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supply chain

Is Your Supply Chain Ready For Weather Disruptions?

To a large extent, Supply Chain and uncertainty go hand in hand. Driver delays, transportation failure, strikes, hike in fuel prices, carrier capacity shortage, vendor hold-ups, thefts, and fires at warehouses are all common issues in the supply chain ecosystem. Most supply chain leaders are not only aware of them but also have alternate plans or solutions ready to tackle these issues as and when they arise.

However as supply chains become increasingly global in nature, businesses not only have to contend with minor uncertainties but also have to manage larger global disruptions that may threaten their very existence. These disruptions are like black swan events which no one can forecast or plan for in advance. They arrive on the horizon suddenly and upset the status quo, often requiring a rearrangement of how the business functions and manages its supply chain in the future.

What Global Disruptions does the Supply Chain need to be aware of?

Globalization has added a layer of complexity to business operations. Now businesses have to keep an eye on what’s happening around the world and be able to identify possible threats to their business in all the countries that they operate in or source raw materials from.

Natural Disasters:

Natural disasters are the most common global disruptors. Wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, and floods can interrupt regular operations for a long time in the country that they happen in. It can take years to rebuild factories and get them operating at optimum capacity. For example, according to reports, the 2011 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan had caused grave damage to infrastructure and manufacturing facilities in the country. Given the wide scope of Japanese companies’ operations, the impact of the earthquake and Tsunami was felt by their business partners around the world.

Political and Trade Relations:

Cordial political and trade relations amongst the governments of the originating country and the nations that the organization wants to do business are a must for smooth operations. If there’s any change in the relationship either political or trade, it can become difficult for the business to carry out its business activities without disruptions. A recent case in point is the ongoing trade war between China and the US. This has not only soured relations between the two nations but has also created a tumultuous situation for other nations involved in international trade with the two countries.

Similarly, an unfavorable change in foreign trade policies – without the threat of a trade war – due to political fallout or change in the growth strategy can make it hard for foreign businesses to sustain long term in the country.

Economic Factors:

Another factor that can derail supply chains across the globe is an economic recession. If any of the major economies of the world like the US, China, Germany, India, France, and the UK experience an economic downturn it is bound to impact the nations that it does business with. A major economic failure can also lead to a global recession like the 2008 global recession which led to many businesses closing shop or limiting their reach to certain geographies only.

Cyber Threats:

Since digitalization and technology have become an integral part of the supply chain, another threat that can cause great damage to not only the business but also customers are cyber attacks. These attacks on technology and systems can impact a business’s reliability, trustworthiness, and endanger the trade and even personal data.

Unlike the regular supply chain disturbances, these threats are unforeseeable and due to their unpredictable nature, not easily manageable. Each event – even if it is of the same kind – requires a specialized and unique response.

The better prepared a supply chain is to respond to a sudden event, the more likelihood of it overcoming the challenge and sustaining its operations. Hence, now more than ever it has become critical for supply chains across the globe to assess themselves against invisible threats and prepare to deal with black swan events as and when they occur.

What can you do to make your supply chain ready to weather disruptions?

While there is no fixed roadmap on how to deal with these kinds of threats, there are a few steps that businesses can take to safeguard their interests and bounce back with minimum possible damage.

