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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.

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 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! 

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

USMCA – What is It and How Does It Impact the Shipping & Logistics Industry?

What Is USMCA? 

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is the new trade deal between the three countries. It is set to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was in effect since January 1, 1994.  As on date, the new trade agreement has already been approved by the Senate Finance Committee and it is due to be presented in the full Senate in the latter half of January 2020. While Mexico has already ratified the new trade deal, Canada is yet to ratify it.  

The Office of the United States Trade Representative describes the new agreement as: “The United States, Mexico, and Canada have reached an agreement to modernize the 25-year-old NAFTA into the 21st century, high-standard agreement. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will support mutually beneficial trade leading to freer markets, fairer trade, and robust economic growth in North America.” 

The Trade Representative’s website also quotes President Trump on the new agreement, saying – “USMCA is a great deal for all three countries, solves the many deficiencies and mistakes in NAFTA, greatly opens markets to our farmers and manufacturers, reduces trade barriers to the U.S. and will bring all three Great Nations together in competition with the rest of the world.” 

In short, the new agreement aims to update the provisions of NAFTA to suit the current economic and business scenario. 

How Does The New Trade Deal Benefit The US?

The new trade agreement provides the US with benefits in the areas of intellectual property, digital trade, De minimis, financial services, environment, currency, and labor. It is also expected to help improve agriculture trade in the region and boost manufacturing activities.  

According to an article published in CNN.com, which quotes data from the US International Trade Commission, a federal government agency, the initial phase of the new trade agreement is expected to add around 176,000 jobs after 6 years of its implementation and increase the GDP by 0.35%. It is also expected that the USMCA will help streamline trade among the three participating nations and provide them with opportunities to optimize trade transaction costs.  

What Will Be Its Impact On The Shipping And Logistics Industry? 

Like all cross border trade agreements, the USMCA will also have some amount of impact on the shipping and logistics industry. Chapter seven of the trade deal talks in detail about the Customs and Trade Facilitation aspect of the agreement, the points mentioned here will directly affect the shipping and logistics industry.  Some of the key points are:  

  1. Digitalizing regulations: Lack of proper and accurate regulatory information is one of the biggest hindrances to cross border trade. Incorrect information or cumbersome data gathering process often keep small businesses away from expanding their trade. USMCA aims to eliminate this primary barrier to trade. It has provided guidelines to the trading partners to provide easy, free, and online access to the country’s regulations, trade procedures, laws, duties, various charges, and documentation requirements. 
  2. Online documentation processing: In keeping with the current times, the USMCA has directed the member nations to leverage technology to simplify and speed up the process. The trade deal requires the trading partners to create a digital platform to submit customs declaration and other required documents and make the system accessible to all concerned parties.
  3. Streamlining compliances: In Article 7.11- titled Transparency, Predictability, and Consistency of Customs Procedures, each of the participating nations are expected to create uniform trade/export-import rules and regulations for their country.  This will not only help smoothen the trade procedure but will also simplify it. 
  4. Increase in De minimis: In the new trade deal, the US has acquired an increase in the De minimis shipment value from both of its trading partners. When the USMCA comes into force, in addition to the current USD $50 threshold for tax free shipment, the US will also get duty free shipment up to USD $117 from Mexico. Canada has also increased its De minimis shipment value from C$20 to C$40 and will offer duty-free shipments up to C$150.   

A higher De minimis value will help both small businesses and transporters to increase their trade with the two partner nations without having to bear the burden of additional duties and taxes.   

  1. Express shipments: One major complaint shippers have is delay in shipment release at customs. This point has been addressed in the new tri-party trade deal under the express shipment clause. The clause asks the nations to process all documentation prior to shipment arrival and expedite the release of such shipments if all required documents and data have been duly submitted.
  2. Single window: To speed up the cross border trade, the new agreement has made provisions to set up a single-window clearance system that is technology-based. It also instructs the trading countries to ensure that the system timely informs the exporters, importers and other users of the status of their cargo.  

Along with these provisions, the USMCA has also taken into consideration import-export aspects like post-clearance audit, risk management, protection of trader information, and creation of a committee on trade facilitation among other various provisions with an aim to boost trade in the Northern region.  

If you would like a FREE supply chain analysis or if you would like to know more about how the Customs Administration and Trade Facilitation rules and regulations impact your business, get in touch with our team today 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:

Trade War Review: History and Time Prove to Be Great Teachers 

There is a sense of uncertainty that is settling over the trade industry in the United States. With the Trump administration slamming tariffs down on Chinese goods, the market is starting to get uneasy. A similar threat levied at goods made in Mexico, which added to the tension but that has been settled, at least for the time being.  For starters, the U.S. hasn’t been in a major trade war since the 1930’s, so no one really knows what will happen next. Not for sure at any rate. 

The trade embargo then parallels the trade tariffs now; could create a supply shock on reliable and cheap imports.

However, history and time prove to be great teachers and we could draw conclusions from similar events that have happened more recently. In 1973, there was a trade embargo on Arab Oil. The trade embargo then parallels the trade tariffs now; could create a supply shock on reliable and cheap imports.

A History Lesson

The 1970’s embargo holds a very valuable lesson and could provide a possible insight into the current market climate. In 1979, towards the end of the embargo, American businesses, such as gas stations, began to tank as there was no affordable in-flow of new products. The remaining product then skyrocketed, reducing the purchasing power and confidence of the American Consumer.

The trade embargo was issued as a matter of retaliation when the U.S. sent armed forces into Israel as a result of an attack from Egypt and Syria. Arab oil exporters cut production and suspended further exports to the United States. The U.S. long used to the plentiful supply at $4 a barrel, was caught completely off guard when that supply jumped to $11 dollars per barrel. The bill for U.S. oil imports jumped from $28 billion in current USD up to $132 billion in a span of two years. To put that into perspective, that’s a tax increase of roughly 1.5% of GDP. The end result was the worst recession, at the time, since the 1930’s. 

Costly adjustments to supply chains and business models had to be implemented which drastically slowed down growth for years.

The recession wasn’t the only impact, however. The recession ended in 1975, but there were a number of repercussions that were felt for many years to come. Costly adjustments to supply chains and business models had to be implemented which drastically slowed down growth for years. A considerable amount of companies and workers found that their skills, products, and factories which had been built on the precept of the availability of cheap oil, discovered they were no longer useful. This caused a drastic slowdown in growth and productivity after 1973 which took years to recover from.  

Current Events

Disrupting long-standing trade always comes with a price. 

