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Walmart+ vs. Amazon Prime: How Different Are They?

Amazon delivered a swift blow to retailers with the introduction of Amazon Prime. Walmart is fighting back.

Amazon spent years building what was to be its competitive advantage in e-commerce, its formidable distribution network. By building distribution centers across the country, investing in algorithms to optimize pick-time, and hiring operational wizards from Walmart and other competitors, Amazon gets products to customers anywhere in the United States cheaper and faster than anyone else.

Walmart went in the opposite direction, taking a ‘build it, and they will come’ approach, building stores in rural areas and locating them close enough together to allow for shared warehousing and logistical resources. Walmart plays in the low margin discount retail arena, and they do it better than anyone else. Perishables such as bread and milk are extremely low margin products, but the wide range of offerings gets customers in the door more often and buying more while they’re there. This is their secret, money-making-sauce, the strategy that allows for a wide distribution of fixed costs and lowers their break-even point.

In 2005 Amazon launched a little thing called Amazon Prime, a membership program with perks which is now enjoyed by roughly 150 million global paying members.

In 2005 Amazon launched a little thing called Amazon Prime, a membership program with perks which is now enjoyed by roughly 150 million global paying members. At the time, Walmart was the giant, its profits being larger than Amazon’s revenue. A decade and a half later, however, and Amazon reigns supreme over online sales. In 2019, Amazon accounted for almost 40 percentof the US e-commerce market. Walmart lagged far behind with slightly more than 5 percent.

An ethos of sales is to make it easy for customers to do business with you. Prime aims to do just that. For $119 a year, Amazon Prime offers services such as music and video streaming, one-day shipping on more than 10 million products, and same-day delivery from Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods. It has its loyalty base hooked and has customers shopping more often and spending about twice as much as non-prime customers. 

Walmart, however, still reigns supreme in brick-and-mortar retail.

Walmart, however, still reigns supreme in brick-and-mortar retail. As reported by Recode, they’re now fighting back with an expansion to their grocery-delivery subscription service, which launched last year. Walmart will be using its 20% market share (of an $800 billion category) as a foothold to launch the introduction of Walmart+. To differentiate themselves, Walmart is looking to include perks that Amazon won’t be able to replicate and may offer discounts on fuel and prescription drugs. 

Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited service currently delivers groceries from more than 1600 US stores and costs $98 per year or $12.95 monthly and offers a free 15-day trial to lure new members. It also offers a per delivery fee for non-members and is testing a service that will take the extra few steps and deliver your groceries right to your fridge.

Widening the Customer Base

As we laid out in our Walmart and Whole Foods white papers, Millennials are outpacing baby boomers as the largest living adult generation, and their buying patterns are heavily focused on eCommerce. 

CEO Doug McMillon has given Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside the task of widening their customer base to include more upscale shoppers and create a seamless customer experience, whether shopping online or instore. Whiteside has also put together a product team, to be headed by Chief Product Officer Meng Chee and will focus on using advancements in tech to improve the customer experience.

Amazon is now also widening its target customer base to include lower-income shoppers and is hoping to lure them into Prime memberships with monthly membership rates.

Although both Walmart and Amazon deliver groceries to food stamp recipients, only Walmart currently offers a monthly membership fee option. Amazon is now also widening its target customer base to include lower-income shoppers and is hoping to lure them into Prime memberships with monthly membership rates. Customers may find more financially viable than a one lump sump yearly membership fee.

Walmart has had a bumpy road in its foray into e-commerce. In 2016 Walmart bought out Jet.com for $3.3 billion, but Jet failed to become a driver for online grocery sales and provide the boost into urban areas they were looking for. Walmart announced in June of last year that it would be folding Jet into its e-commerce operations and ended Jetblack, the AI-powered personal shopping service it rolled out in May of 2018.

Back in 2017, they tested a program called ShippingPass, a $49 per year two-day shipping membership, which was then discontinued, members were then refunded their $49 fee.

Both Amazon and Walmart are forerunners into e-commerce, struggles, and even failures are to be expected. Far from being out for the count, it seems Walmart is coming back swinging.

Do you ship to Amazon, Walmart, Target or other large retail or grocery store chain? The rules are changing and it is getting harder and harder to be able to adhere to them. This is where the logistics experts at BlueGrace Logistics can help your team! Feel free to contact us using the form below and set up a 15 minute chat to discuss how we can help you succeed!

Truckload Freight Contracts: Understanding Contract & Spot Rates

Throughout 2020, truckload carriers felt the burn of the China-U.S. trade war, declining capacity, and low spot rates. In general, markets with lower spot rates are more beneficial to shippers, keeping carrier profitability in check. The opposite applies when contract rates are lower, allowing carriers to retake control and reap greater profits. In addition, the risk for a resurgence of higher spot rates and renewing interest in truckload freight contracts is an area, shippers should understand and keep their eye on in 2020. According to William B. Cassidy of JOC.com, he describes this chance:

“After six consecutive quarters of deflation, the market is rebounding, heading back towards an inflationary environment, the spot market will reach an inflationary environment by Q1 2020.”

To combat that prediction and also consider the influence of the coronavirus, shippers need to understand the driving forces of change in the truckload market, what is already happening with the coronavirus, and a few tips to better underscore and improve use of both truckload freight contracts and spot rate shipping. 

Driving Forces of Change in Contract and Spot Rate Markets

The biggest driving force of change in the market involves available capacity and its influence on capacity. As explained by Cassidy:

“DAT noted that freight demand, in terms of total spot and contract volumes, has been increasing, with spot volumes rising 7 percent in 2019 year over year and contract volumes 4 percent. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) predicts a 1 percent increase in contract truckload volumes for 2019, down from annualized growth of 3.2 percent in 2018 and 3 percent in 2017.”

How much capacity must exit the market before supply and demand move back to a closer alignment? Some experts believe truckload capacity and freight demand already are closer to equilibrium than they’ve been since 2017 and that a surge in demand could tip the balance. Others think trucking’s supply-demand gap will take more time to close.”

Unfortunately, that prediction and driving force now hangs in the balance with a likely swing away from the prediction. That’s right. Capacity is rapidly increasing overseas, and it will likely lead to changes in the U.S. truckload freight contracts’ market.

The State of Truckload Freight Contracts Will Retract Due to the Coronavirus

Capacity is dependent on the demand in the volume of imported raw materials, finished products, and other supplies from around the world. Many electronics, automotive, and medications and medical equipment arrive in the U.S. from China. In addition, the flow of exports from the U.S. to the APAC region, including the iPhone and agricultural products, are at risk. There is a near-stop to the flow of freight in the region due to the coronavirus. So, what happens in other areas abroad and in the U.S.?

The freight that would have filled trailers and help carriers push spot rates upward vanishes. Now, carriers have too much capacity, too many drivers, and too few lanes to travel that make a profit. As a result, the spot rate market is on the verge of bottoming out, and shippers will benefit to an extent. The real problems for shippers will not become evident until their favored carriers start to close lanes and begin to exhibit signs carriers are looking to gain profitability when more reweighs and reclasses occur or accessorial fees tick up. At this point, shippers will face the uncertainty of limited carrier availability, if any, and an inability to move freight to their customers as cost-effectively.

The only way to maintain operations lies in creating a balance between the use of contract and spot rates to get the best deal to benefit everyone.

The only way to maintain operations lies in creating a balance between the use of contract and spot rates to get the best deal to benefit everyone. As carrier operations begin to suffer the effects of continued drops in the spot rate market, it will be time for shippers to start looking for more carriers and fulfillment options to fill the void.  

How to Better Understand Contract and Spot Rates

Shippers that wish to create a successful balance between the use of spot rate and truckload freight contracts need to follow these steps:

  1. Connect your supply chain assets to a centralized supply chain control tower. 
  2. Leverage the full scale and scope of the BlueGrace TMS. 
  3. Take advantage of managed services, including invoice auditing and accounting services.
  4. Rate shipments across all modes and potential trade lanes to determine the best-case, not the cheapest, shipping option. 
  5. Always consider the “other” factors in tendering freight, including claims’ insurance and management needs.
  6. Diversify your carrier network to include the small and local carriers that have expertise in both truckload and last-mile delivery.
  7. Extend your TMS and order fulfillment systems across your whole supply chain, including brick-and-mortar stores.
  8. Remember to integrate new systems with existing platforms to enable omnichannel capabilities and take advantage of all available inventory. 

Gain Better OTR Rating With an Advanced, Customizable TMS at BlueGrace

The freight rate market is continuously changing to reflect the risks and opportunities in the market. As the year rolls on, shippers need to take the steps necessary to shore up their operations against the industry’s top risks, including market volatility and the coronavirus. Moreover, applying the functions and wide-ranging benefits of a dedicated TMS and 3PL’s lineup of managed services will provide a protective barrier against risk and help your organization succeed. Find out how more information and visibility can improve your use of spot rates and truckload freight contracts by calling BlueGrace at 1.800.MY.SHIPPING or filling out the contact form below. 

Outside-In: The Future of Supply Chain Planning

Supply chains are evolving fast. To keep up with the fast pace of supply chain evolution it is important for supply chain planners to upgrade their skills and step up their business planning and forecasting techniques. If the planners lag behind, it will have an adverse impact on not only the supply chain but also on the organization as a whole. 

The Gartner Supply Chain Planning Summit held in Denver, USA, in November 2019, emphasized this very aspect. According to Marko Pukkila, Vice President and Team Manager, Gartner, who shared his views during the summit:

“The job description of SCP leaders today looks totally different than 10 years ago. It’s no longer enough to provide copious amounts of data — planners must use the data to draw conclusions about future risks and opportunities. It’s all about supporting business objectives. Gartner calls this an outside-in mindset.”

What is the Outside-in Mindset? 

As Gartner defines it, the outside-in mindset is about being

aware of what is happening around you — be it a business objective or an upcoming recession — and use the capabilities of the planning function proactively to set up internal processes that are optimized for whatever will happen in the future.”

In simple terms, the outside-in mindset is about understanding external factors and the impact they will have on the business objectives. It is about creating a system that can not only take into consideration the impact of these outside forces but can also respond quickly to the ever-changing global economic-social-political environment. It is about creating a planning process that is agile and flexible enough to integrate future events. 

What are some situations where the outside-in approach would help? 

Let’s take the US-China trade war situation. This scenario has been in existence since 2018. It has impacted the trade relations between the two nations. Needless to say, it has had an impact on the supply chains of the organizations of the two countries. For example, Chinese organizations that were exporting to the US may have seen a decline in the orders due to tariffs or the US organizations would have had to reduce quantities of goods imported from their Chinese counterparts. In this situation, the US companies would have to find another source (country) to fulfill their requirements and the Chinese would have to find alternative buyers for their finished goods. 

While the trade war is an anomaly, as a concept is not unheard of. In this situation, organizations that may have researched and identified alternative buyers or sellers ready to do business with them in case of a change in the trade relationship between their countries would have suffered less of a set back as compared to those who may have neglected to take this factor into consideration.

A current situation that is creating havoc on supply chains is the Coronavirus virus outbreak. An article published on February 14, 2020, in The Wall Street Journal which quotes Lars Jensen, head of Denmark-based maritime research group Sea-Intelligence, saying:

“Substantially less cargo is being moved between China and the rest of the world.  Last week we had an additional 30 sailings canceled, with 23 across the Pacific and the rest to Europe.” The article further states that “Mr. Jensen said the canceled trips, which have topped 50 since late January, will delay or reduce shipments into the U.S., where retailers may see a slowdown in their traditional restocking of inventories for the spring.”