  1. Imagine the unimaginable: Organizations now need to think ahead and plan for events that may or may not happen. It is critical to simulate scenarios that can disrupt your business and find solutions to overcome them before these scenarios play out in the real world. Create a contingency plan for what-ifs: for example – what would you do if an earthquake struck your manufacturing facility or if one of your vendors had to temporarily close down business because his unit was in the eye of the storm? Do you have an alternative option? If not, then that’s where you start your planning.
  1. Find substitute suppliers: We have often highlighted the importance of having multiple trusted vendors on board. There’s no better time than now to reiterate this point. Find vendors in different regions when the business and the world is functioning in normal conditions. Try out a few transactions with them and work on building a relationship with them. Access to vendors in different regions can help keep the business running  even if there’s some disturbance in one region or country. This will enable you to keep your supply chain functioning.
  1. Build alternative service providers and business partners: It’s not just the suppliers that you need to keep your supply chain up and running. Along with a roaster of trusted suppliers you also need to build a repository of other service providers and business partners such as transporters, shipping lines, warehousing facilities in all the regions where your business operates. This is critical because if you have to shift your business from one sector to another due to some contingency, you will know who to hire and partner with.
  1. Identify the pain points of your supply chain: No business or supply chain is perfect. Some have a strong inventory management system but a poor relation with transporters. Others have a rigorous forecasting procedure in place but struggle with people management or may have customer issues. Any of these weak points have the capability to be further aggravated during an emergency. Hence, it is critical to know the pain points of your supply chain and work on finding viable solutions.
  1. Make data security a priority: In the current scenario where technology is a part of every function and system within an organization, data security has become critical. It’s not just your business data that is at risk, but also the information that your customers and vendors share while doing business with you that is in danger. Even a small breach of data can put your and your customers or business partners at risk. So make technology and systems audit an integral part of your organization.
  1. Learn from past disruptions: Maybe the earthquake in Japan did not impact your business or the hurricane Katrina did not affect your region, but it did cause damage to other businesses and regions. Observe what they did to get their business and supply chain up and running. Find out what were the difficulties they faced, learn from them, and find solutions for such situations that are viable for your business.
  1. Analyze, Analyse, and Analyse: We can’t emphasize the importance of carrying on an ongoing analysis of your supply chain. This is the only way where you can not only find out the risk to your business, but also identify threats and challenges, and work on solutions to mitigate them before they become unmanageable.

Will the analysis help in mitigating risks from black swan events? If you keep these threats in mind while conducting analysis, then it will help build awareness among your team and urge them to work on finding viable solutions.

If you need any assistance in starting your supply chain analysis journey, then get in touch with our team of experts today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widening the Customer Base

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truckload Freight Contracts: Understanding Contract & Spot Rates

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

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

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

Driving Forces of Change in Contract and Spot Rate Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Better Understand Contract and Spot Rates

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

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

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

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

Outside-In: The Future of Supply Chain Planning

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

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

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

What is the Outside-in Mindset? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fifty Shapes of Amazon Logistics

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

Amazon Tips its Hand to Logistics  

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

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

Amazon Logistics  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A True Change of Pace for Whole Foods 

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

How Can SMBs Contend With Big Box Retailers?

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

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

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

The Ever-Growing Logistics Challenge

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

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

Knowing where to Source Carriers

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

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

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

Investing in Technology

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

Taking a Lesson from the Big Box

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

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

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

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

The Toilet Paper Shortage: Can’t We Just Ship More?

As the COVID-19 coronavirus began to spread across our country, and people began to absorb the full impact that it would have on our workplaces and culture, Americans reacted by heading to grocery stores and buying “essentials” in bulk. It is possible consumers had become conditioned by other natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, polar vortexes and the like to expect large-scale disruptions to the traditional grocery store supply chain.

Within a couple of weeks, the news media became flooded with pictures of empty shelves and lines of people waiting for consumer package goods (CPG).  The most curious case, and the one that has caught social media by storm, is the fact that consumers are ripping the toilet paper off the shelves quicker than manufactures can supply it. When there is a shortage that means some will go without. Those waiting for their paycheck? They’re out of luck. The elderly who can’t get to the store on time? Also, out of luck. In the UK, the overbuying has led to products being rationed and price hikes. In Hong Kong, it led to armed robbery.  However, when looking at it from a supply chain perspective, the problem has a simple explanation, one that is under-reported in the media.  The true demand for toilet paper hasn’t really changed (consumers aren’t all of a sudden using more toilet paper per capita) but their collective buying behavior has caused a change in demand upstream.

The industry runs on extreme efficiency and mills work at full capacity.