In much the same way that the United States was reliant on cheap oil imports from the Middle East in the 1970’s, they have also been reliant on cheap manufactured products from China. Now, the United States might be looking to untangle itself from Chinese production as trade and geopolitical tensions begin to rise. However, disrupting long-standing trade always comes with a price. 

“Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate U.S. tariffs imposed or proposed on steel, aluminum, solar panels, washing machines and imports from China now equals an annualized $200 billion. Adding all threatened tariffs on Mexico brings that to $288 billion by the end of October. At 1.4% of GDP, that is roughly equivalent to the Arab embargo oil tax,” reads an article from the Wall Street Journal. 

In terms of manufacturing and supply chains, that could get ugly quickly.

What that fails to include, however, is the retaliation from China, which has threatened to counter these tariffs with tariffs of their own. In terms of manufacturing and supply chains, that could get ugly quickly, especially as many manufacturers will have to determine whether or not they can take the hit to their profit margin due to increased materials costs or undertake the time consuming and costly endeavor of trying to find and vet a new supplier. 

Historically speaking, tariffs were meant to boost domestic manufacturing and production by protecting companies from cheap foreign competition. However, as production is largely globalized, imports often consist of intermediate goods that are moving from one supply chain to another and the U.S. doesn’t have any ready-made substitutes.  

Looking Forward

If ever there was a time to evaluate your supply chain and suppliers, it’s now. The uncertainty in the global economy is unnerving, to be sure, but optimizing your supply chain can help you to weather the storm without dumping the increased price point on your customers. 

There is more to consider about these tariffs than simply a price point.

There is more to consider about these tariffs than simply a price point. What we learned from the oil embargo is that productivity and efficiency were drastically cut down, which took several years to recover from. Increasing efficiency now, giving your company the ability to make do with less, is instrumental in staying relevant in the global market.

BlueGrace helps our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we are here to simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today!

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.

3PL’s Might Bridge the Gap in a Revenge Market 

We’ve all heard that turnabout is fair play but in the trucking market, that mentality could make for a vicious marketplace. Of course, no one likes to pay any more for a service than they have-to, but given the fluctuations that happen within the freight market it’s all part of the game, right?

The problem is, when you focus solely on the bottom line, working relationships, the level of the provided services, and customer care can often be shoved to the wayside.  

A Fairweather Friendship 

While not all shippers will use and abandon their third-party (3PL) logistics providers during an economic shift, enough have done so in the past that left a bad taste in the mouths of 3PLs.

Shippers tend to shy away from their “partners” when times are good, capacity is plenty, truckers are looking for freight. When spot rates climb, however, shippers tend to look for shelter in the contract market which makes for a volatile spot market that makes matters much worse than they need to be. 

If shippers weren’t as fickle during market shifts there would be more market stability. For shippers though, the bottom line is often considered as the most important factor.  

During 2017 we saw both Hurricane Harvey hit the coast as well as the introduction of the Electronic Logging Mandate. As a result, shippers skipped the middleman and dropped their 3PLs, opting to work directly with large asset-based carriers instead.

A year later, spot rates have dropped as much 12 percent, according to data from DAT solutions, which are resembling those seen back in 2017 across several markets. Conversely, contract rates have risen, on average, about 14 percent in 2018 and have increased a further 6 percent this year.  

With spot rates on the rise, shippers once again turn to third-party logistics providers with relatively no hard feelings. With negotiations underway, both parties more or less walk away happy.  

Creating a Vicious Cycle 

The same cannot be said for that type of mentality when it’s applied to the trucking companies, however. Here the negotiations tend to carry the memory of what happened the last time rates shifted in the favor of one side or the other. To be fair, that adversarial behavior does swing both ways. When capacity gets tight, trucking companies raise their rates to support the demand. When demand is low, however, and trucking companies are scrambling for a full load, shippers will push for lower rates, a behavior that seems to be hardwired into the business.  

Here is where 3PLs can bridge that gap and help to even out the “revenge” style of marketing.  

It’s hard for many companies to part with that “grudge” mentality, especially when both sides are angling to take advantage of one another when the market permits it. You’d be hard pressed to find a business that is willing to say “Sure, we’ll reduce our rates in favor of a good compromise,” and instead sounds more like “You raised your prices on us. Now it’s our turn.” Here is where 3PLs can bridge that gap and help to even out the “revenge” style of marketing.  

The True Value of a 3PL 

One of the biggest benefits of a 3PL is that they can help a shipper to access different parts of the very fragmented trucking industry. If a shipper has access to large trucking companies, a 3PL can give them access to smaller carriers, both of which have a place in a shippers supply chain. 

“It’s hard to handle relationships with tens of thousands of carriers, so if you let the broker handle that portion, and you have a relationship with your top 10­-15 asset ­based carriers, everyone can have a piece of the pie and work more collaboratively,” said Mark Ford, Chief Operating Officer at BlueGrace Logistics.  

 The main objective of any business is to conquer new frontiers and markets. And, to do this, it requires a wide logistics network and a robust, flawlessly executed logistics strategy.

As we explained it in more detail in one of our previous articles, 7 BENEFITS OF OUTSOURCING LOGISTICS TO A 3PL — The main objective of any business is to conquer new frontiers and markets. And, to do this, it requires a wide logistics network and a robust, flawlessly executed logistics strategy. Your 3PL partner is expected to and can help you achieve your business goals. They may either have their own network across regions or they may have business collaborations with transporters storage facility providers in different regions or a mix of these two, their own network in some cities and collaboration in another. They are thus better placed to help you expand and grow your business. To do this, all you need to do is work with them in a collaborative manner to din the most optimum solution to reach your customers.”

However, shippers who are too focused on their bottom line have a harder time seeing that value in a 3PL partner and might even remain hard pressed to change their ways. 

It’s less a matter of saving a few cents on the mile, however, and more about creating a sustainable and, more importantly, profitable supply chain.

It’s less a matter of saving a few cents on the mile, however, and more about creating a sustainable and, more importantly, profitable supply chain. For shippers who are willing to keep an open mind and maintain a good working relationship with carriers and 3PLs alike have a great opportunity to build longstanding and mutually beneficial relationships. Utilizing a 3PL as a broker can help to save money when the markets fluctuate, but using them as a supply chain consultant is where they can truly save in the long run.  

