Why Inventory Will Matter Again

June 8th, 2019

I was on a bit of a trip down memory lane over the holidays as I reconnected with former colleagues from when I was VP of Operations and Supply Chain at PaperPak, an absorbent products manufacturer for healthcare and food products.  I recently talked about healthcare manufacturing with a group of powerful women (and a few brave men) at the Professional Women in Healthcare event.  When inventory arose as a hot topic, I thought about paper rolls (pictured).

Actually, inventory was a hot topic as we partnered with key customers to develop collaborative forecasting models, implement vendor managed inventory programs to dramatically reduce inventory and free up cash while improving service levels and to maximize storage and efficiencies in our operations, distribution centers and, most importantly, throughout our transportation system (since absorbent products are bulky and freight intensive).

In our view, inventory is circling back in importance and will become a hot topic again as customers expect immediate, customized deliveries with the expectation of easy returns and last-minute changes to orders in production, in the warehouse or in transit. What are you doing to get ahead of this ‘new normal’ assumption?

To throw out a few ideas to get your juices flowing:

  • Get demand further into your supply chain – what are your customers’ customers selling or using of your product?
  • Be collaborative with strange bedfellows – I’ve written several articles recently on this topic as the most successful executives see the value in finding the ‘win-win-win’
  • What talent do you have focused on having the ‘right’ inventory at the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time? You could double your inventory and decrease service if you don’t know how to navigate these treacherous waters.
  • How sure are you that your demand and supply (labor, skills, machine capacity, buildings/ storage capacity, cash flow) are aligned and will remain aligned (review your SIOP plans)?

This topic reminds me of one of my early articles, the Million Dollar Planner. Although that sounds insane, it might be worth thinking about conceptually. If you maximize your customer experience, profitability and cash flow, the return is frequently in excess of a million dollars. Most importantly, what could you do with an extra million dollars? Invest in new products and services to spur growth? Build your infrastructure to enable scalable growth? Build your talent base to create sustainability? The possibilities are limitless.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss further.



We Are All Salespeople

May 13th, 2019

Do you think of yourself as a salesperson? For most of us, the answer is probably ‘no’; however, every successful executive, manager, professional and person is a salesperson.  

Last week, I participated in a consulting conference, and our Society for the Advancement of Consulting ambassadors (pictured here) filled the role of salesperson to spread the word on the value of SAC. We had a great time and many value-added discussions. I find the key to ‘selling’ is actually providing value; not selling people products and services they do not need!

When I think back, I have always been in sales even though I thought I had no idea whatsoever about sales at the time. The way I got my first job was talking about the value of a senior project and how it was applicable to performing a planning role. I had NO idea that this was actually selling but it is how I successfully landed a great job out of college. Early in my career, I found system settings that would make our Coca-Cola facility’s process better, and I had to sell IT and others on why they should support this change. Later at a plastic injection molder, I had to sell management on why we should focus on certain inventory initiatives.

Lastly, as a VP of Operations of an absorbent products manufacturer, I absolutely spent 90% of my time selling my team on how they were valuable to the vision, suppliers on how they could have a part on creating a win-win, customers on how we could create collaborative vendor management inventory initiatives that would increase their service and profit (which would also improve our revenue growth, inventory and efficiencies), the Board of Directors on why we should focus efforts on material projects to drive profitable growth (even though they wanted me to focus on reducing labor costs instead) and the list goes on. In consulting, 80% of project success (partnering with the client to make sure results occur) relates to selling and positioning. After all, doesn’t it all stem from successfully navigating change?

Think about your career and daily job responsibilities. I bet you are selling every day as well!

One tip to implement this week:

The key to success in sales is to provide value. As I read in a book by my consulting mentor when I decided to start consulting, selling consulting services is simply finding ways to provide value to clients by helping them to increase the value of their businesses. Somehow, increasing the value of businesses sounded FAR simpler to me than selling people on hiring me as a consultant (after all, who budgets to hire a consultant?), and so I went for it (and am celebrating my 14th year anniversary in May).