Since majority of people are working from home, restaurants are closed and any public place with a restroom are closed as well, there is less of a need of “industrial” toilet paper and an increased demand for “commercial” toilet paper. The toilet paper industry is unique in that this paper is a high-volume product but low value. It also has a low value by density. It’s large in size but weighs little and costs little. This means transportation costs are a significant portion of its total value.  The industry runs on extreme efficiency and mills work at full capacity. Manufacturing schedules are based on demand having little fluctuation, but this only works if demand is steady. When demand changes this causes supply problems. According to Will Oremus, with 75% of workers now working from home people are buying more commercial toilet paper than ever before, causing a huge spike in demand for this particular category of toilet paper.

Conversely, once this coronavirus crisis ends, demand for residential toilet paper will subside quickly back to traditional levels.  Therefore, the average family will then be overstocked, and their purchases will pause for a period of time until their inventory is depleted.  At this point in time, when the CPG company replenishments arrive in stores, there will be a surplus since consumers are overstocked. 

Because there were no shortages in the raw materials used to produce this product, and demand skyrocketed, we are seeing what is called the “bullwhip effect” (seen below).  We find ourselves stuck in a situation where panic demand causes the system to produce drastically more product for which there will not be enough buyers once the inventory finally arrives to catch up.

We simply can’t just replace the toilet paper

It’s important to note that we simply can’t just replace the toilet paper that belongs on the shelves with the unused toilet paper in airports, restaurants and other closed down businesses. These are essentially two different products that come from two completely different markets (commercial and industrial). The industrial paper comes from a completely different mill than the commercial paper requiring different supply chains. In fact, people are using 40% more commercial toilet paper than usual at home than they would be at any “normal” day. If we were to redirect the industrial supply to consumer supply there would be a need to establish new relationships and contracts with suppliers, design new packaging and shipping and route new trucking routes, all of which normally take years to accomplish and extremely costly.

The customer must be convinced that excessive purchasing of toilet paper is unnecessary.”  

We are at an uncertain time right now but it’s important that our actions reflect facts and not fears. The short supply of toilet of paper doesn’t necessarily come from panic and fear; it is simply a function of the differences between the B2C and B2B supply chains for this single product. There is a spike in demand and people are temporarily buying more for their homes, therefore supply is working to keep up with demand.  The CEO of ThroughPut explains that “when there is no more that can be done on the production side, the customer must be convinced that excessive purchasing of toilet paper is unnecessary.”  

Automation In The Supply Chain

In a world that is constantly evolving and adapting to the newest technology, it’s important that companies keep up with the changes. We are at a point in time where consumers are getting their packages delivered by drones and cars are driving themselves. The demand for flexible, accuracy, and transparency in your supply chain increases daily. According to On Time, by the end of 2020, 17% of companies will still not have embraced automation techniques.  In a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) company, it’s important that we are using systems and processes that improve effectiveness and efficiency that enables business flow.  

Through cutting supply chain complexity and improving responsiveness, we rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Artificial intelligence allows for supply chain planning, inventory management, and customer order management. It takes the repetitiveness of trying different processes and applying it every time in a much more efficient responsive time.

Access To Real Time Data

By having an effective TMS in place, your business can save money and make better shipping decisions.

When there is real time freight data and reports based on history and trends in the system, we can learn from things that went right and also things we could improve on when it comes to making better business decisions. By having an effective TMS in place, your business can save money and make better shipping decisions. In the past, manual data entry errors have been extremely costly causing increased rates and unsatisfied customers. By implementing an effective TMS, there will be less room for human error and allows repetitive tasks to become simple. The data that your TMS can provide also is asset to your customers, giving you the ability to enhance the customers overall experience.

Better Customer Service

By having automation in place, you can reduce the time between ordering and fulfillment, keeping the customer in the loop and increasing customer satisfaction.

Not only can automation reduce the amount of manual labor and repetitiveness, but it can also improve the relationship with your customer and enhancing their overall experience. A TMS allows the customer to track freight, generate auto pick up, and see real time payments and accounting information. Your customer will be able to see what they are getting charged for and when the freight will arrive. By having automation in place, you can reduce the time between ordering and fulfillment, keeping the customer in the loop and increasing customer satisfaction.

