Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reshoring - New Balance - Who Kept Significant MFG in US - Has Thoughts

I just listened to a fascinating Podcast from Bloomberg with President and CEO of New Balance Shoes, Robert DeMartini.  He maintains a significant manufacturing presence in the US and is one of the last shoe makers to do so.  Along with Allen Edmonds, he bucked the offshoring trend and now appears to be proven right.

When asked about why he stays in the US much of his answer has to do with supply chain.  Let's break it down:
  1. Through lean manufacturing he has brought the labor content in a pair of shoes to 2 minutes per shoe v. in Asia manufacturing it is 20 minutes per shoe. This "factoid" is one a lot of people do not think about when they go overseas.  Rather than try to find "cheap" labor you may be best to find efficient labor.  This is the "best cost" versus "low cost" thought process.
  2. Mr. DeMartini also talks about cycle time which is one of the major downfalls of overseas manufacturing.  You can go into a New Balance store, order a custom made shoe and have it in 5 days.  Virtually impossible if it were made in China. 
This is the sign of a very balanced (no pun intended) CEO. He has thought clearly and precisely about this topic and has found a very easy way to analyze and ultimately decide to manufacture in the US.

He also discusses 3D printing (written about extensively on this blog) and the fact that they now have the capability to make one shoe at a time.  

As a side note, I found it also fascinating and refreshing that he has no intention on taking the company public as he does not want to fool with the silliness of Wall Street.  Keep an eye on this man, I think he will grow this company dramatically.

Here is a live interview with him from September:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sustainability is Good Business - Global Companies Sign on To A Climate Declaration

Be careful if you think demanding action for climate change is just the purview of the crazies; many Fortune 100 companies are taking this very seriously.  Sustainable Brands reported 33 large multinational companies have signed on to a declaration asking for a coordinated action with Washington on making a positive impact on the climate.  The graphic below shows the companies who have signed on:

At this site ( you can also sign on as an individual.  It does not say certain things have to be done but it is an acknowledgement that climate change is real, there are things we can do to stop or slow it and that it is a worthy cause for companies to engage in. Companies can "do good while doing good things". 

See the announcement:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Incredible Shrinking Freight

PCs replace mini and mainframes,  Laptops replace desktops, tablets replace laptops, smartphones replace tablets...  and so the saga goes.  The incredible shrinking freight.  PC sales are horrible.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Is The Failure of Ron Johnson at J.C. Penny a Sign Anchoring Wins?

I posted an article about Anchoring a while ago.  For a refresher, anchoring is all about the seller trying to establish a starting price for a product or service.  To put it in transportation terms we see this all the time.  When an executive at a transportation company publicly states "rates are going up because capacity is going down" they are, very strategically, anchoring the conversation he or she will have with a buyer.  They are hoping, going into the conversation, the buyer will start with the premise above then they work from there. 

The alternative, as I advocate all the time,  is "should cost" modeling which means the buyer goes into the conversation with no preconceived notions established by the seller.  The only thing the buyer brings to the table is cost data down to the lowest level possible.  That starts the conversation.  If the seller ignores this data and just goes back to supply and demand dynamics then they are effectively establishing themselves as a commodity. Which is a place I am sure they do not want to be.

Ron Johnson tried "should cost" on the consumer side with a twist.  Rather than create artificially high prices (see the transportation exec comment above) he tried to tell the consumer exactly what the every day price is based on cost and a reasonable mark up - profitability.   Unfortunately, the consumer would have none of it.

The consumer, by leaving Penny in droves, signaled to the sellers (the retailers) that they would rather have the retailer anchor the discussion at a ridiculously high price then they can play a silly game of "how has the biggest coupon" to get to some equally artificially low price. 

In the end, the consumer loses big in this.  The consumer is saying they would rather be played by sophisticated sales manipulation techniques.  A sad day for the consumer.

Ensure, as a commercial buyer, you do not fall into the same silliness.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cass March Freight Index - Surge in Freight; Not So Much Rates

The March Cass Freight Index is out and while freight showed a marked increase in march ( 5.8% Feb to Mar and 4.2% YoY) the expenditure increase can almost totally be attributed to the increase in freight - meaning rates are staying fairly steady.  What this does not show is things soften in the first week of April, which I fully expect to see in this month's report.

Expenditures rise right in line with Shipments - rates relatively flat

Right now freight volumes are relatively balanced and shippers should not be experiencing  overall pressure on rates (except for very specific lanes).  There is just enough good news to give some hope however as I have reported in other postings the macroeconomic trends still show a very reserved economy.  I still believe the shipper who works with good data, "should cost" information around driver costs, truck costs and fuel costs, and who can segment their network will be far more effective at procurement than those who "wing it" with emotion and buy into the fear game. 

For truckload volumes, rates are down down (month over month) for two months in a row:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Retailers Compete on Supply Chain - Part Deux

I have talked for years in speeches and in advising companies that the supply chain will become the competitive advantage for those trying to move products to market.  Especially if you are a retailer, you compete on supply chain in a major way.  In a blog post recently, titled Execution IS a Strategy I also talked about how great execution, more and more, differentiates the different retailers.  The same product is on the shelf and it is just a matter of who executes better. 

Adrian, over at Logisticsviewpoints highlighted the new service from Sears called "Fulfilled by Sears" (Posting titled: In Logistics, Somebody has to Own The Assets) which is an interesting development following my theory above.  Essentially, Sears is leveraging their fantastic Sears Logistics Services to become a world class 3PL in fulfillment services.  This follows the same developments at both Amazon and Wal-Mart. 