Of course, it isn’t exactly that simple; however, it is absolutely true. The crux of all sales is in providing value. Think about when you purchase products and services. Why do you purchase? I used to think I was quite logical and not influenced by typical sales techniques; however, it is human nature that logic makes us think and emotions make us act. Although I am never tempted by clothes (except as I know I need to look decent to be successful), I realized I spent quite a bit of money on education to be successful in my consulting practice. Clearly, I saw the value and ‘went for it’. How can you show value more often in your job, your company, and of your products and services?



Have You Thought about Increasing Demand?

March 8th, 2019

If you are reading our newsletter, I have no doubt you are interested in increasing demand. Whether an owner, executive or key player, increasing demand for your products and services has to be top of mind. Let’s put it this way. No matter the position of my client (typically a CEO, Owner, CFO, General Manager or Board member), he/she is interested in increasing demand.  Consequently, the projects we work on are typically related to increasing demand, either directly or indirectly.

I was on a panel about increasing demand at the Anti-seminar Executive Luncheon. We had interesting discussions about demand from several diverse points-of-view. Thanks to Chase Photography, you can see them as a livestream on Facebook – video 1 and video 2 (about 60 minutes total). In thinking about how to increase demand, a few highlights include:

  1. Observe how your customer uses products and services –An often-overlooked gem is to follow Apple’s lead and observe how your customers are using your products and services and look for ways to enhance their experience. Have you taken a step back lately to look for areas where you can further help your customer?  Do you make working with your company onerous? That’s an obvious one yet commonplace. Imagine if you looked further!
  1. Do you provide a superior customer experience? If you ‘shopped’ your business, would you want to buy from it? Do your customers receive their products and services as ordered and in good quality/ condition? On-time? Quicker than the competition? Do you allow for easy returns? Hopefully you answered yes to each of these. We’ve found that this solely achieves a base level of customer service. Thus, the question becomes, “What are you doing to go over and beyond to make your customer compelled to return to you?”.
  1. Are you referable? First, people buy from people; not companies. Are you people referable? The #1 strategy to increase demand is referrals. No matter whether we are talking about a manufacturer, distributor, transportation partner or service organization, referrals can generate more business than any other method. Just as much as we enjoy buying the latest technology based on the referrals from our friends, the people working at companies also refer. When is the last time you attended an industry event or conferred with local CEOs? You better believe business gets done based on word of mouth.
  1. What can you take over for your customer? We have found that whether the industry is aerospace and defense, food and beverage, building products or healthcare products, there are opportunities to take over tasks for your customer. One common and prevalent one is to figure out what your customer needs at each of their branches/facilities and keep them replenished so that they have the ‘right’ inventory at the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time. We see this as gaining relevance.  Distributed inventory is becoming an essential element of the end-to-end supply chain plan as customers expect Amazon-like service and will find someone else if you cannot meet their needs.

When at PaperPak, we won supplier of the year for two years in a row with our #1 healthcare products customer because we implemented vendor managed inventory and were able to maximize their service levels while minimizing their inventory levels (cash tied up throughout their system). It didn’t hurt that we also grew the business by partnering further with them while reducing our costs and inventory levels as well. Have you thought about taking a request from a customer and turning it into increased demand for you?

Our most successful clients are thinking about these types of strategies to increase and manage demand. Why not spend a few minutes to listen to the expert panel and walk away with a few insights? If you’d like an expert to assess your situation to partner with you to achieve these types of results, contact us.

Did you like this article?  Continue reading on this topic:

The Strongest Link in Your Supply Chain

UGG Founder, the Amazon Effect in Healthcare & Why Demand is Key 



Should I Move?

July 9th, 2018

Our clients frequently call with questions such as:

  1.  Should we renew our lease?
  2.  Should we move to a lower cost area?
  3.  Should we move to a lower cost state?
  4.  What considerations should we think about when evaluating our manufacturing and logistics network?
  5.  Should we outsource?

Thus, we thought it would be prudent to address some questions and themes that should be evaluated from a strategic point-of-view when discussing supply chain network assessments.  

Let’s start by saying that our top clients begin THINKING about these topics several years in advance. Similar to selling a business, it isn’t the best plan to evaluate whether to renew a lease at the last minute or to be forced into a particular partner or location because you started preparing “too late”.   

Instead, why not think ahead….