There are a number of other benefits that can come from working with and outsourcing your logistics to a 3PL. Not the least of all, a better and stronger bottom line.  If you would like to speak to one of our experts, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

7 Benefits of Outsourcing Logistics to a 3PL

To outsource logistics or manage it internally is a major point of consideration for organizations. The decision is usually arrived at after extensive cost-benefit analysis of both the alternatives. While the outcome is often based on the size and nature of the business, availability of capital and manpower, geography served, operational risks involved and extent of control an organization is willing to let go of, outsourcing is increasingly becoming a favored option. Below we will highlight the top seven reasons why you should consider it too.

While your in-house team may be expert at all the functions, the complex nature of the job makes it challenging for them to do all of it by themselves.

Expertise: Logistics is a very dynamic function. A logistician is required to understand business strategy, manufacturing planning, inventory management, and the nitty gritty of different modes of transportation depending on regions served. Along with having expert knowledge of these functions, they are also expected to be good at creating strategies and implementing them. It also requires a lot of coordination and collaboration with various service providers and government regulatory agencies. While your in-house team may be expert at all the functions, the complex nature of the job makes it challenging for them to do all of it by themselves. A 3PL has expertise in all these functions, they also have a connection with external agencies. They can take over the more tedious and complex jobs, freeing your team to strategize and plan the business.

From negotiating rates, booking the freight, providing storage, arranging for the transportation, getting the shipment loaded to following up on the shipment till it reaches the final destination, a 3PL can do it all.

Taking product to market: A 3PL arranges the transportation – local or international, to ensure that your product reaches the intended destination on time. From negotiating rates, booking the freight, providing storage, arranging for the transportation, getting the shipment loaded to following up on the shipment till it reaches the final destination, a 3PL can do it all. In the case you have international shipments, a 3PL has the experienced professionals to manage that as well. How much and how a 3PL contributes to the process depends on the organization that it works with.

Trained staff: A 3PL not only brings in the logistical facilities like warehouse facilities and transportation, but it also brings with it trained personnel who are equipped to handle the day-to-day logistics of the business. 3PL staff is trained to handle the exigencies of the business and deliver on the KPIs you set for them.

This is the age of digital logistics.

Technology: This is the age of digital logistics. A 3PL brings with it specifically designed, trusted, and ready-to-use systems and processes that can manage the end-to-end logistical process on a single platform. Most of the 3PL service providers are also open to customizing or integrating their digital platforms with that of the organization they work with. This flexibility offered by a 3PL not only helps the organization bridge the gaps in its systems but also helps it to do it at a comparatively lower cost.

Large network: The main objective of any business is to conquer new frontiers and markets. And, to do this, it requires a wide logistics network and a robust, flawlessly executed logistics strategy. Your 3PL partner is expected to and can help you achieve your business goals. They may either have their own network across regions or they may have business collaborations with transporters and storage facility providers in different regions or a mix of these two, their own network in some cities and collaboration in another. They are thus better placed to help you expand and grow your business. To do this, all you need to do is work with them in a collaborative manner to find the most optimum solution to reach your customers.

A 3PL not only has the means to do so, but also the technology and the trained staff to execute the process efficiently.

Dedicated customer service: Logistics is now a major part of customer service. Obtaining the right product, packed in the right manner, at the required delivery time is on every customer’s wishlist. This can only happen if the ordering process and logistics are synchronized and managed correctly. A 3PL not only has the means to do so, but also the technology and the trained staff to execute the process efficiently.

Cost Reduction: Last but not least, outsourcing logistics and allied activities to a 3PL not only provides all the above benefits and improves efficiency but also reduces operating costs and administration overheads.

Why BlueGrace?

When companies want superior supply chain management services and best-in-class technology, they turn to BlueGrace®. Why? Our progressive approach to transportation management helps customers of all sizes drive savings and simplicity into their supply chains.

How to Build an Effective Logistics Communication Process  

Communication is a vital aspect of building a successful business. An effective communication process ensures that information flows seamlessly between departments and amongst the various teams on time and in a form which will allow them to achieve individual, departmental, and organizational goals and objectives.  

While communication in varied forms and frequency is essential for all departments, it is extremely crucial for the executors of the organization’s plans and strategies – the Logistics Department. 

Why is communication important for Logistics  

Information interchange plays an important role in creating a cost-effective and agile logistics management process. It ensures that tasks are completed and transferred from one point to the other seamlessly and without delay.

For example, the sales department needs logistics data to analyze orders that have been shipped, customer service needs information to update shipment status, and the accounts section requires the data to cross-check transporter invoices. The procurement team needs information from logistics when new vendors are to be hired or old contracts are due for renewal. The other functions of the supply chain also have to collaborate or communicate with the logistics team to get their work done.  
 

In addition to the internal information requirements, vendors such as carriers, warehouse operators, and 3PLs also need to exchange information with the logistics team on a daily basis to ensure that the company’s products are delivered at the right time to the right place at the right cost.  

What are the features of an effective communication process for Logistics?

It should be in writing: Written communication is important as it minimizes the scope to misinterpret or forget the message. Today, written communication is the most common form of business communication. Since emails and all forms of messages across multiple platforms can easily be sent to multiple recipients situated across offices, countries, and continents, it is essential for all professionals to develop effective written communication skills and to encourage the same in all employees.

A clear, concise, and consistent message is the hallmark of effective communication.

It should follow the 3 C’s: A clear, concise, and consistent message is the hallmark of effective communication. A clear message ensures that there is no ambiguity in what needs to be conveyed. Conciseness ensures that the message is brief, but includes all important information. And, consistency in language, format, mode of delivery ensures that the receiver does not waste time in understanding the message.  

In logistics, given the fact that a lot of the work is time-bound, marking the right team or person on the email is of utmost importance.

It should be sent to the right recipients: More often than not information is lost in the organizational hierarchy because it is not addressed to the right person. In logistics, given the fact that a lot of the work is time-bound, marking the right team or person on the email is of utmost importance.  
 
It conveys urgency appropriately: Many executives are in the habit of marking all their emails as “urgent” to ensure that it gets immediate attention from the receiver. While this practice is great to ensure that important and critical communication does not get missed, however, if all communication is urgent, it becomes difficult to prioritize tasks. It also dilutes the meaning of the word. In such instances, the receivers take up the tasks in the priority that they think is correct. Hence, it is crucial to mark only communication or tasks that are the top priority as urgent and not all communication.  
 
It should provide clear timelines: The delivery or timeline for getting a response or the task being assigned should be clearly mentioned in the communication. This will help the receiver gather information, plan, and execute the requirements mentioned in the message and avoid unnecessary delays.  
 