Another article titled The new coronavirus could have a lasting impact on global supply chains published in The Economist shares the example of Apple supply chain which manufactures a bulk of its iPhones in China, being impacted by the virus outbreak.

According to the article, “Analysts reckon that the virus could lead to Apple shipping 5-10% fewer iPhones this quarter and could scupper its plans to ramp up production of its popular AirPods.”

These are just two instances that are coincidently related to one of the major economies of Asia and will have an impact on US businesses. But there are many other situations that may not have a far-reaching, global effect but can disrupt the supply chain at a local level. For example, labor strikes can impact day-to-day operations and create a backlog in the supply chain. Supply chain planners need to factor in local incidents as well while making supply chain plans. 

The Gartner outside-in approach suggests that it is important for supply chain planners to be able to read the data and information available to them and identify possible outliers – roadblocks, challenges, and opportunities, in the future. They should then incorporate solutions or plans to be able to navigate their supply chain should those outliers become a reality in the future. 

How to incorporate the outside-in approach in supply chain planning? 

To incorporate the outside-in approach in supply chain planning, Gartner advises a 3-step process: 

1. Realize that the time to transform is now: Citing the 2008 – 2010 economic recession, Gartner says that organizations that were ready with planning processes in place that provided forward-looking insights fared better during and post the recession than those who tried to streamline their supply chain after the recession hit. To put it simply, there’s no time like the present to streamline the supply chain with the evolving global business, economic, political and social scenario. While the change may seem to be in the distant future, it is wiser to prepare the supply chain for it today. 

2. Refocus the planning team to business outcomes: Organizations need to understand that supply chain planning and business planning are not independent of each other. Explaining this point, Gartner says: “It’s no longer enough to just provide a forecast — planners must use the forecast to find pathways that guide the business to where it wants to go. Think of an advanced navigation system that doesn’t only plot the best route, but also foresees roadblocks and traffic jams and navigates around them.” Further adding, that the planners need to be able to convince the other stakeholders why this plan is good for the business and how it will help them succeed. 

3. Become the orchestrator of success: The supply chain planners need to take the lead on creating cohesion between the different departments of the organization and their business plans. Explaining the point, Marko Pukkila, Vice President and Team Manager, Gartner, says: “The whole is more than the sum of its parts when all parts of the business go into the same direction. This is what planning should accomplish”

Today supply chain planners have data available to them from every touchpoint of their business. This data, if used effectively can form a strong foundation for supply chain plans. But data is just the starting point. As the Gartner three-step process suggests, supply chain planners should use this data in a constructive manner to create actionable insights, solutions, and bring all the stakeholders on board to follow through the plan. 

We know implementing an outside-in approach in supply chain planning is easier said than done. That is why our team of experts not only helps you analyze your supply chain with the help of advanced technology but also guides you in finding effective and efficient solutions to address the issues in your supply chain. Get in touch with our team to know more! 

The Fifty Shapes of Amazon Logistics

Digital and physical are reaching a point of total convergence, something that would have been unheard of 20 years ago. Companies like WholeFoods and Amazon are changing up their logistics goals in a big way, something that is likely to ripple through other similar industries.  

Amazon Tips its Hand to Logistics  

It’s unarguable at this point that Amazon has a knack for developing an in-house system and turning it into a massive profit generator down the road. We’ve seen it before with Amazon cloud computing when the company needed to boost its data handling capabilities. Now Amazon’s cloud drive, known as Amazon Drive has become a for-profit service that is used around the world.  

So what happens when the e-commerce giant turns its eye towards logistics?  

Amazon Logistics  

We’ve seen over the past few years that Amazon isn’t content to wait for packages to be delivered at someone else’s pace. With Amazon Prime, subscribers have grown accustomed to two-day delivery, a feat which has made smaller companies buckle under the weight of consumer expectation. Not content to rest on their laurels, however, Amazon is pushing the envelope again towards next or even same-day delivery. Banking on the fact that as more people realize they can get their items delivered even faster the more people will sign up for a Prime Subscription. And so far the gamble has paid off.  

“Driven by Prime Free One-Day Delivery and Free Same-Day Delivery, it was another year in which Amazon was able to set shipping records. That was rewarded with a 4% surge in its stock. It now sports a market capitalization of $927 billion,” says the MotleyFool. 

“For the holiday period, the tech giant set records for the number of people who tried Prime. In one week alone, Amazon said five million new customers either began a Prime membership or started a trial. The number of items delivered via Prime Free One-Day and Prime Free Same-Day Delivery nearly quadrupled compared to a year ago,” the Fool adds.  

This year, Amazon’s in-house logistics delivered more than 3.5 billion packages compared to FedEx’s 6 billion. Which isn’t terrible when you consider the fact that Amazon started as an internet book store. What’s more, is 60 percent of Amazon customers opted to ship to an Amazon drop point to pick up the packages themselves, further pushing back FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service.  

It wants to control everything from shipping out of the warehouses to delivery to customers’ porches.

“It wants to control everything from shipping out of the warehouses to delivery to customers’ porches. That requires large upfront investments. In the second quarter of 2019 alone it spent $800 million to expand its one-day delivery for Prime Members. It’s also investing $1.5 billion to develop an air hub in Kentucky that’s slated to open in 2021 and will be home to fifty aircraft. Amazon announced its Delivery Service Partner program in May, enabling entrepreneurs to create delivery networks to handle last-mile deliveries for Amazon. The company is also investing tons of money into drone technology and, in June, debuted its Prime Air Drone design,” reads the Fool.  

Building their own in-house logistics network means less reliance on the now “competition” and giving their customers little reason to shop anywhere else. Amazon is also hedging a bet that by using its own logistics network, it can eventually cut down on the cost of packing and delivery.  

The Convergence of Digital and Physical and the Reimagining of the “Store”  

Amazon building its own logistics network is also changing the landscape for the traditional brick and mortar retailers. Within the past two years, we’ve seen the fall of some major retailers like Toys R’ Us and Bon-Ton. These companies are among those that lacked the ability to grasp the importance of a digital presence and the shape of consumer expectations. As we enter into a new decade, many traditional retailers are beginning to change the way they do business, which might be the only thing that keeps them out of Amazon’s massive shadow.  

“Shopping malls and physical outlets may have seen their best days for foot traffic. However, they have been given a new “lease” on life as fulfillment locations. Retail giant Target Corp. uses virtually all of its 1,900 stores as fulfillment locations, and about 80% of its online orders are fulfilled through a store. The new decade will see an increasing convergence of digital and physical operations as brick-and-mortar locations are positioned as hubs closer to the customer and e-commerce sites direct more package delivery to retail outlets, ABI Research said in a late December study,” reads an article from Yahoo! Finance. 

As e-commerce takes an ever-larger share of total retail sales, the strategy and execution of delivery networks will become the axis of success.

“As e-commerce takes an ever-larger share of total retail sales, the strategy and execution of delivery networks will become the axis of success. Regardless of the industry, logistics will increasingly be the difference between an enterprise’s success or failure,” the article continues.  

Even grocery stores are changing the way they serve their customers. 20 years ago, we never would have considered ordering our produce and perishables online, especially not for delivery, yet new startups like Misfits Market and Butcher’s Box are doing just that. Virtually every major grocery store chain now offers some form of digital grocery shopping where customers can order their items and have them delivered to their car in the parking lot.   

These are just some of the changes we’ve seen in the past few years, but some grocery stores are taking it to a whole new level.  

A True Change of Pace for Whole Foods 

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the grocery scene is what we’re seeing from Whole Foods. The organic food market was purchased by Amazon in August of 2017 and under the titan of commerce’s influence has become a supplier for other retailers. How have they been doing so far and what does that mean for their logistics network? Download our White Paper about the subject and learn how you can establish processes and systems that are in line with supermarkets and retailers’ requirements, such as On-Time and In-Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD). 

How Can SMBs Contend With Big Box Retailers?

Small and mid-size businesses are finding themselves in a difficult position in today’s market, courtesy of the Amazon effect. Consumers now expect free shipping and in most cases they expect it to be either two days, one-day, or even same-day delivery. That’s all well and good when you have a massive financial engine to throw behind it (having your own in-house logistics and distribution network doesn’t hurt either) but for smaller companies, that’s not always an option. Instead, SMBs are left with the choice of eating exorbitant shipping fees to meet customer expectations or stick with standard delivery and risk losing their market share.  

In 2020, SMBs are going to have to make some tough decisions on how they invest their shipping and logistics dollars,

Through 2019, this tension has been growing, complicated even more so by big-box retailers, Walmart in particular. In 2020, SMBs are going to have to make some tough decisions on how they invest their shipping and logistics dollars, when and where to invest in technology over team (or vice versa), and where they can go for reliable and affordable delivery options. 

The Ever-Growing Logistics Challenge

SMBs are going to have their hands full when it comes to figuring out the best route to go for logistics, especially when trying to keep up with Big Box Influencers. Walmart has put a tight fist on logistics with its MABD and OTIF policies. In an effort to keep products on the shelves exactly where and when they need them, the retail superstore has begun punishing carriers who don’t deliver everything they are supposed to, exactly when they’re supposed to deliver it. Given that Walmart is an incredibly lucrative contract for carriers they will, of course, oblige. Ensuring that Walmart gets exactly what it needs. 

SMBs don’t typically have that sort of clout, however. So what options do they have available to them? Understanding that their customers expect a new level of service that would never have been considered as possible 20 years ago, SMBs will have to look at alternative logistics strategies to ensure that their customers are happy while keeping profit margins in the black. 

Knowing where to Source Carriers

Knowing where to source carriers from is among the top challenges for SMBs. Sure, there’s a UPS store down the street, but is that the most cost-effective means of shipping out goods? There’s also a USPS in every town on the map, but will they get products there on time? These are just some of the questions that SMBs will have to be able to answer. 

All of these questions and variables make it incredibly difficult for smaller companies to come up with a stable plan for their logistics.

There’s also the matter of fluctuating shipping rates, and tightening capacity, which are subject to change with seemingly little or no notice. All of these questions and variables make it incredibly difficult for smaller companies to come up with a stable plan for their logistics. Most of them are resigned to the fact that they will have to increase their shipping and logistics budget and hope for the best. 

Investing in Technology

Tech is another difficult consideration for SMBs. On the one hand, many companies realize that it’s important to have the right technology solution in place. On the other hand, it can be expensive to the point of being cost-prohibitive. What technology should smaller companies invest in? What is going to help them the most to stay relevant and viable in today’s market? These are questions that don’t always have an easy or straightforward answer and that tends to make smaller companies more hesitant when deciding how to invest their logistics dollars. 

Taking a Lesson from the Big Box

If Amazon and Walmart have taught us anything it’s “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Amazon has taken several pages from their competitors’ playbooks and made it work for their own operations and the same can be said for Walmart.  Learn more about the supplier retailer relationship from our whitepaper here.

In addition to managing the relationship with shippers, it might also be time to involve the financial experts that are in your industry.

In addition to managing the relationship with shippers, it might also be time to involve the financial experts that are in your industry. Many businesses tend to compartmentalize their logistics and their C-Suite when ultimately, both have tools and skills that the other needs to not only survive but thrive. We’ve also got something to say about that as well.

Lastly, if you still have questions about how to compete with the big box stores or make your logistics dollars go further, let us know. The BlueGrace expert team is ready, willing, and able to answer your questions and to help turn your business into a lean, green, logistics machine it was always meant to be.  