  1.  Where are your customers?  – As much as we all want to reduce costs especially in today’s Amazonian environment, we also need to remember that customers expect rapid deliveries, change their mind frequently (and expect agility) and desire easy returns.  Thus, where are you located in comparison to your customers?
  2. What are your customers’ expectations?  – Lead times. Personalized service.  Return policies. Vendor managed inventory.  Future forecasts. What will they expect a year from now?  Are you already planning for these needs?
  3.  Where are your suppliers?  – Similar to your customers, it is important to consider where your suppliers are located as well.  Do you receive product from the ports? If so, what volume is related to the ports?
  4.  What access do you have to people? – We evaluated Nevada for one of our clients. However, when we talked with local contacts to estimate building / lease costs, we also discovered that as low as the overhead might be, freight aside, there were no people.  Tesla had absorbed them all and there were requests to supply people from Southern CA to support current workloads. People can certainly be relevant!
  5.  What type of freight partners/ rates are in place? –  No matter how close you might be to your customer, freight can add up – and, more importantly, delays to your customer are VERY costly (lost business, charge backs from customers such as Walmart, ill will and more).  Just because you have carriers with your current situation, it does NOT mean that will be true with your new situation. Freight is tight and rates are going up! And, remember last mile considerations are complex. Last mile. Last minute!
  6. What type of transportation network is required to support your business?  – In addition to freight considerations, will you need to think about parcel, rail, ocean freight, and other modes of transportation?  Or should you be considering these options?
  7.  What inventory levels are built into your network?  – Inventory = cash tied up.  

There is quite a bit more to think about than solely a cost cutting exercise.  Most clients call due to concerns about cost – as important as cost is, taking the strategic / high-level view can ensure your service, total cost (including hidden costs) and cash flow are maximized.  

Have you started thinking ahead?  If you are interested in our newly upgraded service offering in response to the Amazon Effect of warehousing/ supply chain network assessments, contact us.



Supply Chain Management Is Evolving: How Will It Affect Your Enterprise?

June 12th, 2018

Operational efficiencies, productivity improvements, and cost savings are the top-three strategic advantages of cloud-based supply chain management, according to an IDG survey of senior managers and directors around the world. To gain these advantages, enterprises need to have infrastructure that helps them cost-effectively harness their large data workloads and move to the cloud easily.

In fact, the biggest challenge for most companies is figuring out how to have their on-premises infrastructure engineered in such a way that it mirrors the capabilities of the cloud. This way, when companies are ready, they can take their supply-chain data and make a seamless, fast migration to the cloud. Whether you’re a manufacturer, retailer, or large corporation, companies looking to gain real-time, complete visibility in their supply chain require integrated infrastructure with scalable data storage, processing, and computing power to get the job done.

To better uncover these benefits and how innovation and infrastructure are changing the supply chain, I spoke with Oracle and shared insights around helping businesses maximize value.

You’ve said that the customer experience continues to play a role in the transformation of supply chain management. How is it impacting both B2C and B2B industries?

We’ve all become accustomed to getting whatever we need, whenever we need it, with frequent status updates and easy returns. We’ve raised the bar. And it leads to a host of challenges for vendors, mainly in the sense that they need a wide breadth of products available to meet customer demand at any time.

Even though the vast majority of my clients are not in the retail or B2C world, they’re all impacted by this elevated experience. I was recently talking with a couple of distribution executives who said that, several years ago, there was a small percentage of deliveries that were due on the same day, if any. Now, roughly 80 percent of the orders they receive are expected on the same day. They’ve had to start working on Sundays because customers—including business customers—are expecting these extremely rapid deliveries.

There are several other ecommerce themes that are changing supply chain management. One is 24/7 accessibility: the ability to place orders and look up your order status whenever and wherever you are. Another is rapid customization. One of my clients has become number one in his industry by making sure his company provides not just rapid deliveries, but also quickly customized orders. His company does things like paint on the fly, which doesn’t normally happen in manufacturing.

What is the technology that is making this supply chain management transformation possible?

Blockchain impacts supply chain management by allowing for immediate visibility and transparency of global financial transactions—like electronic data interchange (EDI) on steroids. When products require traceability, such as if you have a recall, you can use blockchain to immediately see where your products are in the supply chain and who paid for what. That traceability can certainly be achieved within ERP software already, but if you require the next layer of complexity and immediate transparency, then blockchain technology could be useful.