It should be transparent and reliable: Interdepartmental conflicts, organizational politics, and cutthroat competition encourage employees to keep information from their counterparts or colleagues. This creates chaos, confusion, and mistrust which in turn affects the execution of tasks. It is thus important that the organizational culture promotes transparent communication and sharing of reliable information.  
 
It should be real-time: Logistics is a fast-paced function and information exchange also needs to be equally quick. Hence, information such as a change in freight rates, loading lists, customer orders, etc. needs to be verified and relayed to the next person as soon as it is received. Apart from these things, queries asked in relation to a task or process should be addressed promptly or the receiver should at least provide a timeline by when the sender may expect an answer. 

Technology Integration: In this digital age, just getting the written communication right is not enough to ensure the successful implementation of business plans. Organizations must also integrate the technologies, backend systems and processes that are used by different departments to ensure that information flows seamlessly and without manual intervention from one function to another. 

For logistics which is an intensely data-oriented function, this integration is crucial.

For logistics which is an intensely data-oriented function, this integration is crucial. It will help reduce manual data entry, delays due to incorrect system entries, and speed up the process. Digital records of all the transactions or logistical activities will also make it easier to get reports, analyze performance, find outliers, and standardize the process across different geographies and vendors. When designing or buying technology or outsourcing the process to a vendor, it is essential to understand if this technology will be able to integrate with other systems that your organization uses with ease and at least cost.

An organization’s logistical communication process can be complete only when all the above elements are present and interlinked via common technology.  

BlueGrace’s proprietary TMS (Transportation Management System) is designed to put the power of easy supply chain management and optimization back in your hands. BlueShip® 4.0 offers cutting-edge tools for strong reliability and quick performance. Many of our customers prefer to integrate their systems or ERPs such as SAP or NetSuite directly with our BlueShip platform. Our IT integrations team will work closely with your staff to complete the connection between systems. Not only will this simplify your freight but it will provide mountains of usable data to build measurable KPIs and continuously improve your program. To speak to a BlueGrace expert, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Tips for Becoming a More Strategic Shipper

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While there are a lot of buzzwords in the logistics industry, it may be surprising to some but “business strategy” is not among them. Every company needs a strong plan of approach and a method of conducting business that will put them in a more advantageous position. Successful companies understand that good strategy isn’t about just doing better than the “other guy” but also about not hindering themselves in the process.

One of the biggest ways that shipping companies tend to shoot themselves in the foot is by looking at their carriers as a resource rather than an asset.

One of the biggest ways that shipping companies tend to shoot themselves in the foot is by looking at their carriers as a resource rather than an asset. Being a preferred or “shipper of choice” is one of the best ways to shore up your strategy to make you more profitable today, next week, next year, in five years and years after that.

With the dwindling supply of able-bodied drivers, the relationship between shipper and carrier is more important than ever before. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to attaining that status with your carriers and carrier conduct in general.

Move to an Integrated Supply Chain

One of the worst carryovers from the inception of the logistics industry is that aspect of the business is thought of as a separate entity, a cost center. By siloing these facets rather than integrating them, it’s easy to lose cohesion and efficiency.

For a shipper, every part of their business is (and should be) connected.

For a shipper, every part of their business is (and should be) connected. Your sales team is just as important as those in the warehouse or operating the dock. Even if those are all considered to be connected and are even working as a complete unit, transportation is no less a part of that. All too often, shippers look at their carriers as an afterthought and opt not to include them in the larger operations discussions as well as providing information to them at the last possible minute.

“When an order arrives, ideally the information shouldn’t only be broadcast to inventory folks and the distribution center. The information should immediately go to the transportation group so they can start to coordinate the capacity to move that freight. Too often transportation folks are only notified when the pallets are sitting on the docks,” said Brian Gibson, executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Auburn University

While cutting down on the transportation budget might save a little cash up front, it could (and often does) have an impact on other facets of your business.

Of course, the cost is a factor in this regard. While cutting down on the transportation budget might save a little cash up front, it could (and often does) have an impact on other facets of your business. Disconnect and poor communication with a transporter tend to end up costing more in the long run with delays, detention fees, poor customer service, annoyed carriers, unsatisfied customers.

Do Unto Others

The golden rule certainly has its place in the business world and unfortunately, not all shippers and carriers have learned to get along as they should. Pricing is the perpetual thorn in the side, of course, and it’s easy for one side or the other to take advantage when the conditions are right. The “us-against-them” mentality may be useful when it comes to thinking about the competition, but it really has no place when you’re working with a carrier. Treating carriers poorly can have some serious consequences in the future.

Think about 2016 and 2017 when shippers could harangue carriers for a better rate and carriers had no option but to comply. In 2018, when demand was high enough for carriers to be more picky on what freight they carried, the worst of the antagonizers were either dropped or gouged when it came to the bill.

Trucking companies might put up with it when demand is low and they have no choice, but don’t think they won’t drop a company as soon as capacity picks back up.

Build a Good Working Relationship with Carriers

Remember, carriers, just as you as a shipper, are in the game to make money. For them, profit comes when they are more productive, so getting their drivers in, out, and on the road to the next delivery is key. However, when a driver is delayed, that puts a hurting on their productivity and ultimately their bottom line.

One of the best ways you can help to strengthen your working relationship is to ask your carriers to audit your supply chain and make suggestions and recommendations on how to make it more efficient.

One of the best ways you can help to strengthen your working relationship is to ask your carriers to audit your supply chain and make suggestions and recommendations on how to make it more efficient. While detention fees might help to recoup some of the losses from a delay, remember, carriers would much rather keep their drivers moving instead.

Looking Ahead

While we might not be able to predict the future precisely, shippers are able to put together a forecast of what they’ve got coming down the pipeline for deliveries. Communicating that information with carriers ahead of time not only helps to ensure there’s capacity available, but it also makes life considerably easier for both parties and strengthens the relationship at the same time.

Trucking companies like to know what’s coming down the line, more to the point, they like to have shipments lined up so they can keep their trucks moving. If they aren’t expecting anything from you, then they’ll look for freight elsewhere. While that’s a good move on their part, it doesn’t do a shipper any favors when they have freight that needs to get on the road.

One thing to remember is that the more communication you have with your carriers the better the relationship will be and the more reliable the service.

Small to midsize companies will typically make forecasts on a three week or monthly basis while larger companies will run a two-week forecast. Regardless of the number of days or week, though the one thing to remember is that the more communication you have with your carriers the better the relationship will be and the more reliable the service. The optimal goal is to have continuous service with the same carrier pool. This not only helps to build a more stable rapport with the carriers, but it’s mutually beneficial to both parties to have a consistent schedule that shipper and carrier alike can count on.