The question is why would a retailer dedicate talent, capital and executive time to opening up their logistics networks to anyone who wants to sell?  Wouldn't this be considered a distraction (especially since Sears at least is in the middle of a fight for pure survival)? The answer is twofold:

First, the simple economics are that each of these companies have to make huge infrastructure investments to keep their own business alive.  If they can leverage this infrastructure cover the variable cost of adding new clients and also contribute some to covering the fixed cost then they will be helped financially.  This is the same reason 3PLs have multi-client facilities - leverage the fixed costs.  Essentially, anyone selling through these networks is actually helping these retailers cover the cost of their huge logistics networks.

Second, they are basically saying they are the best 3PL in the nation and you should use them for that purpose.  They are competing  on logistics and supply chain strategy.  Once they get you into the fulfillment services they can sell you more and more logistics and supply chain  services. 

The group which should be very interested in this development are the true 3PL organizations.  For the vast majority of these networks, the "big 3" use their own labor and their own buildings along with, for the most part, their own software.  This is a play right out of "Porter's Five Forces" where a customer goes upstream and takes business from their suppliers. The buyer clearly is holding the power and the suppliers (i.e. 3PLs ) should be concerned with what Porter calls "Buyers threat of backward integration".    More on this interesting development later.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Jobs Report Relative to Logistics: Families Enjoy Life More With Less?

The major economic news yesterday which, for a short period of time shattered the markets, was the jobs report.  Some key statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) press release:
  • Employment up 88K (Far below estimates)
  • Long Term unemployed remained constant at about 4.6M
  • Unemployment rate ticked down ever so slightly 7.6%
However the big number people were concerned with was the level of unemployed people who have dropped out of the labor market.  This number was a whopping 496K.  And of course this brings huge concerns to those of us (logisticians) involved in moving goods to market.  If the market shrinks then there are less goods to move to market - it is that simple.

What this jobs report reinforces are two major headwinds to the economy:
  • Level of unemployed is staying relatively flat 
  • Those who are employed will continue to feel restrained as they feel their employment could be at risk. 
Both of these mean that demand will continue to be stubbornly low and freight volumes will continue to be restrained.  Having said that, what I am most concerned about is the graph below:

This graph highlights the issue of those who have dropped out of the employment market.  As you can see we are bouncing around a bottom but the number is around the level we were at in the mid 1980's.  Two causes for this and both are a headwind for logistics:
  • People cannot find employment - restrained spending
  • People do not want to find work - A major societal shift. 
 Of these, I am most interested in the second one which could have long term and structural consequences to the economy and to the freight enviornment.  To be clear, this is not a judgement and I am not saying these are freeloaders.  What I am saying is just like companies have now become used to producing more with less, families have now realized they can enjoy life more with less.   Families that felt it was necessary to buy a lot of "things" and thus demanded two incomes have found out one income with a lot less "things" is actually pretty enjoyable.

No matter which way you look at this, we know this is not a good sign for a robust freight recovery. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Is The "Final 3 Feet" The Most Important Logistics Leg?

I have talked a lot about "Final Mile" logistics especially since so many are trying to compete in this area.  From next day delivery to same day delivery to "crowd sourcing" delivery just about every retailer is trying to get an advantage over the other through a more efficient final mile delivery network.

However, 90% of shopping is still done in retail stores and the final 3 feet are the most important part of the execution of in store logistics.  Most logisticians are experts at lean and in plant logistics - getting parts and components efficiently to the assembly line to ensure a very lean and efficient manufacturing process.  But how many apply the same kind of rigor to the final 3 feet - getting product from the store room to the actual retail floor.  After all, if the product is not on the shelves it will be tough for people to buy the item they need.

In an article titled "Walmart Customers Say Shelves Are Empty" the Business Insider describes what appears to be a growing problem in Walmarts - product stacking up in back store rooms and no real system or staff to get it to shelves.  A tightly wound supply chain gets it to the 3 yard line but cannot bring it into the end zone.

Perhaps in store logistics needs to be elevated as a discipline especially as stores become larger and are managing more SKUs and product categories.  Goals of this should be:

  1. Keep shelves always stocked without appearing to be stuffed
  2. Keep product out of the aisles (nothing worse than aisles being used as storage space
  3. Much like Disney where you never see anyone empty trash, yet it is always empty, you should figure out how to restock shelves out of the view of the customer.  
  4. Have a detailed planograph for every store shelf / floor spot, have a method to measure fill rate at that point and have a detailed plan to restock. 
  5. Start every day with 100% fill at the shelf level.  You will have a running start in keeping the day going well. 
The model below is a quick drawing I did on my iPad to illustrate the point:

Sorry for the quality but I needed to do this fast so I drew it with my finger as I could not find my stylus.  What the graph on the bottom shows is the level of "lean" at each stage of the supply chain from raw material extraction through conversion to the store (store room) then to the retail floor.  It is your typical bathtub effect.  We lean the heck out of the process through conversion and in distribution but then this article claims the final 3 feet is full of waste and piled up product.  

This article blames it on staffing levels and I do not know enough about the staffing levels at Walmart to either support or deny that hypothesis (although the graph below makes a compelling case) I do believe the need to concentrate and develop a solid in store logistics plan is necessary for all retailers.  No sense in having an incredibly lean supply chain if the product never makes it to the location where a customer can actually buy it.