Diversification Is The Lifeblood Of Your Supply Chain

In the current economic scenario where businesses are shutting shops with alarming regularity, it has become necessary for organizations to diversify their supply chain. Given the importance of the subject, we hosted a webinar on the topic – From Chips to Dips in Service? Supply Chain Impact of Diversifying Chris Kupillas, VP Sales, at BlueGrace Logistics discussed the topic. They talked about why it was crucial for businesses to bring in variety in their supply chain, what factors were needed to be considered and the challenges that businesses might face in the process. 

Below, taking reference from the article, we discuss why this is good for the business and how it can benefit them and other stakeholders in the ecosystem. 

How does a diversified supply chain help the business? 


Source: BlueGrace Logistics Webinar: From Chips to Dips in Service? Supply Chain Impact of Diversifying.

As the quote from Greg Foran suggests, diversifying the supply chain helps businesses stay relevant. There are multiple ways in which businesses can do this. They can offer variants in their current product offering, introduce new products, introduce the business to different regions within their country or go global.    

Variants and new products will allow businesses to retain customers by enabling them to cater to their ever-changing needs and demands. And entering new regions or countries will widen their customer base. A business with more products and/or serving multiple regions or countries tends to have a better chance at survival in times of economic recessions or downturns or political strife. 

Is diversification only for the demand side of the supply chain? 

No. For a business to be prepared for different cycles of the market, it is also important to introduce options on the supply side of the business. This means identifying new sources for raw materials, spare parts, and alternative manufacturers where they can outsource the manufacturing of their products if required. They also need to identify service providers like transporters, warehouse operators and 3PL service providers who can work with them when needed. Having these alternatives on standby or in a working relationship will ensure that in the event the regular service provider cannot fulfill the business requirement, the business will not suffer. 

Diversification is great for other stakeholders in the ecosystem 

A manufacturer is just one of the beneficiaries of a diversified supply chain. Other stakeholders in the business ecosystem also benefit from it. For example wholesalers, retailers, e-commerce websites, also benefit in the form of more saleable goods to offer their customers. For them, the wider the range of products, the higher the probability of making a sale. This means more business for them which ultimately generates more business for the manufacturer. 

Similarly, it provides transporters and other logistical service providers with more business and regular work opportunities. Take, for example, a small transporter who is working with a company that produces only seasonal goods – let’s say woolen garments. The transporter will only get work from this organization until the woolen garments season lasts. After that, it may have to search for another client until the season rolls back again. Now, if the same company started to also produce summer wear, the transporter will not have to engage another client if it doesn’t need to. It will have year-round work from one source. 

That’s not all. Diversification also empowers customers. It gives them multiple options to choose from. Since diversification also creates competition, it provides customers not only with quality options but also competitively priced products, making sure businesses work on creating better products within a set budget. 

What are the benefits of diversification for the supply chain? 

Now that we know why diversification is crucial for businesses, let’s look at why it is the lifeblood of it benefits the supply chain of your business. 

  1. Risk mitigation: As mentioned earlier, a diverse supply chain helps businesses sustain in less-than-ideal circumstances. It provides alternatives to continue the business even if the demand for a product goes down, or a supplier discontinues service or there is a disruption – political, nature-based, social, economic or cultural. For example, take the case of the coronavirus outbreak in China. If companies selling their products in China do not have a presence in other markets, it will adversely impact their business. Or if a company is only sourcing from China then it’s supply of material or products will be affected which would again create an untenable situation for their business. 
  2. More flexibility: A diverse supply chain provides opportunities to optimize available supply options with the demand side of the business. It gives the opportunity for businesses to divert their manpower, funds, and efforts to products or regions that are doing well.  If the business operates in a single product or serves a single market, this flexibility is not available.
  3. Negotiation power: Cost is an important factor in supply chain. A supply chain that can control its costs has a higher opportunity to improve its bottom line and earn profits. A supply chain that works with multiple suppliers and service providers has more room to negotiate better rates and service contracts as compared to the one that works with a single source or service provider. 
  4. Promotes out of the box thinking: To diversify one has to continuously be on the lookout for new opportunities to differentiate. It can be for a new product mix, design, packaging, supply, or go-to-market strategies. This helps employees develop curiosity, find creative solutions to operational problems and creates a culture of innovation in the organization.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of supply chain diversification. To know more about the topic listen to our webinar: From Chips to Dips in Service? Supply Chain Impact of Diversifying, hosted by Chris Kupillas, VP Sales where they talk about the importance and the challenges of diversifying the supply chain. 

To know how you can improve your supply chain and transportation to keep up with your customers demands, get in touch with our team today! 

The Rise of the 3PL for Managed Transportation Services

Managed transportation services have widely become an integral function of modern supply-chain. As reported by Steve Baker of Forbes, the outsourcing of managed transportation services to other entities has different terminology depending on location. For example, managed transportation or transportation management might be the ideal terms to use in the US. Meanwhile, Europe will refer to the effective outsourcing of transportation management as “fourth-party logistics services (4PL).”

Outsourcing transportation management has the added benefit of taking advantage of external resources and physical assets.

In addition, outsourcing transportation management has the added benefit of taking advantage of external resources and physical assets. However, the aspects of managing transportation are much more profound when looking at the topic from a software standpoint. To understand the rise of the 3PL for managed transportation services, shippers need to understand how managed transportation services became a global power, why 3PLs in managed services work well together, and how 3PLs enable better management of transportation.

Why Managed Transportation Services Grew to Permeate the Global Supply Chain

Take a moment to define managed transportation. According to Chris Cunnane of Logistics Viewpoints, “in a managed transportation services arrangement, a shipper contracts with a third party to plan and execute their moves for them. In other words, instead of having internal planners plan and execute moves, those planners are employed by the MTS supplier, but work on the shipper’s behalf.”

As shippers face the need to ship more and keep costs under control, managed services through a 3PL is the easiest path forward. 

Unlike traditionally maintaining independent transportation management programs in-house, outsourcing the process allows companies to reap a stronger return on investment. In a 2014 survey of supply chain professionals, 9% of respondents saved more than 12% on freight costs through managed transportation services. That number rose to 32% by 2016, and preliminary reports indicate the continued growth of savings. That’s the distinction and primary driving force. As shippers face the need to ship more and keep costs under control, managed services through a 3PL is the easiest path forward. 

3PLs and Managed Services Go Well Together

Part of the rationale for the increased use of 3PLs for managed transportation services surrounds technology and capabilities. In a traditional logistics management approach, an individual shipper must contact carriers, request quotes, understand billing practices, validate invoice details, submit payments, share information from the carrier to this customer and so on.

Leveraging the technology of the 3PL to automate logistics management and effectively outsource the whole process of managing transportation is the gold mine.

While the process works great when the entire supply chain resided in a small town, it becomes grossly ineffective in the modern, e-commerce driven world. With more customers and volume than ever before, shippers need real-time visibility, advanced shipping notifications, increased responsiveness, and faster ways to handle logistics. Working with a 3PL for its basic premise of securing more capacity and lower rates is great. However, leveraging the technology of the 3PL to automate logistics management and effectively outsource the whole process of managing transportation is the gold mine.

Ways 3PLs Excel in Managed Service and Value

Using a 3PL for managed transportation services also allows third-party entities to effectively manage more freight, connect with more carriers, improve supply chain responsiveness, and work together without sacrificing the proprietary information of individual shippers. The various ways 3PLs excel in managed service and value is nothing short of remarkable. In fact, some of the largest managed service providers tend to rely on a unified transportation management system (TMS) that enables continuous growth and power. For those 3PLs that have lagged behind in offering a TMS, recent acquisitions around the industry indicate all larger 3PLs are now looking to deploy better, more reliable TMS capabilities to give all shippers an equal opportunity to leveraged managed services, such as the BlueGrace TMS combined with managed services.

Of course, the real value of managed services lies in the value-added services, such as auditing, accounting management, billing, compliance record keeping, load matching, big data analytics-driven insights, and more. It’s an endless pool of improvement, and 3PLs will continue to maximize service and value without adding to the costs of individual shippers. 

Tap the Value of Managed Freight Transportation Through BlueGrace

BlueGrace is a 3PL that understands the value of managed transportation services. With a strong history of working hand-in-hand with shippers to create customized solutions, and using our BlueShip™ TMS to transform logistics management into a turnkey, automated process. As the value of using a 3PL for managed services increases, BlueGrace will see an influx of more shippers and carriers that are willing to look beyond the company walls and realize stark benefits of using a TMS. Find out more about how to take advantage of BlueGrace’s managed transportation services by calling 800.MY.SHIPPING or completing the form below.

The Key to Managing Disruption? Outsourcing.

Crises such as the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent disruption to our economy and supply chains have truly brought to light the importance of effective risk management. In a world where normally reliable trade partners are shutdown for weeks or ports are closed or workers are furloughed, companies that were one minute functional are now scrambling for solutions to move goods from manufacturing to warehouse to distribution center to retail outlets. What once seemed like a well-oiled machine is now full of chaos or emptiness. 

Hiring a 3PL can help companies work their way through tough times.

Hiring a 3PL can help companies work their way through tough times. A lack of resources to maintain and improve growth, lack of experience coping with crises, a deficient organizational structure or insufficiently trained or available staff are all hurdles that can be overcome by outsourcing logistics operations. 

86% of Fortune 500 companies are outsourcing to 3PLs, and with good reason. 

A 3PL Allows You to Focus on What You Do Best 

Handing off some or all logistics operations to a Third Party Logistics (3PL) provider allows companies to focus on the product or service(s) they provide without dealing with the, well, logistics of it all. Whether a company is looking for help managing their entire logistics operations or simply needs help putting together a tech stack that serves their needs and goals, 3PLs can tackle the operations that are out of their wheelhouse. 

It Can Cut Costs 

Because of their industry knowledge, access to top tech, highly developed networks, and the potential for bulk discounts, 3PLs may be able to help companies cut logistics costs and manage their budgets more effectively. Outsourcing can lead to the development of smarter, more efficient processes tailored to a specific business’ needs. 

Reducing logistics spend through better deals with carriers and/or improved operational efficiency opens up opportunities for growth.

Reducing logistics spend through better deals with carriers and/or improved operational efficiency opens up opportunities for growth. It leaves room in the budget for improvement, whether that be through expansion, R&D, or hiring on top talent. 

3PLs Provide Scalability 

When you hire a 3PL to handle logistics, you’re gaining a modicum of scalability that you simply can’t get with an internal department or positions dedicated to logistics. A 3PL can provide the staffing you need during every season. A 3PL may also allow for scalability in a new location without the upfront expense associated with opening a physical location, providing expertise and connections in new shipping lanes without a dedicated staff.  

Outsourcing Isn’t Without Risk 

As with just about any business endeavor, outsourcing to a 3PL isn’t risk free. When a company is spending money, it’s inevitable that things could go sideways and they won’t receive the return on investment they’d hoped for. Risks involved in outsourcing to a 3PL include unexpected costs, trouble during the transition of operations from your company to the 3PL, and reduced customer service. 

Mitigating the Risks 

Discussions on expectations, service requirements, budget, and other pertinent details should occur before hiring a 3PL.

There are certainly ways to reduce the risks listed above. Choosing a 3PL with extensive knowledge and experience in your industry and in the type of operation you’re hiring them to carry out is critical. Look at references and reviews of the company and speak with companies who have used the provider if possible. Discussions on expectations, service requirements, budget, and other pertinent details should occur before hiring a 3PL, plus continued effective communication is important to ensuring key players are on the same page. 