Big data is another aspect of technology that is changing the supply chain landscape because companies can better tailor the customer experience when they know more about what the customer wants. IoT comes down to data, because you’re trying to attach the data together between different devices. In manufacturing, IoT shows up in preventive maintenance and anticipating when a machine might break down before it happens. When you see how different elements are working together, you can target what needs to be fixed or maintained, without just following a schedule that may or may not be addressing a real problem. This can reduce waste and improve efficiency.

But data is just as challenging as it is helpful. Before we get to work every day, we receive lots of messages between emails, texts, videos, billboards, and messages from our cars—everything is connected these days. The biggest challenge that my clients face is that they’re overwhelmed with data, but they also want and need the data to provide a better customer experience and understand what their customers really need. And they also want to figure out how to do that in a scalable and profitable way.

The challenge is how to sift through all the data that’s collected and put it all together into something meaningful and provide information at your fingertips. My clients are very interested in solutions like dashboards, and it’s a key ingredient in selecting the software; however, getting it implemented correctly is difficult.

 

It sounds like the right infrastructure that can manage multiple data sources and provide actionable insights can improve the entire supply chain process. What about the role of the ERP system in supply chain management? 

We’ve improved supply chain performance significantly by focusing a lot of effort on the demand plan. Instead of using the older perspective of a monthly forecast and whether it’s accurate as is, we’re looking at how we can do this in a more agile, flexible way. The ERP system needs predictive analytics to be able to modify a demand forecast on the fly.

Also, by using vendor-managed inventory systems, we’ve been able to reduce lead times. We’re able to meet short lead time orders that we couldn’t previously meet, with the same or slightly lower inventory levels, at a 5 percent margin improvement. It wasn’t solely due to demand planning, but that was the first step.

Once you get beyond demand planning, the next element is going to be a more agile production schedule geared to the customer—one that’s going to offer suggestions, give you notices, and be exception-based, so that you don’t have to put as much manual effort into it. The demand plan flows down into the production schedule, and then capacity analysis is the next key topic.

What steps can enterprises do to modernize their supply chain management?

We’re in the era of the customer, so start with the demand side of the equation. There are ways, regardless of what your tool set is, to improve upon your demand now and your prediction of future demand. You may not have a system in place to do this yet, but regardless, you should be doing more to look at the demand within your supply chain.

One other quick tip is to look at what information you are getting out of your system and how you can better utilize that information. I find that no matter what client I’m working with, we can always do a better job of accessing information and taking the most relevant information to make better decisions. Even if your system isn’t yet modernized to the point of predictive analytics, you want to move in that direction. You can do this by just getting information from multiple sources and creating a simplified database.

What will supply chain management look like in five years or 10 years from now, and what technology can help take enterprises there?

We’re going to continue seeing the ecommerce effect: the importance of speed, responsiveness, and agility, and the rise of smaller, more frequent orders. All of my clients are interested in managing their vast supply chain networks with lower costs, but better service. They’re trying to find technology to support these goals and figure out how to automate using AI and data.

One ideal future is with 3D printing, because you can print what you need, where you need it, when you need it, and further extend your supply chain. Even then, distribution is going to have costs associated with it, and the last mile will continue to be one of the biggest challenges. Delivering all these smaller, more frequent orders to both consumers and businesses impacts transportation negatively and your distribution network significantly. You need your inventory strategically located closer to a customer, or to have flexible manufacturing capabilities that can respond quickly to demand. The system comes into the picture when you want to set up your network to have what you need, where you need it. How to improve delivery metrics will continue to be a key consideration in the future.

If we can reduce the cost to manufacture and distribute inventory by leveraging supply chain management tools, we can reduce prices and actually do something as radical as bringing more manufacturing back to the U.S.

Take a Deeper Dive…

Supply chain management professionals are eager for new ways to leverage data to drive business value. It is important to understand, however, that successfully using big data requires the right infrastructure designed to manage multiple data sources and provide the computing power to deliver actionable insights across the entire supply chain process. The key to gaining business value from supply chain data is by using big data infrastructure that can acquire, store, process, and analyze huge amounts of data workloads for supply chain insights.