Make Decisions Based on Data

The technology available to the supply chain has grown up so much over the past few years that we’re able to make inductive leaps that we’ve never been able to do before. With the right technology, we can collect a seemingly endless number of data points, aggregate them and turn them into something comprehensible. From there we can take that information and use it to make informed decisions as well as highlighting opportunities for efficiencies.

Even on the most basic level, for example, this technology gives shippers the ability to track their freight in real time and proactively make decisions that could avoid delays, rather than reacting when it already happened.

Conversely, this data is also a great way to improve the communication between shippers and carriers.

Weekly communication with carriers helps to foster positive growth in relations as well as provides the ideal opportunity to discuss operational problems and pain points. Yes, the transportation budget matters, but that pales in comparison to the difference between getting exceptional service and poor service.

Why Shippers Should Consider Working with a 3PL

Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) can be instrumental in navigating this pro-trucker market. As a shipper, working with a 3PL can give you access to carriers that are not only rated and vetted but have a good working relationship with your 3PL partner. Consider it a “leg up” on building a good relationship. Additionally, a good 3PL knows what their carriers are looking for in terms of preferred or “shippers of choice.” Because of that and the changing market conditions, 3PLs are becoming more heavily relied upon to help get the job done.

“It’s more than just the growth of demand that is making 3PLs a tempting partner for shippers. With the influx of big data, analytics, blockchain technologies, and so many more innovations, attempting to keep pace can be difficult. As demand grows and capacity tightens, shippers and carriers alike need to be smarter about how they operate if they want to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.

As the industry continues to change, it’s likely that we’ll only see 3PLs continue to grow in popularity.”

Working with a partner that’s dedicated to shaping up your supply chain takes much of the guesswork out of having to do it yourself. We at BlueGrace specialize in doing just that, make your logistics work for you in the leanest and most efficient way possible.

At BlueGrace, we take your current freight data and get an inside look at what your team may be missing. Our carrier procurement strategists will help you meet tight deadlines, optimize your freight expense, and ultimately, find peace of mind. Fill out the form below to find out more about how partnering with BlueGrace can create more visibility and opportunities to simplify, overall helping you find a better way to do business.

Different Freight Types, Different Risks and Rewards

When it comes to running your business, it can be difficult to identify points of improvement, leading you to believe that things are as good as they can get, but in a climate of rising logistics costs, making sure that your operations are running as smoothly and efficiently as possible, can mean the success or failure of your business.

Ground transportation is a cost faced by almost every shipper in every industry, and quite a significant one, yet many shippers aren’t paying enough attention to how their ground transportation spend is being allocated, or don’t realize that there are different ways to approach it. In this article, we will break down a major factor that affects transportation costs: the differences between less-than-truckload (LTL) and full-truckload (FTL) services. We will break down those terms, what they mean for your business, and give two examples of how BlueGrace helped clients that were operating with less-than-ideal business models save hundreds of thousands on their ground transportation costs.

Yes, the perceived cost savings associated with sharing a truck with five other shippers is tantalizing, and a legitimate notion, but it’s not everything.

LTL has gained a reputation of being a more efficient, cost-saving method of transporting freight. It can be thought of like carpooling for cargo; if two people are going the same place, why not double-up and go in one car, splitting the cost savings? Translating that idea into a business scenario, if you’re a small-to-medium sized business, you likely do not have enough product going to one destination to fill up a truck’s full trailer, so LTL can seem like a cost-saving no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s not quite so cut-and-dry. Yes, the perceived cost savings associated with sharing a truck with five other shippers is tantalizing, and a legitimate notion, but it’s not everything. There are other factors to consider when deciding between LTL and FTL, and there is no, one-size-fits all approach.

Potential Downsides of Utilizing LTL

Timing: By nature of LTL, there are multiple stops along the route that means longer lead times and may cause delays in the supply chain. So, if you are aiming to minimize transportation time, which everyone is in the logistics world, then you are making a sacrifice.

If your company operates in the realm of e-commerce, it would be prudent to examine the costs associated with the loss of business that your business suffers due to potentially longer LTL delivery times, and evaluate what options would open up if you were able to reduce your transportation times by a period of days.

For some shippers, timing is absolutely critical. The obvious examples are perishable products, like fresh produce and pharmaceutical products, which cannot sit for long periods of time in untempered conditions. But now, other “non-perishable” products, like apparel, electronics, and non-perishable food products are becoming time-sensitive in the e-commerce driven world, with monoliths like Amazon now offering same- and one-day shipping options, which have set a standard in the minds of consumers to receive products quickly. If your company operates in the realm of e-commerce, it would be prudent to examine the costs associated with the loss of business that your business suffers due to potentially longer LTL delivery times, and evaluate what options would open up if you were able to reduce your transportation times by a period of days.

Damage: Another common problem associated with LTL transportation is the higher occurrence of damage to cargo. Due to the frequent stops and touch points along routes, in which cargo is being loaded and unloaded from the trucks, freight generally incurs more damage on LTL trips than on FTL trips. For hardier freight, some light damage to exterior packaging is unlikely to be of major consequence, but for shippers dealing in more delicate products, delivering damaged product could mean having to refund a customer for the full price paid for the product, the burden falling on you. If your product is not easily damaged, this may not be an important factor, but if your product is damaged frequently or even occasionally, calculate the average cost that you end up paying to make up for damages per quarter, and then comparing to how much it would cost you to instead opt for FTL, which would result in significantly less damage. Which cost is higher in the end? It will depend on your particular business.

It’s not an easy task for shippers. At BlueGrace, we work with shippers on a case-by-case basis to help determine strategies that fit business’ specific needs. Our digital platform, BlueShip®, takes all of a company’s attributes into account to identify which options result in minimized costs and maximized profits. In the case studies, for example,“Private Equity Group & Transportation Cost Reduction,” and “Manual Process Reduction & TMS Integration for Restaurant Industry,” we dive into each case, exploring how BlueGrace helped two different clients with similar needs rethink their supply chain strategies that were giving them less-than-optimum results.

The routing guide left out multiple states that certain carriers could not go to. Because of this issue, the supplier was receiving chargebacks from distribution centers on a regular basis.