In Conclusion 

When times are tough, whether due to extraordinary market conditions like the ones today, or just about any other circumstances, a 3PL can help companies work through problems without the large capital outlay often required with internal operational improvements. Wondering how a 3PL could help your company through a crisis? Contact BlueGrace today to get a free supply chain analysis from one of our experts! 

Evolving Consumer Demands Prompt Continued Changes in Logistics

Twenty years ago, no one would have imagined for a second that they could order a product online in the morning and have it on their porch before they got home from work. Today, it’s all but expected that delivery occur within very small timeframes, even the same day.

The battle amongst large players in the e-commerce segment like Amazon and WalMart for fastest delivery times appears to only be escalating, meaning consumers are becoming more and more used to getting their packages within a couple days. This means changes in logistics operations must continue to evolve in order to support these demands. Note: Download our whitepaper, Walmart: The Retail-Supplier Relationship for even more details.

In order to keep up with consumer demand, logistics must evolve.

Today’s consumer demand means that buyers expect more from suppliers. They need the right merchandise delivered at the right time in precisely the way they need it delivered. When these expectations aren’t meant, suppliers may be faced with penalties that can be crippling. The drive for on-time delivery can also lead to unexpected accessorial fees. In order to keep up with consumer demand, logistics must evolve.

Logistics Technology Evolves to Meet Demands

Many logistics divisions are turning to technology to help meet evolving demands. Without the technology, keeping up is a pipe dream for many operations. Here are some of the technologies logistics operations are falling back on in order to serve their customers better:

  • Demand Planning– It’s critical to stay ahead of the game when delivery timeframes are so short. Demand planning software is changing to make sure suppliers are ready to meet demands.
  • Smarter Analytics– Top notch analytics are being implemented across logistics operations, from warehouses to transportation, to give logistics providers a leg up. Analytics are used to support many arms of the logistics operation, as well as keeping stakeholders informed.
  • TMS– Comprehensive transportation management systems are critical to getting loads out the door and ensuring on-time delivery. Improved routing, load tracking, cost control, and reporting are critical to helping companies meet consumer demands while working within their operational budget.
  • IoT– The Internet of Things has major potential to help suppliers meet stringent demands. Load tracking (i.e., real-time GPS tracking) and monitoring (i.e., atmospheric conditions, handling sensors to detect impact to parcels) are two major IoT applications being implemented by cutting-edge suppliers to improve delivery.
  • Blockchain– Blockchain is a technology being implemented to improve traceability and accountability in supply chains by recording data in a way it can’t be tampered with or changed. 

Demands for Faster Delivery Mean Demand for Better Visibility

A transparent supply chain is one of the most important factors in meeting deadlines. Consumers and retailers alike insist on knowing where their merchandise is, when they’ll get it, and how they’ll get it. 

Supply chain visibility is a top priority at most companies, but only 6% of companies say they’ve achieved full visibility. While supply chain visibility ranks behind OTIF and delivery issues in a 2017 Geodis survey, it may hold the key to solving those problems.

Staying one step ahead is critical to supplier success, and stagnation simply won’t do in the current logistics

Consumer and retailer demand will inevitably continue to evolve and put more pressure on the logistics industry. Staying one step ahead is critical to supplier success, and stagnation simply won’t do in the current logistics market. Wondering how your logistics operations can keep up with ever-hastening delivery expectations? Contact one of our representatives at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to get a free supply chain analysis from one of our experts!

The Impact Of The Coronavirus On Surface Freight

Recall that at the beginning of the year, industry experts expected the surface freight spot market would gradually increase to make up for its decline over the past year. Every publication on the planet was encouraging shippers and logistics service professionals to start thinking about renewing their interest in contracted freight rates that would help keep freight spend under control. In addition, the uncertainty over a global trade war between the US and China was on the brink of collapse, and all signs indicated growth in the market. Then, the coronavirus became the latest hot topic in supply chain management. Shippers that wish to stay competitive need to understand a few things about the true impact of the coronavirus on surface freight and what they need to do to prepare for it now. 

What’s Happening With The Coronavirus? 

The coronavirus is a major threat to the global supply chain. While its spread has been largely limited to areas of the AIPAC region and a few thousand cases outside of that region, it appears to be catching fire more quickly. The mass quarantines in Wuhan applied the metaphorical breaks to production and left the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index closed for more than three weeks. Substantial drops in ocean container rate indices occurred, losing up to $100 per $800 in the time frame. While this might not seem like an issue for surface freight, it alludes to a lowering of spot rate volatility. Meanwhile, Greg Knowler of JOC.com notes that the coronavirus has not yet led to a “rapid resumption of manufacturing almost 4 weeks after the Chinese new year, factories are struggling to restart production. An advisory from UK foreign affairs stated February 17 words that China continues to restrict the movement of people in response to the coronavirus outbreak.” As the restrictions continue and grow more common, especially in areas like the US that are trying to keep the virus from spreading at all costs, the risk to spot rate markets will increase. Restricted movements effectively open more capacity and lead to the bottom falling out from the spot rate market.  

Potential Ways Coronavirus May Disrupt The Surface Freight Supply Chain 

The impact of the coronavirus on surface freight in the US is not yet a primary concern, reports DAT. It’s relative containment overseas and strict containment in the US means that its disruption will be menial for the upcoming weeks. However, even that is a relative example. US supply chains depend on Chinese imports, and as the factories shudder in empty silence, technology products, auto parts, and medicines and medical equipment import levels will decline. Thus, volume in the US will drop. As the drops occur, more carriers will face the problems of too much available capacity. It’s the grand irony of 2020. There were years upon years of discussions of preventing the capacity crunch, and now, there is just too much capacity to make a difference. 

The potential for disruption is severe, and companies need an alternate way to ensure a disruption-free supply chain.  

Of course, additional disruption risks remain. Widespread contamination of freight or spread of the virus in people could lead to mass callouts among drivers, a flat-out refusal to accept mildly ill truckers at warehouse gates, and more. The potential for disruption is severe, and companies need an alternate way to ensure a disruption-free supply chain.  

How to Lessen the Impact of the Coronavirus 

Let’s be clear on one area of concern. There is not a way or step that individual shippers can take to 100% stop the coronavirus from spreading around the globe. It is a virus, and it’s up to health professionals and experts to stop it. Now, that does not mean shippers are left with empty shelves and angry customers. Instead, it just implies a need for more diversity in the supply chain. Shippers need to increase the number of working carrier relationships.

Shippers should take added steps to ensure carriers comply with all applicable health and government regulations.

Shippers should take added steps to ensure carriers comply with all applicable health and government regulations. More visibility into truck location and ETA can also provide peace of mind to ensure shippers are not on the verge of interacting with truckers or others that were recently exposed to locations with a high volume of viral activity and potential effects of coronavirus on surface freight movements.  

Ensure you can always find available capacity and routes by leveraging an advanced transportation management system (TMS).  

Compared to the flu, the coronavirus is more life-threatening when people fail to take basic precautions, such as hand-washing, not touching the face, and staying home when ill. With that in mind, shippers should take those basic steps and radically evolve their logistics management operations to secure more drivers, more carriers, more trade lanes, more stops (or vice versa), and more suppliers. In other words, it is time to scale the supply chain network upward to find more suppliers and available business-to-business service partners to avoid disruptions. Also, do not cut your shipping volume due to the coronavirus. Instead, ensure you can always find available capacity and routes by leveraging an advanced transportation management system (TMS).  

Vaccinate Your Organization Against The Coronavirus With A BlueGrace Partnership 

Using a TMS is one critical way to vaccinate your organization against the coronavirus. If it is going to spread, you cannot necessarily stop it. However, taking the step of investing in a quality relationship with a TMS vendor and third-party logistics servicer, such as BlueGrace, will have a protective effect and help keep your business in business even as the virus spreads. Find out more about how to get started by completing the form below or call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING today. 

What Matters Most When Choosing A 3PL: Cost Or Customer Service?

While there are many factors to consider when choosing a 3PL service provider, cost and customer service are two of the most critical factors. 

Finding the right balance is the ultimate chicken and egg situation for all logistics managers. If they can crack this, they can get a step closer to creating a better and more effective supply chain.

Why The Conundrum?

On the one hand, organizations have a set budget to spend with a 3PL partner on transportation, warehousing, and related activities. On the other hand, the logistics partner is not only accountable to provide precise, efficient, and affordable logistical services to the organization but is often the face of the company for the end customers – regardless of the organization operating in the B2B or in the B2C space.

For both sectors, the 3PL is the first point of contact with the customer and more often than not, it has multiple contact points in the end-to-end supply chain. 

This is why, for logistics managers, choosing a 3PL partner is the crux of their job.

This is why, for logistics managers, choosing a 3PL partner is the crux of their job. The right decision may make the difference between success and failure. The wrong choice wrecks havoc not only in the logistics department but company-wide. When negotiating a contract with a 3PL starts logistics manager should: 

  • Conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the proposal sent by the 3PL
  • Understand and calculate an estimate of the lost opportunity cost of choosing a low priced service at the expense of efficient customer service. 
  • Find out if the lost opportunity cost would be less or more than than the cost of hiring a 3PL which provides a premium customer service 
  • Understand the management’s position on overshooting the logistics budget

They should also ask the following questions: 

  • Can the organization accommodate an increase in logistics cost?
  • How will it impact the bottom line if the costs were to be absorbed by the organization? 
  • Is there a scope to increase the product price? How will it affect sales? 

Now that we know why the decision is critical and why it poses a challenge, it’s also important to know why both of these factors are individually critical. 

Why Is Cost Important? 

The cost of hiring a 3PL forms a part of the complete product cost and thus impacts the pricing. While a slight increase in the pricing for high-value goods may not affect a customer’s purchasing decision, it may impact sales of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). Sometimes even a slight increase in the price for FMCG goods can negatively influence its sales, giving the competition room to gain market shares. 

Why is Customer Service important? 

Like cost, customer service also plays an important role in the complete packaging of the product. How long can an organization sustain its business with a transporter who delivers goods late or in damaged condition? Or a warehousing facility that is not able to maintain the goods in a sale-able condition? Not for long. Sooner or later, these aspects – late delivery and poor product condition or damaged products will start to impact the product image in the market, and thus start to adversely impact its sales. 

How a 3PL handles customer queries related to product delivery, or processes returns also form a part of customer service and affect the overall perception of the customer about the product and the company. 

In addition to the above aspects, how a 3PL handles customer queries related to product delivery, or processes returns also form a part of customer service and affect the overall perception of the customer about the product and the company. Thus, both of these factors have the ability to influence the success or failure of the product or an organization. Then how does a logistics manager choose on which factor to focus on and where can he take a little leeway? 

So, What Is More Important? 

As we have seen, if the cost for a 3PL goes up, it will to some extent affect the product pricing. And depending on how the company chooses to deal with extra cost, it can also have a bearing on its profit margins and the bottom line. 

An article in CMO by Adobe shares that according to a survey by PwC titled Experience Is Everything, “52% of the respondents would pay for speedy and efficient customer service”. For 73% of the respondents, “a good experience is key in influencing brand loyalties”, and “60% said they would stop doing business with a company if they experienced unfriendly service”.

survey carried out by Capgemini in 2017 talks about consumer willingness to pay for a better service. According to the survey, 81% of the respondents are “willing to increase their spend with an organization for a better experience”. According to an article in Multi-Channel on a 2018 PwC survey titled: Future of Customer Experience, “customers across a wide variety of industries said they were willing to pay as much as a 16% premium for better service”.

The importance and need for good customer experience are only going to become more critical. 