A Case Study: Invoice Automation

Recently at BlueGrace, we have adopted new software that allows for invoice automation. When a customer shipment is delivered, an invoice is sent to us by the carrier.  Historically, an employee would manually take the time to search for the shipment in our TMS and match up the information to the invoice. This is a time-consuming task when verifying thousands of shipments per day. However, with automated matching in place, we reduce the amount of time it takes for a customer to get invoiced. Utilizing a third party plugin, our TMS automatically verifies the information and sends it to billing if it matches up with the shipment details. This software takes out manual, tedious and time-consuming work and allows for automation step-in to make the process faster and more efficient.

There could be hesitation when implementing automation because of the fear of losing the human element. However, that isn’t the case when automation is improving the workforce. Employees will only perform the essential tasks, therefore improving productivity. This also attracts a new workforce to reflect an innovated supply chain by integrating mobility and collaboration with customers.

We are in a world where humans and machines are collaborating, not competing for a job.

At the end of the day, a supply chain can’t function without its people. We are in a world where humans and machines are collaborating, not competing for a job. If you have questions about how automation should be implemented to achieve the most efficient, sustainable supply chain, contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts.

The Key to Managing Disruption? Outsourcing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Can Cut Costs 

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

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

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

3PLs Provide Scalability 

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

Outsourcing Isn’t Without Risk 

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

Mitigating the Risks 

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

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

In Conclusion 

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

Evolving Consumer Demands Prompt Continued Changes in Logistics

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

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

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

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

Logistics Technology Evolves to Meet Demands

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

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

Demands for Faster Delivery Mean Demand for Better Visibility

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

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

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

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

The Impact Of The Coronavirus On Surface Freight

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

What’s Happening With The Coronavirus? 

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

Potential Ways Coronavirus May Disrupt The Surface Freight Supply Chain 

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

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

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

How to Lessen the Impact of the Coronavirus 

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

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

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

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

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

Vaccinate Your Organization Against The Coronavirus With A BlueGrace Partnership 

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

Amazon’s Next Frontier: The Food and Grocery Business

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

Amazon’s Grocery Connect 

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

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

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

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

What will be different in the new venture?  

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

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

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

Will technology be a part of the new venture?  

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology.

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

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

What’s in it for you?  

Business opportunities.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reason for the Season 

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Sudden Spot Rate Hikes

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

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

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

Batten Down the Hatches at HQ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 !  

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Supply Chain and Business Environment-Friendly

Climate change and a deteriorating environment is the most discussed subject around the world. In fact, it would not be remiss to say that issues related to environmental degradation and climate change have already begun to emerge in various parts of the world. In some places it is in the form of floods, storms, hurricanes, others it is showing up in the form of famines and long dry spells. In a few parts of the world, a distressed environment is protesting in the form of unbreathable air and shortages of clean drinking water.

It’s time to wake up and take positive action.

Irrespective of the way in which the environment is showing its displeasure, it is sending the same message everywhere – it’s time to wake up and take positive action.

While each one of us is responsible for protecting the environment and managing climate change, businesses can lead the way in creating positive change by making their supply chain environment – friendly and following sustainable business practices.

Why is it important for businesses to participate in this movement?

Given the negative impact certain business activities or accidents have on the environment, it makes sense for businesses to take preventive actions proactively. Sometimes the impact of these incidents lasts for years to come or worse, irreversible. While one doesn’t have any control over accidents, organizations can try to reduce activities such as throwing out untreated industrial waste, air pollution, noise pollution, energy wastage, and oil spillage. The other reason is that big corporations and brands tend to influence how people think and behave, this can be used to encourage people to practice sustainable living.

How can you contribute?