In the first case, a private equity group (PEG) was using proprietary enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to allocate resources and make business decisions. After analyzing the company’s situation, it turned out that the ERP was not suited for the client. The routing guide left out multiple states that certain carriers could not go to. Because of this issue, the supplier was receiving chargebacks from distribution centers on a regular basis. Once BlueGrace helped them downsize their carrier network to a more tailored group of carriers, it saw a 12 percent reduction in transportation costs and $300,000 in annual savings.

In the second case, a restaurant supplier was having difficulties managing their current in-house ERP system. They had looked at 3PL solutions in the past, but couldn’t find a solution that suited their needs, causing them to continue to incur chargebacks frequently, dinging their bottom line significantly over time. After the implementation of BlueGrace’s systems, the supplier was able to straighten out their supply chain and avoid chargebacks, saving them 12 percent in hard costs totaling at $468,000 in one year.

Do You Understand Your Business’ Needs?

At BlueGrace, we understand that every business has specific needs.We would love to learn what matters most to you in this aspect of your business. Contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our freight experts today, and learn how you can optimize your supply chain, minimize costs, and maximize your company’s bottom line!

BlueGrace VP Randy Ofiara on WGN Radio

The news for the week was Tesla, but isn’t it always? This time the discussion was around Elon Musk’s comments about being in “logistics hell” and his company’s inability to get the now finished electric automobiles delivered on time. On Wednesday, September 19th our VP of Enterprise Sales, Randy Ofiara was invited to speak on WGN Radio in Chicago. He shared his expertise on why Tesla and other freight shippers are having difficulties meeting shipment deadlines due to the capacity crunch we are witnessing currently. Driver shortages, tariffs and government mandates are impacting shippers like never before.

Click HERE to listen to the podcast on the WGN website. The logistics discussion starts at the 7:30 mark. Take some time to listen to why the experts at BlueGrace are on top of the industry for you, helping you simplify your shipping everyday.

Even with the capacity crunch in full swing for all types of industries, there is still pressure to curb costs, but there is no reason to fold under the pressure. There are plenty of opportunities to save on costs waiting to be revealed. All it takes is a hard look at your business model.  To speak to one of our freight experts, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below. 

Understanding the Capacity Effects of the ELD Mandate

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Carriers in the trucking industry are still adjusting to the growing pains of the federally mandated electronic logging devices (ELDs) following implementation deadlines earlier this year. For many carriers, even with deadlines in the rearview mirror, there is still confusion around the details of the mandate. Even those who are fully intent on cooperating may not be confident that they are in full compliance, or which specific aspects of their operations even need to be in compliance. 

The fines, which went into effect in April, state that under Title 49, section 521, any driver or carrier who does not keep a Record of Duty Status (RODS) is subject to being pulled off the road and face a civil penalty of $1,000 to $10,000 for each offense. Even still, one-third of U.S. truck drivers still use paper logs to track hours of service, despite the federal mandate, says a new survey with 2,400 respondents from software-as-a-service (SaaS) company Teletrac Navman that provides GPS fleet tracking. 

But contrary to popular belief, fines are regularly being issued to carriers.

While there has been an industry narrative developing since news of the mandate emerged that the potential to face fines is more of a “boogeyman” scare-tactic than a real concern, the evidence tells a different story. But contrary to popular belief, fines are regularly being issued to carriers. Almost $32 million worth of fines had been racked up as of Feb. 28 and another $142 million as of Aug. 22, totaling at $174 million. 

Source: https://www.supplychaindive.com/news/fleets-not-using-ELD-data-survey/531410/

BlueGrace’s Brian Blalock, Senior Manager of Sourcing Strategy, and Raddy Velkov, Director of Trucking Operations, explain these fines’ effect on the nation’s trucking capacity, the lanes that are the most affected, and how to use mode optimization to respond to the situation in their webinar,“Response to the ELD Mandate”.

Blalock says that with trucks being taken off the road, shippers are experiencing a constriction of capacity, “which means things are becoming more and more difficult for us as shippers to be able to create good business plans, make good decisions and make sure our freight arrives on time and in full.” 

First, Blalock lays down how the ELD mandate affects different routes, i.e. local, short haul, tweener, and long haul.  

What Does the ELD Mandate Mean: Transit times, Capacity, and Rates 

Local (less than 100 miles): Runs that are under 100 air miles are considered not subject to the ELD mandate, so the segment of small carriers that operate entirely on a regional basis have been unaffected.  

Short Haul (100-450 miles) “As the mileage grows… there is more of an adjustment period due to the longer length of haul.” But if you drive beyond the 100-mile radius or take more than 12 hours to return to your home base, you are required to maintain a RODS.  

Tweener (450 – 800 miles) This category is the most affected by the ELD mandate, Blalock and Velkov explain. Smaller carriers that were running one- and two-day points illegally were able to charge shippers less because they were recording use of the equipment for one day, whereas the larger size carriers who were in compliance had to pay the true, higher amount. 

Once you’re inspected and ticketed by the DOT you are more likely to get ticketed or inspected again.

“Larger carriers… were compliant to run these two-day points,” Velkov explained. “Some of these larger carriers were already compliant for a lot of years, just due to the sheer size of their fleet.” Velkov added, “Once you’re inspected and ticketed by the DOT you are more likely to get ticketed or inspected again, so the carriers with larger fleets were getting inspected more than the owner-ops. with one or two trucks, so they wanted to adjust the playing field in this market space and be price competitive.”  

Long Haul (over 800 miles) The long haul runs are also affected by the ELD mandate, of course, but many carriers operating these runs were already in compliance. 

With the ELD-mandate changing business dynamics many carriers have made it their goal to minimize cost in order to reduce rates to stay competitive, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle.  

Analysis with BlueGrace 

If all of the conversations you’re having internally are about rates, you’re having the wrong conversation.

“If all of the conversations you’re having internally are about rates, you’re having the wrong conversation,” Blalock said, “because more of the cost can be driven out by better decisions than by any decisions that can be made to rates.”  Velkov and Blalock explain how businesses can use data to optimize their business models, using the metrics and analysis available with Bluegrace’s services. The process starts by looking at a full picture of the supply chain to understand the network and cost distribution. 

Shippers should internally ask questions like, which vendors are costing more money than they’re worth? Can I negotiate better dollar per pound rate with them? Are we losing money with this a specific vendor? Once you have a strong understanding of your current network and the costs associated with your vendors, you can begin to dig deeper by looking at various analysis offered by BlueGrace, such as the ship weight analysis, explained below.  

Ship Weight Analysis Report: This measure allows shippers to look at month-to-month based on average weights cost per pound per month to determine if there are any outliers. For instance, were there any particular times your company did better than others? 