These statistics spread over a couple of years adequately highlight the growing importance of good customer experience. In the interconnected global business environment, the importance and need for good customer experience are only going to become more critical. 

The above survey results also highlight two very crucial points related to customer service: the first, if it is good, it can help retain customers and even bring in new ones; the customers are willing to pay for quality customer experience and service. The second point that these surveys bring forth is that customers can discontinue business based on even single poor customer experience. In the long term, poor customer service will tend to have a larger impact on the bottom line than a slightly higher cost of the 3PL’s service. 

If you choose the right 3PL, in addition to good customer service you get many other benefits as well.

And if the surveys on customer service are anything to go by, efficient and timely customer service will be able to persuade the customers to bear a slightly higher product or service cost. If you choose the right 3PL, in addition to good customer service you get many other benefits as well. 

BlueGrace knows both these aspects are critical in creating a winning product proposition. We help build a cost-efficient and customer friendly supply chain, get in touch with our team today!

Amazon’s Next Frontier: The Food and Grocery Business

Amazon has already proved its mettle in the e-commerce space and in the distribution sector. Earlier in the year the company also staked its claim in the digital freight brokerage industry. Now, it has set its sight on the grocery business.   

Amazon’s Grocery Connect 

Unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet.

For the uninitiated, Amazon is not new to the food business. It has been operating in the food and grocery sector since it acquired Whole Foods in 2017; Amazon Go stores; and its fresh grocery delivery service. However, unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet. According to an article published in The Motley Fool, Amazon’s CFO Brian Olsavsk speaks about the company’s latest quarterly results saying, its sales from physical stores, which are principally Whole Foods revenue, were actually down by 1.3% from the previous year — “this is the only major segment of Amazon’s net sales that didn’t show any growth”. 

This has not dissuaded the company from making further investment in the food and grocery business though. Early last month, it announced its plans to launch a new brick and mortar food and grocery store brand. The first store will be opened Woodland Hills, California in 2020.  This new business will be separate from its existing food and grocery business.  

With this announcement, one can say with certainty that for next year, one of Amazon’s major business goals will be to acquire a large slice of the global grocery and food retail market which is estimated to be worth USD 12.24 trillion by 2020

What will be different in the new venture?  

While Amazon has a presence in the food business, its reach has been limited. According to news reports, Amazon is aiming to reach a wider customer base. While Amazon’s Whole Foods business caters to the high-end customer, the new stores will be designed to cater to mid and low-income households. The new stores are expected to enable Amazon to offer their customers a range of products more in line with other large retailers like Walmart, Costco, and Kroger.   

In an article in Forbes retail expert Neil Stern, explores in-depth what the customer can expect from Amazon’s yet to be named new grocery venture: 

  • The new store will be omnichannel from the beginning 
  • It will have ample space for in-store picking and holding facilities 
  • The focus will be on mainstream products 
  • It will be more price-competitive than the Whole Foods business  
  • It may focus more on Amazon’s private label  

Will technology be a part of the new venture?  

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology.

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology. So it goes without saying that technology will be a large part of the newly announced grocery venture as well. In his article, Neil shares that the new store might not be as tech-savvy as the facilities available at Amazon Go stores. Further adding that technology in the new store might not be immediately scalable.  

Irrespective of the level of savviness, we can safely assume that technology will play an important role in the store, if not initially, then going forth.  

What’s in it for you?  

Business opportunities.  

Anyone associated with the business world knows, Amazon works on a large scale. The new grocery venture will sell a wide range of products. To run this operation efficiently and competitively, Amazon will need to source products from a variety of suppliers. And for this, the e-commerce behemoth will need to enlist a large number of suppliers.   

While working with a large scale operator like Amazon has its perks, it also has stringent requirements. Organizations like Amazon expect high quality, regular supply of goods, and adherence to delivery timelines from their suppliers. Given the fact that the e-commerce giant is a technology-driven company, it will also look for tech-savviness in its business partners.  

So, what are the qualities required to become a supplier for such a large scale venture? 

You need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 

While the company will share what it would look for in a supplier, there are a few things that are usually expected from suppliers working with large scale multinational companies such as Amazon: 

  1. Quality products: There can be no compromise on this ever. The product, packaging, and delivery all have to follow a set standard. Any deviation from the standard can lead to losing the contract.  
  2. Technology: Technology is gradually taking over the retail space. Data transfer, reports, and invoicing are all done electronically, usually with the help of specialized software. Suppliers need to ensure that their organization is not only able to transfer required data in a systematic way electronically but is also connected internally through technology. This will help ensure both accuracy and speed in work and data exchange.  
  3. Strong supply chain: A robust supply chain with end-to-end visibility is an essential requirement to do business with large scale organizations such as Amazon. For this, you need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 
  4. Reliable transporters: Another important factor in successfully servicing a large retail store chain is a reliable transporter/carrier with a well-connected network and a good track record of on-time delivery.  

To know what other factors come into play for qualifying as a supplier for a large, food and grocery retail chain, download our whitepaper  Whole Foods: Thriving as a supplier in the complex supermarket supply chain.  

The food and grocery retail landscape is set to change with new technologies being adopted by the retail leaders. To cater to them and work alongside them, their suppliers will also have to deploy modern technology in their business.  This is where we can work with you to make your supply chain – Amazon ready or any food and grocery retail business ready.  To know how we can assist you in getting there, connect with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below.

What you can do to help “Weather-proof” Your Supply Chain?

Weather events can put a drastic slow down on your operations and unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to predict exactly when these events will happen. Sure, there are seasonal weather events like snow and hurricanes, which gives us a reasonable timeframe in which to expect these types of events. But even then, it still becomes a matter of “wait and see” as to whether or not the event will come to pass. And what about the events that we don’t expect such as nor’easters, polar vortex, or wildfires? There are certain catalysts that can create a potential for these events, such as an extended drought, but there’s no way of knowing for sure until the event is actually happening.  

In the event of something truly catastrophic, such as a hurricane, there’s even more pressure for the trucking industry to keep rolling on schedule.  

For most businesses, bad weather simply means staying home for the day and waiting for the weather to pass. Trucking companies, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Drivers are still expected to maintain their routes and delivery schedules, in spite of bad weather conditions. In the event of something truly catastrophic, such as a hurricane, there’s even more pressure for the trucking industry to keep rolling on schedule.  

Severe weather events can disrupt the supply chain causing lag and bottlenecks, especially during a true black swan event in which trucks are rerouted for emergency relief.  

For shippers and manufacturers, weather events can wreak havoc on delivery schedules, even when the weather event is thousands of miles away from you. Severe weather events can disrupt the supply chain causing lag and bottlenecks, especially during a true black swan event in which trucks are rerouted for emergency relief.  

So what can you do to prepare your supply chain against such events? 

A Reason for the Season 

Winter or summer, springtime floods or tropical storms in the fall, Mother Nature has predictably unpredictable conditions to throw at us. Plan in advance for alternate routes and parking locations if the regular road is closed and the usual truck parking is filled. Know in advance where road construction is planned. Always carry emergency gear appropriate to the season. Have a reliable response ready when faced with unreliable weather conditions. 

Part of preparing that reliable response is having good resources to turn to for accurate information. Every truck driver and every motor carrier dispatcher should have a list of phone numbers and websites for up-to-date reports on local weather, road closures, road construction and emergency notifications, such as during floods and storms. There are, of course, excellent commercial websites, products and services available. 

Here is a guide to begin building your own list of resources:

Always pull off the road and park in a safe location before checking websites or placing a phone call. Predictable responses and resources will help you meet the unpredictability of Mother Nature. 

Dealing with Sudden Spot Rate Hikes

One of the major aspects to keep in mind when you’re planning for weather events is how truckload rates can be affected by the weather. Since supply chains have become a global engine, a disruption in one location can cause problems in another. For shippers, that disruption can mean unexpectedly higher rates for shipping.

Here are a few best practices to dealing with a sudden surge in spot rates.  

  • Consider working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to augment your available capacity and carrier options: Outsourcing eliminates the burden of completing work in-house, but it still relies on efficiency in operation. 3PLs holistic approach, buying, and negotiating power can help augment your operations year-round.  
  • Explore intermodal and multimodal shipping options when the first chances of a storm’s arrival become apparent: Intermodal and multimodal shipping are usually used interchangeably, but both offer unique advantages to getting around after a major weather event.  
  • Increase the shipping budget through proactive, cost-saving measures through year-round operations: Cost-saving measures, such as improved dock management and load planning will naturally lead to savings in the budget. Such savings must not be 100% logged into the company profile. Instead, a percentage should be allocated for use in handling stretches in the freight budget after a disaster. More importantly, gains in efficiency will build resiliency and agility, allowing the supply chain to flex to meet the demands after a disaster.  

Batten Down the Hatches at HQ 

Spot rates are one way to deal with weather events abroad, but what happens when the storm is on your doorstep? Trucks being diverted can slow down your supply chain but when your base of operations is out of commission, everything comes to a grinding halt. Having a robust plan in place is necessary, especially if you operate in a location where inclement weather events is a yearly risk.  

Having the right infrastructure in place should be your first step.

Having the right infrastructure in place should be your first step. Does your main office have a contingency for backup power? How about internet access? Can your employees remotely access your company’s phone and operating systems? Something so simple as backup generators and remote desktops can keep operations moving despite external factors.  

Consider your personnel as well. Flexibility and cross-training of your staff mean that everyone on your roster is capable of handling a wider array of responsibilities. This is especially crucial during situations of crisis management when your A-team for customer service might be occupied with other necessary tasks.  

The better prepared it is, the more efficient it will be when it really counts.  

Having the right infrastructure in place is only the beginning, it’s important to have a plan in place for when the weather turns awry. More importantly, your team should know and understand the procedures for when such events take place. The better prepared it is, the more efficient it will be when it really counts.  To speak to one of our freight experts, contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below

CEOs Should Be Focusing on Their Supply Chain

As Jeff Bezos, CEO of the e-commerce juggernaut once said, “When [executives of other companies] are in the shower in the morning, they’re thinking about how they’re going to get ahead of one of their top competitors. Here in the shower, we’re thinking about how we are going to invent something on behalf of a customer.”

As a CEO, the path forward will be through optimizing your supply chain while keeping an eye on the goal; your customers.

That alone shows an interesting shift in the perception and could explain why Amazon is so wildly successful. It is that customer-centric focus that is going to pave the way for success going forward. Sure, it’s still going to be good business to be ahead of the competition, but the way we do that is measured by the way we serve our customers. That’s going to be vital going forward, especially when you start to consider all of the challenges facing the supply chain today. As a CEO, the path forward will be through optimizing your supply chain while keeping an eye on the goal; your customers.

With that in mind, however, there are some very uncertain times on the horizon, as the current administration continues to press its trade war with China, ensuring tariffs could bite some manufacturers hard.

Moreover, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers, there are plenty of other areas of concern, including; attracting and retaining a quality workforce and increasing the cost of raw materials.

There are no shortages of concerns for the manufacturing industry and all of these issues will have some effect on the supply chain for most industries.

If that wasn’t enough to contend with, there’s also the challenge of rising transportation costs and the overall challenge of managing a smooth-running supply chain. Simply put, there are no shortages of concerns for the manufacturing industry and all of these issues will have some effect on the supply chain for most industries.

For CEO’s the big question is this, “Is your supply chain ready for the road ahead?” Supply chain optimization will be crucial for the success of any manufacturing industry as failure to do so will mean missing out on growth opportunities as well as the inability to fulfill current customer orders and expectations. A flexible and well-structured supply chain will mean the difference between addressing new challenges appropriately or being knocked off balance by unexpected disruptions in the future.