Overhauling an entire supply chain or changing business practices takes time. So, while all of us may not be equipped to build and operate a distribution based on renewable energy like Nike is doing or put up a fight against the ruling administration like the State of California, all of us can do little things to help the cause. Here are some ways in which you can make your business and supply chain environment friendly:

  1. Eliminate Single Use Plastic: This should not be difficult to do. Whether it is a part of your product-straws, bottles, stirrers, and packaging or a part of things you use within the company like drinking bottles and disposable cutlery in your canteen, plastic can be replaced with other eco-friendly materials. These 22 companies are doing it, so can you.
  2. Participate in The Community Discussion: This is a critical step to finding sustainable solutions that can help both businesses and communities live sustainably. At BlueGrace, we believe in working with the community. Our CEO, Bobby Harris joined the Northwestern University Transportation Center (NUTC) Business Advisory Council (BAC) last year. This group comprises of highly respectable senior – level business executives from the transportation industry. The group meets regularly to discuss the latest NUTC research and to consider solutions to the economic, technical and social problems facing national, local and global transportation systems. Connect and work with your local administration, research institutes, and environmental associations to find plausible and implementable solutions for the community. This will not only work for finding solutions to the environment problem but will also aid in identifying and finding solutions to other issues that impact the lives of the people who live in the community. Isn’t that what businesses are for?
  3. Use Energy-Efficient Lighting: Save electricity. Use lighting solutions that consume less power. Encourage your employees to switch off lights that are not centrally controlled and turn off the switches to their charging points or desktop connections when not in use. If possible explore if you can install solar panels to generate electricity in the office and other facilities like your warehouses and factories.
  4. Go Digital: One of the easiest ways to start the sustainability project is to eliminate or minimize the use of paper. Start digitizing company-wide communication, and bring all processes and systems online. While it may seem costly at the beginning, digitization will not only help you save paper but will also make your operations more efficient and easier to monitor. If you’re looking for an integrable logistics solution, connect with our team and let’s work on making your supply chain environment-friendly, effective and efficient.
  5. Optimize Logistics: Movement of goods is essential for both businesses and consumers. So while trucking is an integral part of logistics, it also causes air pollution. However, the threats to the environment from trucking can be controlled and minimized by making better transportation plans and optimal planning of loads. And as we said earlier, transportation is our area of expertise.

If you’re looking to optimize your logistics and contribute to reducing pollution levels, then let’s talk. Contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts today.

CEOs Should Be Focusing on Their Supply Chain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Changing Future for the Supply Chain

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

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

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

Is Your Supply Chain Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

Shippers Growing Success With 3PLs 

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

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

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

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

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

3PLs Are Rising to the Occasion 

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

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

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

Current Global Market Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Making your Warehouse, Worthy

For a logistics player to be successful, it is imperative to regularly check if every aspect of the supply chain process is working at optimum capability. The surest way to ensure this is to keep a checklist. Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence, says, “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing, layout, processes, and procedures.”

In this article, we delve into the details of making a warehouse future-ready and examine the steps required to achieve warehouse excellence.

The Bigger Picture – Before getting into the nitty-gritty and finer details, it is first important to have a macroscopic view and understanding of the warehouse as a whole. This entails mapping the warehouse, studying the building & area and checking the surfaces for damages and weak areas. All these actions ensure that before the warehouse is stocked, and equipment such as forklifts are brought in, it is capable of handling the capacity and regular operations.

Goods that are easily visible, make them easy to locate when timelines are short and add to the smooth functioning of the supply chain process.

Light, Ventilation & Drainage — A well-lit warehouse makes it easier to navigate and work in. Goods that are easily visible, make them easy to locate when timelines are short and add to the smooth functioning of the supply chain process.

Ventilation goes a long way in combating dust and fumes that may arise when moving equipment within the warehouse. A well-designed ventilation system will make a huge difference in maintaining the longevity of the warehouse. 

In a similar way, a disaster-proof drainage system can make all the difference in the preservation of products during a natural disaster such as a storm or a fire or even areas that are exposed to the elements. Paying due attention to designing these crucial details improves efficiency and adds immensely to not just improving daily operations, but also, preserving the warehouse in the long term.

