understand the industry trends throughout your chain? If you aren’t getting out of your office with an internal focus, you won’t.  Who have you called lately? Who have you visited? Do you ask questions? Attend conferences?
  • People:  What’s next with your colleagues and partners?   Nothing else will be achievable if you don’t have the best people on the team.  It wasn’t that long ago we thought virtual meetings were a big deal. Now they occur daily.  (Remember, illennials often-times like coming into the office for the community – and prefer the Google-like environment.)

Thinking about what’s next can distinguish you from your competition.  Eventually, a decision will arise that requires this knowledge. If thinking of the future is part of your daily culture, you’ll pass by the rest!

 



Robots Taking on Pharmaceuticals & Food?

July 28th, 2018

 

According to the Wall Street Journal, robots are taking on pharmaceuticals and food preparation.  In pharmaceuticals, companies like Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline are investing heavily in automation to radically change the process of drug discovery.   If robots can handle thousands of samples around the clock (although costs will decrease or be reallocated to more valuable tasks), these results pale in comparison with the vast opportunity to develop drugs quicker!

Are you radically re-thinking and innovating with speed in mind?

Meanwhile, a burger joint will open in San Francisco that makes $6 burgers entirely by robot.  Creator is betting that robots can create burgers more efficiently and better (with techniques borrowed from Michelin-star chefs) than humans.

Now the question will become – when the robot curious wears off, will people frequent a robot run burger shop?  Regardless, the question really becomes – are you considering whether robots or automation might benefit your customers and business value?

What Should We Consider and/or What Impacts Could Arise?
As much as we warn our clients not to get “too” carried away with robots and technology (as it is easy to chase these ideas down a rabbit hole leading nowhere), it is certainly worthwhile to think about the strategic use of technology as it relates to innovation, providing a superior customer experience and in improving performance.  If it fits with your strategy, doesn’t distract from your priorities (or preferably compliments and enhances them) and generates a return on investment, why wouldn’t you consider every option?

One client leveraged the use of robots (designed uniquely for them by internal expertise) so that they could run a critical operation around-the-clock.  They couldn’t find employees with the appropriate skills to run more than first shift and overtime.  And, they were constantly struggling to keep up with orders.  Once the robot was up and running, the bottleneck was virtually eliminated and customers received what they needed when they needed it.  The people on first shift took on the complex tasks, set the robots up to run at night and remained extremely valuable (even more so).

Have you thought about these type of unique innovations to propel your business?  We’ll be starting a new video and interview series, “Innovation: Fast-tracking growth and profits” shortly.  We’d love to hear about your suggestions and innovations.