A Changing Future for the Supply Chain

It’s not all doom and gloom on the horizon, and that’s part of what is keeping the levels of optimism high in the manufacturing industry. Many positive changes and developments are driving us towards a breakthrough in the way we do business. The new levels of technology and advancements in the Internet of Things are moving us closer to Industry 4.0 which will drive the levels of visibility and efficiency across the supply chain to new heights. The applications of these new technologies and advancements will separate winners from losers, survivors from the deceased, often in just a few years.

It will no longer serve to think of the supply chain as an isolated aspect of your business.

For the CEO of the Industry 4.0 company, you’ll have to keep in mind that supply chains are only going to get more complex going forward, especially when you start to consider the potential impact of tariffs. Think about manufacturing which is expected to be spread across the world as parts outbound China are hit with punitive tariffs. What kind of confusion will this cause within the industry? Within your own organization? What sort of opportunities will this create? As a leader, your approach will also have to become more sophisticated, using data-driven analytics to probe deep into your supply chain. It will no longer serve to think of the supply chain as an isolated aspect of your business. Instead, you’ll need to work on expanding your business philosophy. Who are your suppliers’ suppliers? Who are your customers’ customers? It is that total end-to-end level of thinking that will allow for the necessary insight into the supply chain to avoid potential disruptions to your business.

Is Your Supply Chain Ready?

Even at the best of times, the average supply chain is packed with pitfalls and bottlenecks, any of which could be the event that prevents an organization’s ability to maximize growth. At the worst of times, those hangups could cause a drain in cash and capital when the economy is in a downturn. This is why optimizing for growth now is important. It creates the environment and opportunity for critical improvements when times get tough. There is no mutual exclusivity in this, high performing supply chains and operations excel in either condition.

So is your supply chain ready? As a CEO, here are the three big questions you need to ask:

  1. How will my suppliers respond to a rapid increase or decrease in demand?
  2. How well are manufacturing and operating distribution facilities prepared to cope with an increase or decrease in demand while still maintaining quality and service with appropriate cost and cash levels?
  3. Do our logistics capabilities have enough capacity and responsiveness to accommodate a change in demand?

If your company can’t keep pace with the change, it’s as good as leaving money on the table, as your competition will likely be more than able to pick up the slack.

The answers to those questions are critical when estimating how well your company can perform in the event of an economic shift, in either direction. If your company can’t keep pace with the change, it’s as good as leaving money on the table, as your competition will likely be more than able to pick up the slack. Responding to these opportunities goes beyond simple, and BlueGrace can help with that. To speak to one of our experts, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below:

Shippers Growing Success With 3PLs 

The 24th Annual Third-Party Logistics Study for 2020 has been released and it shows a growing success between shippers and their 3PL partners. 

“The majority of shippers, 93%, report that the relationships they have with their 3PLs generally have been successful. A higher number of 3PLs, 99%, agree that relationships have generally been successful,” the study says.  

As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer.

The study continues to find that shippers and their 3PL partners are developing a much greater awareness and synchronicity of goals, as well as how data sharing and new technology can help them advance those goals. As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer. The result is an optimization of the supply chain, reduced costs, and the creation of overall value within the supply chain.

“This year’s study once again proves that shippers and their 3PL providers are strengthening their relationships and continually moving toward meaningful partnerships. They are collaborating to accomplish their supply chain goals and improve efficiencies. The available evidence confirms that both parties are creating reliable solutions and improving the end-user experience for the customer, which is allowing shippers to use the supply chain as a strategic, competitive advantage.” 

3PLs Are Rising to the Occasion 

Currently, both shippers and 3PLs have been enjoying favorable economic conditions both at home and abroad. That is not to say that it has been a perfectly smooth road as both continue to face challenges in transportation capacity and facility-based resources. However, the relationship has proven to be beneficial to both parties as they’ve worked together to overcome tight customer deadlines and raise both customer and consumer satisfaction levels. 

Another advantage to the relationship between 3PLs and shippers is the ability to adapt to and overcome challenges .

Shippers, of course, have higher expectations of their service providers and third-party providers have responded by increasing not only their service offerings but also their innovations when it comes to overcoming challenges within the current market environment. Simply put, transportation and logistics companies are realizing that the focus needs to be placed on digital capabilities, cost and asset efficiencies, and a broader range of services to meet their customers’ needs.

Current Global Market Challenges

The logistics and freight industry is in a state of flux currently. New technologies, tighter regulations, and growing customer expectations are all forcing necessary changes to the supply chain. According to the 2020 study, here are some of the biggest challenges shippers and 3PLs are facing to date. 

Growth of e-commerce: E-commerce and the “Amazon effect” have had a tremendous impact on brick and mortar retailers. The result is that many of them are branching out into omni-channel marketing and distribution to meet customer needs. This adds a whole new layer to existing logistics and supply chain structures.  

There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react.

Economic uncertainty: There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react. Many of these include sourcing new suppliers and improving cross border relationships with trading partners. There are also signs of slowdowns within certain major global economies which will soften demand and create new challenges for shippers.   

Driver shortage: This problem is not unique to the United States, but it’s certainly one of the most prevalent locations. With the average age of the American truck driver approaching retirement, there is a decided lack of interest in younger generations to get behind the wheel. ATA’s chief economist,  Bob Costello estimates that the current 60,000 driver deficit could reach 160,000 by 2028.  

Disruptive technologies: While disruptive technology breeds innovation within the industry the difficulty of adapting and integrating these new technologies also increases. Some of the disruptive technologies impacting supply chains include the use of drones, autonomous vehicles, cloud-based capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI), internet-of-things (IoT), blockchain.  

While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition.

Competitive challenges: While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition. Especially as there is a new start-up for every day that is poised to disrupt businesses, business models, or even entire industries. This applies to all, trading and manufacturing companies, as well as logistics providers, who are attempting to differentiate themselves from a growing number of startups backed with millions of dollars worth of venture capital investments. 

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together.

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together. As new challenges arise, shippers are looking to 3PLs for answers, innovations, and solutions. Conversely, 3PLs are looking to build long term and steady relationships with shippers as the number of providers continues to grow.  

With growing uncertainty in the geo-policitical arena, new technologies, and the explosive growth of e-commerce, it’s likely that we will continue to see growth in the relationships between shippers and 3PLs. For more information on how BlueGrace can be the partner to help strengthen and bring visibility to your supply chain, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts.

Can Advanced Analytics Put a Pin in OTIF?

According to the 2020 Third-Party Logistics Study, data analytics is not only becoming more viable in the logistics industry, but it’s also becoming a necessity and make a difference. With the growing storm that is e-commerce, brick and mortar retailers have had to step twice as fast in order to stay in the game. Especially, when you consider some of the power plays made by the internet titan, Amazon. As one of Amazon’s biggest sources of competition for domestic goods Walmart, in particular, has tightened their game up significantly.

In particular, Walmart uses some stringent policies to ensure that shelves stay stocked and goods are arriving exactly when the retail stores need them to. First is the Must Arrive By Date (MABD) provision, which means that suppliers must have deliveries to the store within a certain delivery window, typically four days, while also having a high invoice accuracy. This is a fairly standard industry practice for retail stores to ensure timely deliveries. 

Failure to meet these requirements could mean a 3 percent chargeback per case value of each missing item. 

However, Walmart as since followed that up with their heavy-handed On Time In Full (OTIF) policy. Now suppliers must have deliveries at the store within a two-day window, no later and no earlier either (even early deliveries will still be penalized.) Failure to meet these requirements could mean a 3 percent chargeback per case value of each missing item. 

As of April 1st of 2018, the company made the policy even harder. Prior to then, the OTIF policy stated that full truckload shipments needed to meet a 75 percent OTIF rating and less-than-truckload shipments needed to meet 33 percent OTIF to avoid fines. Now, FTLs are required to meet an 85 percent standard (down from the lofty 95 percent they had originally planned) while LTL requirements have increased to 36 percent. In addition to the chargebacks, too many violations could cause a shipper to fall out of favor with Walmart and lose supplier status, which would be a major financial hit for most companies.  

But what happens if demand is peaked and capacity is booked?

For shippers, OTIF can make for a tight schedule. But what happens if demand is peaked and capacity is booked? What if there’s a major weather event that has the logistics network scrambled? Shippers need better tools at their disposal to keep things running smoothly, and that’s where data analytics comes into play. 

How Analytics can Make a Difference 

There is a truly astounding amount of data that can be captured within the supply chain. As more companies begin the process of digitizing their operations and automating their systems, just about everything can be tracked, traced, quantified, and speculated. The challenge, however, is making sense of it all. There is such a surplus of data that it leads to a sort of data overload and can turn even the most avid analyst catatonic. 

Analytics turns this vast amount of information into insight, according to the 2020 Third-Party Logistics Study by Infosys Consulting, Penn State University and Penske Logistics presented at the CSCMP Edge conference in Anaheim, California. And with this insight, “you stand a much better chance of improving your operations,” says John Langley, professor of Supply Chain Management at Penn State University. 

Real-time information can help to match supply with demand. But that’s not all it can do. Far from it, in fact.  

To some degree, the logistics industry has already started to use real-time data and analytics. Langley sites dynamic pricing in freight for an example. Here, real-time information can help to match supply with demand. But that’s not all it can do. Far from it, in fact.  
 
For shippers, there is a wide array of challenges they encounter on a daily basis. Of the shippers that responded to the 3PL study, many agreed that the use of analytics would be helpful to many facets of their operations as well as overcoming the challenges they face day to day.

Type of problem % of shippers who said analytics would be helpful 
On-time and complete order fulfillment 69% 
Shipment visibility 63% 
Freight costs per shipment 60% 
Transit time 59% 
Cost to serve 58% 
Order-to-delivery cycle time 58% 


Langley says that analytics is ideal for tracking and improving a KPI like Walmart’s OTIF, because the policy itself is a compound metric. And while it might be easy to villainize Walmart from a shipper’s perspective, they aren’t the only company to use aggressive tactics like this. Target, Kroger, Costco, and others are also tightening their regulations in order to keep their shelves stocked. 

Learning From Your Mistakes 

Perhaps one of the most powerful tools of data analytics is it gives you a different perspective of your operations and allows you to drill down to pivotal details. Why was your shipment late? Why were there missing pieces? Analytics can determine the cause and effect relationships to target the root cause of the issue while sorting out coincidence and other anomalies. In other words, real-time data analysis allows you to track where things went awry and focus on improving operations so that particular issue doesn’t happen again. “If you can measure it, capture it, analyze it, you can use it to your advantage in terms of knowing more about your own processes,” Langley says.  

Getting to be a supplier for Walmart is no small matter.

Getting to be a supplier for Walmart is no small matter. For companies that already have that title, keeping it is important. However, even shippers that don’t have the best scorecards, analytics can prove to be a useful bargaining chip. If you’re able to prove yourself, and that you have the right measures in place to improve operations, it’s likely that you can demonstrate your worth as a supplier and make it to the “in” list.  

For a better understanding of how to navigate OTIF and other ways to improve your operational efficiency, check out our white paper: Walmart: the retail-supplier relationship. You can also speak with one of our experts by calling us at 800.MY.SHIPPING, or filling out the form below.

The Definition of Transparency

As companies mature and the market changes, our understanding of crucial operating components of any industry has also grown. Supply chain transparency, in particular, has come a long way over the past twenty years. Transparency within the supply chain has gone from an unrecognized concept to a focus item for the C-Suite across a vast number of companies and industries. Given the current state of the market, it’s no small surprise either.