There is a tendency to steer away from FTL because of cost, to shift to multiple LTLs, but this may not always be the best option.

“You’re not always looking for mistakes, but instances in which things were done considerably better,” Blalock commented. You want to understand the exact cost per unit, or as Blalock says, the cost to put each widget on the shelf. This will help you make smarter business decisions, for instance, whether or not to book full truckload (FTL) or less than truckload (LTL.) “There is a tendency to steer away from FTL because of cost, to shift to multiple LTLs, but this may not always be the best option,” Blalock said. You may be making the mistake of booking LTL thinking it is saving you excess cost, but if sixteen LTL booking costs you $200 each, versus paying for one $1000 FTL, you’ve just paid in excess of $2,200. 

How BlueGrace Can Help

With the ELD-mandate in effect and a capacity crunch in full swing, there is an industry-wide pressure to curb costs, but there is no reason to fold under the pressure. There are plenty of opportunities to save on costs waiting to be revealed. All it takes is a hard look at your business model.  To speak to one of our freight experts, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below. 

Tight Capacity Ahead

It’s a good time to be a carrier. With markets running hot, carriers have ample opportunities to pick up freight and can be choosy about which ones they take. From the most profitable lanes to the highest price loads, carriers have been running the game and raking in some serious revenue, as much as high single or double-digit percentages. According to the latest earning reports from FTL carriers, shippers haven’t secured peak season capacity on notice. As it stands, there is no indication of freight demand slowing or contractual truck capacity lightening up any time soon. As a result, many carriers are noticing a markedly improved performance from that over previous years.

Reinvesting in the Fleet Can Have Downsides 

Given the fact that many carriers are increasing their profits, they’re looking to reinvest in their company, replacing older trucks with newer, more efficient models. According to the Journal of Commerce, one such company, Covenant Transport, brought on 400 new trucks, while getting rid of 465. In total, the company plans on bringing in 880 new trucks while removing 940 aged trucks from the fleet.“Covenant’s truckload revenue increased by $16.1 million year-over-year in the quarter, a 17.4 percent gain attributed to a 14.2 percent increase in average freight revenue per truck. The carrier increased that revenue with fewer team drivers, fewer average team miles per truck, and an increase in the number of trucks that lacked drivers — 5.2 percent of its fleet,” says the JOC.  

While more revenue is being generated from shippers being willing to pay for capacity, the overall capacity is being diminished.

The problem here is twofold. While more revenue is being generated from shippers being willing to pay for capacity, the overall capacity is being diminished. Conversely, the driver shortage is beginning to exacerbate the problem considerably. “From a capacity perspective, attracting and retaining highly qualified, over the road professional truck drivers remains our largest challenge,” Richard B. Cribbs, executive vice president, and chief financial officer, said in a statement Wednesday. “Low unemployment, alternative careers, and an aging driver population are creating an increasingly competitive environment.” Which means in order to fix the current problem, carriers are going to have to do something to draw in some fresh blood to take up the wheel and keep freight moving.  

Raising the Pay Grade 

So how much is enough of a pay incentive to bring in younger drivers? According to DCVelocity, the pay is going to have to increase to about $75,000 annually if there’s any hope of not only attracting but keeping qualified drivers on the roster for the long haul. Typically speaking, drivers get paid by the mile. However, when you factor in delays for shipping and receiving (miles not being driven) a lot of drivers are having a hard time making a solid living from hauling freight.  

“As of May 2017, the median truckload driver wage was slightly more than $42,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10 percent of earners pulled down more than $64,000, according to BLS data. Since then, an increasing number of fleets have substantially increased driver wages. Many salaries have risen by double-digit amounts during the past year or so,” according to the DCVelocity Team 

A Continuing Problem  

According to Driver iQ, a company that produces background screening products and other services for the trucking industry, larger fleets are having a harder time keeping personnel than smaller companies.  “While about two-thirds of recruiters at larger companies said their drivers were retiring at their expected times, about the same percentage of executives at smaller carriers indicated their drivers were staying longer,” according to the survey.  

As for shippers, capacity is already tight, and it’s only going to get tighter as the driver shortage continues.  

In their second-quarter forecast on driver recruitment and retention trends, Driver iQ predicted that approximately 45 percent of fleet recruiters are expecting a rise in driver turnover rates, even more so than the already high levels from the previous quarter. The turnover ratio is double what it was in the fourth quarter of 2017, meaning trucking companies are steadily losing more drivers. While carriers are making out well now given that they can cherry-pick freight due to the high demand, losing more of their driving force is going to put them in a tight spot down the road. As for shippers, capacity is already tight, and it’s only going to get tighter as the driver shortage continues.  

Strengthen Your Supply Chain

BlueGrace partners with an extensive list of carriers, providing you with the resources needed to ease the affects of the tight capacity crunch.  If you would like more information on how BlueGrace can help simplify your supply chain and reduce transportation costs, fill out the form below or contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING to speak to one of our freight experts today!

How The New Tariffs Could Affect the Supply Chain

With three rounds of attempted trade negotiations come and gone, a trade war between the United States and China, representing the two largest economies in the world has begun. China’s Ministry of Commerce has made a declaration that they will fight back against the Trump administrations imposed retaliatory tariffs on imports to China. China is now joining the ranks of other major players in the global economy, Canada, Mexico, and the EU, who are fighting back against these tariffs.

The $200 billion in import products that are being considered span a wide array of household and consumer goods

The $200 billion in import products that are being considered span a wide array of household and consumer goods including, but not limited to, bicycles, sound systems, refrigerators, pocketbooks, vacuum cleaners, cosmetics, tools, and seafood. With a 10 percent duty markup, the tariff would highlight just how dependent the U.S. consumer economy has become on imports.

“In recent days, Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, who oversees foreign investment, has instructed local governments to gauge how the biggest round of U.S. tariffs to date—25% duties on $34 billion of Chinese goods imposed on Friday—is affecting American businesses operating in China, the officials said. In particular, authorities are looking for signs of U.S. companies potentially moving facilities out of China. That would be a blow to Beijing’s effort to attract foreign capital and keep people employed at a time of gathering economic gloom,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

“The idea behind the imposition of tariffs is to increase the cost of imported goods to the point where American manufacturers can compete more effectively, and punish other countries for unfair trade practices. But the reality is that the global economy is so intertwined that most U.S. manufacturers rely heavily on imported parts to support their own U.S. production,” according to Supply Chain Management Review.