Cleanliness is the Key — Keeping the warehouse clean entails a number of practices that contribute to the overall hygiene of the warehouse while making it easy to maneuver on a daily basis. Ensuring that trash cans are placed at convenient locations, emptying trash cans periodically, keeping the area clean, all play a part in the overall maintenance and upkeep of the warehouse. Additionally, keeping the floors clean afford clear visibility of the exit signs and protect against accidents that could occur due to spillage and obstructions that may happen during daily operations.

Safety is the most important factor in any industry and must be prioritized above all else.

Safety is Paramount — Safety is the most important factor in any industry and must be prioritized above all else. This includes various aspects from regular fire drills and ensuring the equipment is serviced and up-to-date for any contingency to giving employees access to adequate training and gear for safe operations. Staff handling forklifts and heavy machinery must be provided with certified hard hats, gloves, and other protective gear to protect against any mishap that might happen. Labels and handling instructions on products must be visible all the time. Continuous training of staff about the correct and expected ways of protecting themselves, others, and assets is essential. In the event of an emergency, staff must have easy access to all the tools necessary to not just protect themselves but any other persons that may be in the warehouse. These competencies can be the difference between life and death in times of crisis.

Regular checks and inspections are essential for maintaining the standard of a warehouse.

Miscellaneous — Apart from taking care to examine that the above aspects are in order, regular checks and inspections are essential for maintaining the standard of a warehouse. From checking the storage racks and vehicle inspection processes at the loading dock, to inspecting elements such as the quality of the railings, uniformity of the stairs, access areas, aisles etc. on a regular basis must be taken into due consideration and set within processes that should be part of a cycle within organizations.

Apart from the above, Everything Warehouse lists a warehouse audit checklist that demonstrates what an audit should include:

  • Facility current and optimum capacity and throughput
  • Logistical layout and material flow
  • Safety, security, and housekeeping
  • Systems functional capabilities and performance
  • Customer service performance metrics
  • Productivity analyses
  • Storage and handling equipment
  • Inventory accuracy
  • Identification of opportunities for improvement
  • Comprehensive warehouse audit report with recommendations

In conclusion, there are many aspects that go into making a warehouse and in turn, the whole supply chain process efficient and future-ready. If done periodically, this ensures smooth operations, regular maintenance & review and better planning.

Want a Free Supply Chain Analysis?

Regaining Lost Customers in the Digital Age 

Let’s be honest, there are few things that feel more rewarding than securing a new customer. It’s incredibly important for business growth and development and at the end of the day, more customers mean more money. With that being said, no business should ever operate on a model where the acquisition of new customers supersedes the importance of advancing old or preexisting customers. More specifically speaking, winning back profitable old customers that you might have lost. 

In the business-to-business (B2B) world, reacquisition is incredibly important. Losing customers happens more often than you might expect, especially given the current market, where customers have more options than ever to evaluate and re-evaluate their suppliers, find new ones, and make changes. 

Losing a customer can be a costly endeavor, and that cost is only going up.

Losing a customer can be a costly endeavor, and that cost is only going up. For some firms, long-standing customers are also their best customers.  As recently as 2014, for example, “the average publicly traded manufacturing firm received over 25% of its revenue from large buyers, up from 10% in the early 1980s.”. Any company, regardless of size, would be leery at the prospect of losing a customer like that. 

Former customers already have a certain expectation about your company and capabilities, and it’s almost impossible to change the first impression.

The reacquisition process, however, is a bit different than acquiring fresh customers. The most obvious difference is former customers already have a certain expectation about your company and capabilities, and it’s almost impossible to change the first impression. The other side of the coin, however, is you also have your own set of criteria and history, so you know if that customer is worth pursuing. 

Fortunately, when it comes to winning back a lost partner, it’s less about wining and dining, although that’s certainly a part of it in some cases. Realistically it comes down to this, can your company get the job done this time better and in a most cost-effective way? The good news is that a lot of what customers are looking for, both new and old, can be found from within your supply chain.