So in order to begin understanding transparency in the supply chain, we first need to define it.

Many, if not all, companies are facing increasing pressure from governments, consumers, non-profit / activist groups, and stakeholders to provide more information about their supply chain. Failure to do so could mean some serious damage to the company’s reputation. Slave or forced labor conditions, health and safety violations, animal exploitation, and child labor are all becoming hot button topics of the growing consumer conscience. While the reasons for explaining a higher need for transparency are clear, what is less clear is how to get there. Some companies are struggling to make a meaningful change to their operations to provide the much-needed levels of transparency.

As it is with most problems there is a lack of a clear and concise definition, according to an MIT study which conducted a survey of the apparel industry only to find wildly different results. So in order to begin understanding transparency in the supply chain, we first need to define it.

Understanding the Need Transparency

At its core, supply chain transparency is understanding what’s happening within the supply chain and being able to communicate that knowledge both within and outside the organization.

As we mentioned earlier, there is an increase in customer demand for insight into the supply chain, but it’s not without benefit. The researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management found that consumers are willing to pay between 2 and 10 percent more for products produced by companies that have better supply chain visibility. The study showed that consumers place a higher value in a company that can prove the ethical treatment of their workers. What’s more is that this growing consumer base is seeking more information about product ingredients and materials, where the product is coming from, and the conditions in which it was produced.

As the demand for visibility continues to increase, so too will the potential fallout for companies that fail to provide it.

As the demand for visibility continues to increase, so too will the potential fallout for companies that fail to provide it. Over the last decade, there have been a number of scandals that have had a significant detrimental impact on company image and reputation. Slave labor in the Thai seafood industry and deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia are ample examples of this.

The backlash created from these scandals has forced the creation of new transparency laws around the world. Australia the UK have created new regulations to combat forced labor. The state of California has also created supply chain transparency laws (California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.) The U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act is targeting food safety and ingredient fraud. There are also further regulations to come from the Netherlands and Switzerland, with other countries to follow suit.

What this means for companies is that a lack of supply chain transparency can stop operations dead in their tracks.

What this means for companies is that a lack of supply chain transparency can stop operations dead in their tracks. Something as simple as missing origin documents could cause a shipment to be either held up or even turned away at ports which can result in a costly delay throughout the entire supply chain.

So Why Aren’t All Companies on Board?

You would think that with the new levels of consumer consciousness and the growing global regulations that all companies would be scrambling to build transparency into their supply chains. Yet, there are many companies that are either slow to act or not act at all.

One reason for the delay is that the supply chain itself was never designed to allow for transparency. Manufacturers and suppliers alike fear to expose their sources as they might lose the edge against their competition. Another explanation for being slow to act is inaccurate data coming from upstream, assuming there is data to be had at all. Lastly, there’s also considerable concern about the ROI for investing in supply chain transparency.

Despite the challenges, there are plenty of reasons to get on board with supply chain transparency.

The Benefits of Supply Chain Transparency

The returns gained from efforts made on improving supply chain transparency will vary by business model and industry but overall there are a number of benefits that are applicable to most companies.

One of the most straightforward benefits is that increased transparency means keeping in compliance with the new regulations that are being enforced. Operational risks drop as a result as companies no longer have to worry about being able to get freight through customs.

There are also considerable benefits to a company image that come with higher levels of visibility. Consumer conscience is a huge market factor right now. Customers are happy knowing that their products are made with care and concern towards the environment and the people working to make their products. As a result, they’re willing to pay more, which can help offset potential higher supply chain costs. Additionally, consumer trust and satisfaction also rise, which creates stronger brand loyalty and a larger customer base.

Better visibility means better, more actionable data, which in turn can help drive a company’s growth and profitability.

Of course, there are also operational benefits to be had by utilizing a highly visible supply chain. Better visibility means better, more actionable data, which in turn can help drive a company’s growth and profitability. That data also highlights areas of improvement, meaning a company can run leaner, cleaner, and a whole lot greener.

This isn’t a trend in the sense that we’ll see it fall out of fashion any time soon. Supply chain transparency is becoming an industry standard and will continue to flourish. If your company isn’t working towards transparency, it might be time to get started. For more information on how BlueGrace can help give you the visibility you need to gain efficiency, feel free to contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below:

The Secret of Successful Supply Chains: A Culture of Continuous Improvement 

Why are some supply chains operating at an optimum level, while others are struggling to perform day to day operations? How are some supply chains able to respond quickly to market demands, while others miss opportunities? Why are some supply chain managers able to reduce costs without compromising product and service quality, while others are dealing with rising costs?  

There is only one answer to all these questions.  

An organizational culture of continuous improvement is the secret of a healthy, cost-effective, responsive and efficient supply chain.  

What is the Culture of Continuous Improvement?

As the name suggests, Culture of Continuous Improvement means – having a culture where process, system, service, and product improvement is an ongoing and continuous activity. This culture is embedded in the organization’s foundation. It involves, encourages and motivates all the employees, management, vendors, and suppliers to seek out avenues and means to improve how the organization functions at every level.

How do Supply Chains benefit from Culture of Continuous Improvement?

The supply chain is one of the biggest cost centers in an organization. It is the function responsible for manufacturing, storing, and distributing the product. It makes the product available to the end customer. To be able to keep up with industry trends and market demands it is necessary for supply chains to constantly innovate. And, innovation can’t happen without continuous improvement. In fact, both are interdependent. 

When supply chains improve and innovate, they are able to do the following:  

  • Reduce costs 
  • Enhance efficiency 
  • Optimize processes 
  • Improve service and product offerings 
  • Decrease go to market time 
  • Reduce response time to market and customer demands 
  • Helps integrate the different functions within the organization 

All these things help the organization improve revenues and remain competitive.  

How to Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement in the Supply Chain

Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires the involvement of the entire organization. It can’t be done in silos. For example, if you plan to continuously improve your supply chain, you will by default have to roll out the continuous improvement plan in all the other departments as well.  

Here’s how you can create a culture of continuous improvement in your supply chain and all the other functions of the organization:  

  1. Align the C-Suite: Any process or strategy change in the organization can’t succeed without the involvement of the C-suite and function leaders of the organization. Once the leaders and the management is aligned and agrees to make continuous improvement a part of the organization culture, it becomes comparatively easier to implement changes.
  2. Set clear objectives and goals:  Any change or activity undertaken without a goal or objective is not only difficult to achieve but also challenging to “sell” to the employees. So, when you decide to make continuous improvement a part of your organizational culture, define what you aim to achieve from it. For example, the supply chain’s objective can be improved inventory management, better machine utilization, or lower transportation costs.
  3. Define how you will measure it: Along with setting objectives and goals, it is also necessary to define how you will monitor and measure their performance. Unless there are proper metrics in place to measure the outcome, you will not understand if your plan is working in accordance with your goals. Apart from knowing how your plan is performing, results also help keep employees engaged. If they are achieving the said goal, it motivates them to do better and take initiatives to find other ways to further improve their performance. If it is not providing the said results, it helps find new solutions and opens doors for innovation. Either way, it keeps up the spirit of continuous improvement. 
  4. Seek input from employees: Your employees are responsible for implementing the strategies for continuous improvement. They also have first-hand knowledge of the pain points of the process they handle and have insights regarding how it can be improved. If they are also involved at the planning and strategizing stage, they will be motivated to take ownership for its success.
  5. Allow room for failure: Condemning failures is one of the biggest hurdles in embedding a culture of continuous improvement in the organization. If employees feel they will be penalized for failure, they will neither suggest new ideas nor be enthusiastic about implementing anything new. On the other hand, when they have the assurance that they will not be punished for failure, they will not only be motivated to find new ways and means to improve the processes and systems but will also put in their best efforts to make them a success. 
  6. Introduce technology: Technology is one of the tools to improve systems and processes within the organization. Any strategy to create a culture of continuous improvement in the organization can’t overlook the contribution of technology. By using the right technology, you can eliminate redundant and duplicate processes, reduce manual work, and integrate different processes. Technology also helps connect the end customers to the business, thus improving your service offerings. For example, if your logistics department uses a transport management system, you can connect with transporters and customers on the same platform. Track your shipment real-time and offer the feature to your customer as well. Additionally, a TMS will also help you monitor and track your logistics department’s performance. Thus, aiding you in your efforts to build a culture of continuous improvement. 

While these steps will help you initiate improvement, to make it a part of the culture and keep it “continuous” you will need to pursue it relentlessly and passionately.

While these steps will help you initiate improvement, to make it a part of the culture and keep it “continuous” you will need to pursue it relentlessly and passionately. It will require steadfast efforts starting from the leadership team going down to the employees at the bottom of the hierarchy. 

At BlueGrace we believe the passion for our work is what enables us to constantly look for ways and means to improve our services and products and find better solutions for our customers. It is the secret of the success of our organization. Want to connect with one of our experts to see how BlueGrace can help simplify your supply chain? Call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below!

A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing an Internal Audit of Your Supply Chain 

While all facets of the modern business are important, arguably the most important to any retail, manufacturing, or goods based service is their supply chain. The supply chain serves as the backbone of these companies and has a significant impact on the company’s business strategy which directly affects its operation and operational costs. Additionally, the performance of the supply chain has a direct impact on a company’s ability to provide services to their customers and create additional value via services offered or simply through reliability. With the multitude of changes that have been occurring within the logistics, trade, and freight industries now, more than ever, is an opportune time to conduct or review the process of internal audit of your supply chain. 

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages.

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages. The goal of the internal audit is to help you find weaknesses within your supply chain and correct pain points, bottlenecks to increase supply chain flexibility, agility, and overall efficiency.

To make the most out of your audit and its results, it’s important to understand that the supply chain isn’t a stand-alone, isolated feature of your business. In all actuality, the supply chain is suffused in every aspect of your business. As such the supply chain needs to be viewed between all participating companies and suppliers throughout the supply chain, with solutions applied from a holistic approach.

Why an Internal Audit is Necessary for Your Supply Chain

For most companies, audits are typically part of the normal routine, either for financial records or for physical inventory. The entire purpose behind an audit is to make sure things are where they should be and that everyone is playing by the same rules.

“Internal auditing is defined as an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations. It helps an organization to accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes,” as defined by The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD).

Simply put, an internal audit is a multi-step process that is a means of determining whether your current systems and operations are in compliance with your company’s predetermined operating procedures and regulations. This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD). Conducting an internal audit does more than just evaluates the supply chain, it also takes a necessary look at the interaction between other aspects of the organization such as the accounting and financial systems, practices, and procedures. For example, are your planners and purchasers communicating properly, not only with each other but with the production floor and shipping department? Are parts coming in with enough lead time that items can be manufactured and shipped according to customer requirements? 

An internal audit is important because it allows the company executives and logistics decision makers to examine the effectiveness of their business operations and controls and applications of new policies. Over time, establishing those best practices means a more competitive and more profitable company in the future.

Things to Consider Before you Start the Audit

Performing an audit is one thing, but knowing what areas you need to be focusing on is something else entirely. While every audit should be more or less tailored to the specific needs of an individual organization, here is the basic framework for initiating an audit that needs to be included:

  • Audit Planning: Internal auditors should have a plan in place well before the actual auditing begins. 
  • Examining and Evaluating Information: Internal auditors should have a standardized criterion to compare findings against. 
  • Communicating Results: Audit should have a clear and concise method of reporting their findings. 
  • Follow Up: Internal auditors should follow up in a timely manner to ensure that appropriate actions have been taken to correct audit findings.