Seeing as how many U.S. based manufacturers rely on parts that come from outside the country, we could see a stymie point in production that could create a heavy impact on manufacturers and shippers in the near future.

So how will this growing trade war affect global supply chains? Seeing as how many U.S. based manufacturers rely on parts that come from outside the country, we could see a stymie point in production that could create a heavy impact on manufacturers and shippers in the near future.

The Backlash from the Automotive Sector 

While the new jobs are a boon to the U.S. economy, it is not without consequence. “BMW said Monday that it would move production for some of its SUVs out of the U.S. as a result of new tariffs placed on the vehicles,”  according to The Post and Courier in South Carolina. “The German-based automobile manufacturer signed an agreement with its Chinese partner, Brilliance Automotive Group Holdings, to increase the number of vehicles produced in the country, according to the Charleston newspaper, with the total reaching 520,000 by 2019.” 

 Volvo might also be pulling jobs out of the United States as a means of offsetting these tariffs.  A necessary step as many of the vehicles the company produces in the U.S. and exports to other countries such as Europe and China. Volvo has recently put its plans to expand production in the United States, which would increase staffing from 1,200 to 4,000 on hold.  

A Slow Build for the U.S. Economy

There will undoubtedly be a good deal of fluctuation as U.S. and Chinese companies alike learn how to negotiate these new tariffs. Partner companies between the two countries are already negotiating terms for splitting the difference to help offset some of the lower point tariffs such as the 10 percent increase on Chinese seafood. However, the more substantial duties, such as the 25 percent markup on exported automobiles have some manufacturers looking to pull away.  

“Over time, tariffs reshape the economy. Newly protected industries draw workers and investment away from exporting industries whose inputs are now more expensive. That effect is compounded when exports are also targeted by foreign retaliatory tariffs. Heavily protected industries, like U.S. sugar farmers, don’t export much because prices abroad are much lower than at home. Protectionist countries like India and Brazil have lower imports and lower exports relative to GDP than open economies like South Korea and Chile,” Douglas A. Irwin, an economist, and trade historian at Dartmouth College notes. 

Exporters are going to have a hard time finding ways to mitigate the additional costs of the tariffs while still making a profit.  

Ultimately, the U.S. economy could see some potential benefit from these changes as it might level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers. In the end, however, those that will suffer the most boil down to the consumers buying the products affected by the tariffs, and the exporters. Exporters are going to have a hard time finding ways to mitigate the additional costs of the tariffs while still making a profit.  

How the Supply Chain Will React 

As the cost of raw materials goes up, many companies will have to reevaluate their opinions and suppliers to determine what the best course of action is.

With any major jostling of exports and imports, there will be a rather substantial effect on the supply chain. As the cost of raw materials goes up, many companies will have to reevaluate their opinions and suppliers to determine what the best course of action is.   As tariffs were introduced on imported washing machines Marc Bitzer, the chief executive of Whirlpool Corp., celebrated his win over South Korean competitors LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics Co. “This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool,” he said on an investor conference call. 

Nearly six months later, the company’s share price is down 15%. One factor is a separate set of tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed by the U.S. in March and later expanded, that helped drive up Whirlpool’s raw-materials costs. In the best case scenario, existing suppliers can negotiate with clients to help offset costs. Worst case means disruption and possible standstill for production should components and materials become cost prohibitive for manufacturers. Part of what has helped control the price of consumer goods is the low cost of Chinese labor. Without that, we could see a considerable rise in inflation on U.S. consumer goods at least until the market is able to rebalance itself.   

What Supply Chain Managers Need to Keep in Mind  

Purchasing and Sourcing managers will have their work cut out for them with the new tariffs in place, leaving them to scramble to find new sources where the tariffs don’t apply in order to help keep costs low. However, finding a new supplier is only the first step. There will still be the need for qualifying and completing a risk assessment before a new supplier can be brought on board. Additionally, the supplier must be vetted for product quality, capacity, delivery schedules, and other vital categories to make sure that they will be a reliable partner. Unfortunately, this can be a time-consuming process, but many companies already began sourcing new suppliers when the new tariffs were first announced.

Logistics channels will need to evaluate and contract with foreign trucking companies, freight forwarders, and identify export requirements from other countries before the supply chain can flow smoothly.

Negotiating transportation will be another matter altogether. Logistics channels will need to evaluate and contract with foreign trucking companies, freight forwarders, and identify export requirements from other countries before the supply chain can flow smoothly. This could mean completely altering ocean freight sailings and ports of call, as well as new air freight routes which could cause some delays in the production schedule during the early stages of these changes.  

Supply bases will also be profoundly affected as they take a considerable period of time, approximately 12-18 months, to be reestablished, especially when it involves complex parts such as circuitry. Unfortunately, some of these parts will be unable to be sourced from other countries which means that the base price of components will increase. With manufacturing costs on the rise, many companies will have to make the decision as to how far they can push their customers on the price point before they have to swallow the increase and take a hit to the bottom line.  

Many manufacturers will have to become more flexible in their approach to the supply chain to help offset eventual overages in inventory which will often occur as an attempt to prevent shortages.

Sales and Operations planning will need to make some considerable adjustments in the way they view their supply chain. Supplier schedules will inevitably change which will also change logistics needs. Inventory levels will also have to change as a result which could incur more shipping costs as production runs short on necessary components. This means that many manufacturers will have to become more flexible in their approach to the supply chain to help offset eventual overages in inventory which will often occur as an attempt to prevent shortages.  Of course, there’s also the consideration of what forms the “retaliation” will take as any number of them could result in higher costs and longer shipping times. China has already proposed closer inspections on U.S. imports as well as long delays through customs for more rigorous checks, which can significantly reduce the speed and efficiency of the supply chain.

Your focus should be on developing alternative and flexible supply chains that can be adjusted with speed. It’s time for all hands on deck to fight for your company’s survival.

“Supply chain professionals should take immediate action, if you haven’t already, to secure new suppliers and to do strategic planning using multiple “what-if” supply and cost scenarios.  Your focus should be on developing alternative and flexible supply chains that can be adjusted with speed. It’s time for all hands on deck to fight for your company’s survival,” Supply Chain management suggests.  

In short, this new trade war is going to force changes on many companies, and the supply chain will suffer. Those companies who have the agility to respond quickly will be the best off, but as relations between these global powers remain in limbo, the final result is yet to be determined.  

All Hands on Deck

BlueGrace helps our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we are here to simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today!

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