Rebuilding Relationships in the Digital Age

Assuming you’ve done the math, you’ve come to realize that Customer ‘X’ is definitely an asset to your roster and is worth romancing back into a partnership. Where do you begin? This isn’t necessarily an easy question to answer as not only does it depend on the specific customer, but it is also prone to change due to the current state of flux in the market. Everything is shifting, getting technological upgrades, and becoming digital. Even customer expectations are starting to trend towards digital solutions. Having said that, finding the right way to move forward is like trying to find the needle in a haystack, in the back of a moving truck. 

What many businesses are looking for today is visibility, flexibility, and assurance that they’ll get what they need, when they need it.

What many businesses are looking for today is visibility, flexibility, and assurance that they’ll get what they need, when they need it. The ability to provide those things to a customer not only marks you as a good business partner, but it’s also a key differentiator amongst the competition. The digital “olive branch” in today’s market is what kind of data and information you can provide your customers, and overall accountability of your services and, most importantly, the strength of your supply chain.

Managing Customer Expectations

Customer expectations are constantly growing and changing. Walmart is a prime example of this. The superstore is locked in a battle of epic proportions against Amazon. Every empty spot on a shelf means a potential missed sale. A sale that could end up going to Amazon or even a different competitor. 

As a result, Walmart started stepping up their expectations from their suppliers, hitting those that don’t hold up their end of the bargain with charge-backs and other fees. However, given the size and reach of a retail giant like Walmart, business potentials for suppliers are enormous. If you make the supplier list, they tend to be the kind of customer you don’t want to lose. To that end, suppliers have little other choice but to pull up their bootstraps and live up to Walmarts expectations.

No doubt, the bar is set high, but this may also present the opportunity for those who are able to demonstrate that they have been developing and evolving their business practices. Showing your former customer that you can get the job done and done right is a sure fire way to win that customer back. 

You need to be able to prove that you have a robust plan to meet their needs as well as the capability to follow through. If they have a tight delivery schedule, then you’ll need to have a plan in place to accommodate it.  Those accommodations are made through shoring up your supply chain to create the flexibility and visibility necessary to handle the freight, even when capacity and other elements are against you. 

Controlling Costs 

Controlling costs and optimizing the supply chain also means that you can provide your customers the visibility, flexibility, and the overall assurance that they will have what they need, when they need it. 

Costs are a big factor in any working relationships. A lot of partnerships have dissolved simply due to an inflating price point, which can be caused by any number of reasons. Unfortunately, it tends to be either a knee-jerk reaction to pass the buck when times get tough and for some customers, that cost is simply too much. Controlling your costs goes a long way towards repairing broken relationships, especially when it means that you can regain a former customer at the expense of your competition. Controlling costs and optimizing the supply chain also means that you can provide your customers the visibility, flexibility, and the overall assurance that they will have what they need, when they need it. 

The benefit to this approach is two-fold, really. First, you’re gaining back a lost customer as well as proving that your business solutions have grown and matured from the last time you’ve worked together. This not only opens the door to regaining a lost customer but could also provide opportunities to gain new ones. The other is that controlling your costs, via your supply chain, also increases overall efficiency which extends to all of your customers and your operations as a whole. Ultimately, the bulk of costs comes from transportation and the supply chain. As freight rates are prone to fluctuate wildly, the cost of shipping goods can also vary to a great degree making it hard to manage. For manufacturers shipping goods to customers, this needs to be managed effectively to keep costs low and both parties happy.

There are a number of different factors to consider when you’re trying to evaluate your supply chain. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone.

Making these corrections and changes on your own can be a difficult proposition at the best of times. There are a number of different factors to consider when you’re trying to evaluate your supply chain. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Having a 3PL partner like BlueGrace can help get your supply chain where it needs to be, not only win back former customers, but to also help you win over future prospects. Call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to see how we can help!