This framework also serves as a support system for corporate managers and allows managers of larger production systems to delegate the oversight of the audit to the internal audit department. This is important for a few reasons:

  • Operating Complexity: Automated data processing has increased the levels of complexity when analyzing data, a task better suited for those who know what to look for. 
  • Decentralization: Given that supply chains are prone to be decentralized in terms of a physical location due to globalization. 
  • Lack of Expertise: As the adage goes, stick to what you know. Leave those auditors in charge of the audit for the best quality audit.

With the right framework in place for the audit to commence, let’s take a look at the tasks involved for the actual audit.

Supply Chain Structure and Internal Audit Tasks

Like we mentioned above, every company is different and, as a result, the needs for every individual supply chain will vary. So while there is no hard and fast or “Use audit ‘A’ for Supply chain system ‘1’ ” convenient method of doing things, there are some common focal points that are applicable for just about every organization and style of the supply chain. 

The supply chain management processes identified by The Global Supply Chain Forum are:

  • Customer Relationship Management 
  • Supplier Relationship Management 
  • Customer Service Management 
  • Demand Management
  • Order Fulfillment 
  • Manufacturing Flow Management 
  • Product Development and Commercialization 
  • Returns Management

All of these processes are hallmarks of a healthy supply chain and also indicative of the successful supply chain management. Here again, we can see all of the links that connect the supply chain to every other facet of the business. Another benefit to performing an internal audit is that offers to perfect opportunity to increase the synergy between these various departments. For CFO’s and supply chain leaders, this means that supply chain management deals with total business excellence and represents a new way of managing the business and relationships with vendors, suppliers, and partners.

An internal audit can help a company in finding answers to crucial questions about managing success factors of supply chain excellence, of which these can be divided into five main sections: 

  • Strategy – To determine if the enterprise has a clear strategy tuned to business expectations and focused on profitably servicing customer requirements 
  • Organization – To determine if an effective organization structure exists enabling the enterprise to work with its partners to achieve its supply chain goals
  • Process – To determine if the enterprise has excellent processes for implementing its strategy, embracing all plan-source-make-deliver operations
  • Information – To determine if the enterprise has reliable information and enabling technology to support effective supply chain planning, execution, and decision-making 
  • Performance – To determine if the enterprise is managing supply chain performance in ways that will increase the bottom line, cash flows and shareholder returns

Supply Chain Risk Management

As much as we wish we could, the ability to see and accurately predict the future still eludes us to this day. In the end, it all comes down we can optimistically refer to as an “educated guess”.  With that being said, even the most educated guesses can’t predict the weather or a broken down truck. This means that within every supply chain, there will always be an element of risk. That risk represents any number of things that can go wrong within your supply chain and halt or delay your shipments. For this very reason, risk management is incredibly important when evaluating your supply chain. 

An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program.

Risk management is a huge proponent of supply chain health, especially given the instabilities in the global marketplace created by political uncertainty, trade tariffs, etc. An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program. This is how your supply chain audit can also help with risk reduction and increased security: 

  • Reviewing and understanding supply chains, including their strengths and weaknesses, in developing markets, to validate monitoring programs
  • Working with the company’s supply chain specialists to help develop a monitoring process that can be repeated
  • Helping to identify which suppliers are critical 
  • Assessing which suppliers may be vulnerable to threats and helping draw up a residual mitigation profile
  • Identifying strong risk control procedures
  • Helping to develop key analytic tools and techniques
  • Aiding with compliance monitoring

Ideally, the risk mitigation will also allow companies to increase supply chain efficiency to the point where on hand stock can be reduced. While having excessive stock might create a buffer in time where shipments are running late or capacity is tight, that excess can also eat into company profit margins. Additionally, having a well-running supply chain vastly lowers the chance for disruptions, operating costs, and other unexpected costs such as chargebacks, detention fees.

Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

Supply chain management is a very complex structure of activities with cross-functional processes, and it presents one of the most important functions in the company since it is directly linked to all functions of the company. Supply chain problems can result from any number of things including natural disasters, labor disputes, supplier bankruptcy, an act of war or terrorism, systems breakdowns, procurement failures, and other causes. Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

The supply chain internal audit aims to support managers in process optimization and above all in cost reduction which result from an uncertain environment by evaluating and directing management towards approaches which will prevent or reduce negative effects. 

After analyzing definitions and some of the standards of internal audit, it can be concluded that this process can improve effectiveness and efficiency, and by that, the performances of many functions within the organization. High-impact supply chains are more competitive and are capable of winning market share and customer loyalty, creating shareholder value, extending the strategic capability and reach of the business. Independent research shows that excellent supply chain management can yield: 

  • 25-50% reduction in total supply chain costs 
  • 25-60% reduction in inventory holding 
  • 25-80% increase in forecast accuracy
  • 30-50% improvement in order-fulfillment cycle time 
  • 20% increase in after-tax free cash flows

To increase supply chain strength, agility, and overall integrity, companies should develop a framework for a structured approach to ongoing risk identification and management. This will enable businesses to proactively address organizational supply chain risks on a periodic basis – a practice that affords stronger company and brand protection against supply chain risk gaps.

The more we know the more we can simplify.

The more we know the more we can simplify. When we know what your current transportation situation involves and what your pain points are, we can really help you simplify. The journey with our customers begins with the Needs Assessment process and the goal to determine transportation management solutions that increase productivity and decrease overall costs. To speak to one of our freight experts, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to receive a FREE Supply Chain Analysis.

How the CFO Can be a Change Agent in the Supply Chain

Managing cash flow, planning the financial outlay, keeping the balance sheet in order, and ensuring all financial compliances are met are a CFO’s core job function. But this is not all that a CFO does. The CFO is also responsible for identifying opportunities to reduce operating costs without sacrificing the quality of the products and services offered by the company.

But is it a good strategy to wait for things to go wrong to ask the CFO to step in?

Supply chain and transportation are two of the biggest cost centers in an organization. The cost for these functions is measured as a percentage of sales and differs from industry to industry. However, according to this McKinsey study, most industries report supply chain and logistics cost in the range of 1.8% to 10%. When costs remain within the industry parameters, supply chain and logistics are usually given the leeway to make their financial decisions. The CFO steps in only when the cost rise above the set industry norms or in case any other financial abnormality is noticed. But is it a good strategy to wait for things to go wrong to ask the CFO to step in? Wouldn’t the supply chain and the organization as a whole benefit if the CFO is a part of the supply chain decision making?

What Does the Corporate World Think of CFO’s Involvement in the Supply Chain?

The necessity of CFOs involvement in supply chain is not a recent phenomenon. A 2013 study by Ernst & Young aptly highlighted the importance of CFO’s involvement in the supply chain. Ernst & Young surveyed 423 CFOs and heads of supply chain around the globe to understand their view of a CFO’s contribution to the supply chain.

According to the results of the survey, of all the respondents, “only 26% finance executives and 21% supply chain executives said that the CFO’s contribution to the supply chain is based around a business-partnering model”. But this trend seems to be gradually changing as “70% of CFOs and 63% of supply chain leaders responded that their relationship has become more collaborative over the past three years”.

Organizations that have a collaborative relationship between the CFO and supply chain also tend to perform better.

The survey also revealed that those organizations that have a collaborative relationship between the CFO and supply chain also tend to perform better. “Among survey respondents with an established business partner model in place, 48% report EBITDA growth increases of more than 5% in their company over the past year, compared with just 22% of those that have not yet adopted this approach.”

In the past five years, the demand for CFO’s involvement in the supply chain has only grown. Last year, an article in the European Financial Review spoke about the book What CFOs (and Future CFOs) Need to Know About Supply Chain Transactions by X. Paul Humbert, Esq. According to the article, the book showcases not only the necessity of a collaboration between the CFO and the supply chain but also demonstrates how the company’s finances and its books are impacted by the decisions taken by functions within the supply chain:

“an organization’s financial results are intertwined with the performance of the purchasing function. Purchasing and purchased inventory affect the balance sheet and capital allocation.”

Another article in Smart Industry Update published in 2018, speaks on behalf of the CFOs seeking answers to supply chain issues which the CFOs may not have first-hand knowledge of. For example, the article lists the following three critical questions that CFOs should ask of their supply chain to be able to make better decisions regarding their supply chain and create better business strategies:

  • How accurate is our supply-chain visibility?
  • How quickly can we identify and address challenges in response to disruption?
  • How well can we respond to changes in the industry?

The survey and the two articles leave no doubt of how crucial it is for CFOs to be involved in the supply chain function and work in collaboration with the head of supply chain. In fact, it is not only the supply chain that needs the CFO, the CFO also needs the supply chain.

How The CFO Can Be A Change Agent For The Supply Chain

An article titled How Brilliant CFOs Use the Supply Chain to Drive Business Value – Do you know the questions you should be asking in Innovation Enterprise targeted at CFOs lists down possible areas that can benefit from the CFO’s involvement.

Source: Innovation Enterprise

It says “If the answer to any of these questions highlights a potential issue then it is important to engage with the head of supply chain and agree a process to address the issue. It may also indicate that there is an opportunity to partner more closely with supply chain/operations to leverage the knowledge and skills of the finance team to enable better decision making in the business.”

The transportation offered also influences customer’s buying decisions

All the above areas are crucial from the financial, product, and delivery point and can benefit from a collaborative effort from the CFO and the supply chain. For example, let’s take a look at the second, sixth and eighth question. Freight costs are pegged around 3 – 5% of supply chain costs. Freight contract negotiation is one of the most important activities of the logistics function. It has an impact on the budget, affects the cost reduction KPI given to the logistics department. In B2C businesses, to a certain extent, the transportation offered also influences customer’s buying decisions. How can the function benefit from CFOs insight?

When the CFO is involved in this decision-making from the start, it increases the possibility of improvement in contract terms and in cost reduction.

On the cost reduction and financial front, the CFO, with their fact-based view of the organization, can help the logistics team negotiate better freight contracts. The rates negotiated in these contracts are based on a multitude of factors like government policies, fuel prices, political relations between trading countries, and global business environment. Logistics may or may not have insight into these issues, but the CFO and his team will have knowledge of what is going on in the business world. So, if they know there is a possibility of fuel prices changing in the next six months or a recessionary trend is being noticed, they can advise the logistics team to negotiate a short-term contract and revisit it later. Similarly, in the case of B2C shipments (ref Q6), the CFO and the supply chain head can negotiate for contracts with different delivery options in order to serve different customers. But this can only be done if the supply chain knows the financial viability of these options and that information can be gained only from the CFO of the organization. When the CFO is involved in this decision-making from the start, it increases the possibility of improvement in contract terms and in cost reduction.

Today, to be effective in their job and to create a competitive supply chain, CFOs need to lend their expertise to the supply chain and seek their inputs in the setting the goals and objectives of the company.

Long gone are the days when the CFOs limited themselves to matters pertaining to managing company finances. Today, to be effective in their job and to create a competitive supply chain, CFOs need to lend their expertise to the supply chain and seek their inputs in the setting the goals and objectives of the company.

At BlueGrace, we have found that working with organizations where CFOs are directly involved has helped turn over a new leaf and make significant cost reductions, positively impacting the supply chain of that organization.

We provide quarterly business intelligence reports that give updates on the savings targets you give to us, key performance indicators (KPIs), and special project updates. The CFO of a company, in particular, is able to use these metrics to budget and forecast for the organization moving forward. Connect with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to find out how we can work with your CFO to build an efficient and optimal supply chain.