Sunday, October 11, 2015

Estes is Fined by EPA for Air Violations - Another Volkswagen?

I just saw an interesting news article stating the EPA has fined Estes $100K (Plus Estes has to pay another $285K in projects) because they violated the California Truck and Bus Regulations.  From the news article:
"EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said Estes violated the California Truck and Bus Regulation dozens of times between 2012 and 2014.
The regulation, adopted in 2009, requires that all commercial heavy diesel trucks and buses operating in the state be equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which limit toxic emissions."
In light of the Volkswagen issues where the car company clearly violated environmental laws on purpose, I think we are going to see a lot more of this.  As we all know, with regulations companies take "calculated risks" and one of them appears to be around meeting environmental regulations.  My advice to compliance departments is they may want to tighten up what they are doing.

There were also two very important items embedded in the article and the first one has to do with sub-contractors to Estes:
"In reaching the settlement, Estes cooperated with federal investigators, admitting that the company or its subcontractors in California operated more than 80 trucks between 2012 and 2014 that were not equipped with diesel particulate filters"
What is fascinating in that statement is they are taking direct responsibility for their sub contractors. So, one way "around" the laws is not to just broker freight and say it is their fault.  Looks like Estes will own that liability too.

Finally, the article states:
"Sax said this was “the first of many cases” the EPA and CARB will bring against trucking companies in order to enforce the California Truck and Bus Regulation.
Blumenfeld confirmed the EPA has been investigating out-of-state trucking companies operating in California since the spring of 2014."
If that is not a direct statement of intent, I do not know what is.  Clearly, companies had better be careful with what they are doing in California and I would suspect you will see a lot of new trucks headed West soon.

I think the regulators are getting emboldened as they are finding more and more of this abuse. There also was a case against Samsung where they had defeated the Energy Star ratings in refrigerators and in that case had to compensate every consumer. We all know of the troubles International / Navistar has had.

If I were at a trucking company I would be less concerned about "more regulation" and far more concerned about whether my company was meeting requirements in the first place.  

Companies Mentioned in This Article:

  1. Estes Express Lines
  2. Volkswagen
  3. Samsung
  4. CARB - California Air Resources Board
  5. EPA - Environmental Protection Agency

Omni Channel and The Ever Persistent Discussion of Final Mile

Over at Logistics Viewpoints (A blog you should be reading) Chris Cunnane gave us a sneak peek into a survey he conducted with DC Velocity magazine about different final mile modes and their current and anticipated adoption rates.  The results were not overly surprising.

However, the one that really stuck out at me was the feedback on the use of crowdsourcing  options. It would seem to me that forward looking executives, especially in the light of Amazon's Prime Flex announcement, would be more interested in this option.  Only 27.7% have said they include this option in their future plans.  

I then go back to think about the talk Dave Clark, SVP of Worldwide Operations and Customer Service at Amazon, gave at the recent CSCMP Annual Global Conference (AGC).  One of the most intriguing parts of his discussion was the idea of innovation and the categories of "one way" and "two way" doors.  Let me digress and describe this for you:

When innovating, ideas can be categorized into "one way" and "two way" doors depending on your ability to back out or recover from the idea.  The brief definition:

  • One Way Door:  This is when the idea, once launched, either cannot be taken out or would be too costly to change back.  This type of innovation requires a lot of deep thought, analysis and modeling because once you go in, you are all the way in (See my posting on Cortes' boats).
  • Two Way Door:  This type of innovation is one that you can experiment, pilot and then recover or back out if it does not work.  Thing Google Labs on this one.  How many things has Google launched, decided it does not work and just stop.  No harm, no foul.

    A two way door innovation is one you should develop quickly and try it out.  Worst case you will learn something and best case is it will work.  If it does work, because you moved so quickly, you will have incredible first mover advantage - something that is vitally important in the world of fast follower copy cats.  
It strikes me that crowdsourced final mile delivery is something that falls into the Two Way Door category.  It will cost some R&D dollars to develop but that is about it.  You can launch, manage, learn, adapt then either pull the plug or make it part of your core processes. 

Which is why I am so amazed only 27.7% said they are even thinking about it. 

But then again,  I once heard a trucking executive in the 90's say, "We will never do business with the railroad".  Some companies innovate and some whither.  Those are the only two choices.  Not innovating is not an option.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fuel Prices Go Down... UPS and FEDEX Raise Fuel Surcharges

If there ever was proof that the entire industry's structure of fuel surcharges is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors, this event proves it.  Recently, both FEDEX and UPS announced they are raising the fuel surcharges even though their fuel costs are down by over 30%.  They offer this absolutely absurd argument that it is this way because of the increase of heavier packages going to more retail locations.  Both they claim increase fuel consumption.

Of course, they do not give you a reduction when the new engines provide better fuel consumption or they use CNG vehicles or any of the other many things that reduce fuel costs.

The bottom line is that the shipper should know that even in the truckload and intermodal space industry fuel surcharges in no way have anything to do with fuel.  They are built on false indices, with bad data and the shipper has just had to accept it (unless you use Breakthrough Fuel in which case you are one of the leading shippers who are really taking ownership of your fuel costs).

The argument that FEDEX uses is really laughable.  Watch out as these companies are going to continue to add charges, adjust tables and overall just obfuscate what you pay in packages to justify what appears to be a pretty bloated cost structure.

We will keep an eye on this and report as it continues to develop.

Full Disclosure:  I was an employee and customer of Breakthrough Fuel.  I bring them up because still to this day they are the only company (literally the only one) that appropriately deals with these ridiculous charges.

Where Will The September Index Land?

Just posting the August numbers as a reminder since we should have September shortly.  However all indications are freight was soft as well as the economy in general.  August showed a month over month decline in shipments of 1.2% and a decline in expenditures of 2%.  The Year over Year (YoY) was even more pronounced with shipments decreasing 4.6% and expenditures down 8%.

Even with the rebound in stocks recently, the Dow transports are down 9.7% this year and the total market only down 2.36%.  Bottom line, the freight transportation volumes continue to be softer than predicted and I am not sure there is any "push" for the retail season.

Looking forward to the September numbers and here is hoping I am wrong.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Total Quality Logistics Opening in Daytona Florida

This is good news for Florida. TQL to open an office in Daytona and bringing over 100 jobs.  If you look at the map, the area from Jacksonville to Daytona than over to Orlando is truly becoming a logistics hub.  Not sure it is a "cluster" yet but really close. 

Great trained workforce, access to good training (University of Northern Florida is truly an unsung gem), low cost, no income taxes and access to the beach - what else would a company want!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Heading to the USS Midway...

I am heading over to the USS Midway and just in awe at the sheer volume of logistics support needed to support such a huge floating city.  See my tweets at and learn about this incredible engineering feat!

What Exactly is Amazon... 3PL? Retailer? IT Company? Delivery Company? - Answer: All of the Above

I have written about the growth of Amazon as a 3PL / Logistics company for a long time and yet even I, after following them very closely, did not fully understand their reach into all facets of the value chain until this week.  This week I had the privileged of attending the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference where I heard Dave Clark, SVP of Global Operations and Customer Service at Amazon speak about their plans.

Amazon Prime, Amazon Flex etc etc. were all discussed at this conference and I found it fascinating. A couple of key points:

  1. They take care of back office technology to support the front end.  Too many times companies will roll out slick apps or websites but do nothing different in the back room.  This leads to sexy presentations but bad customer experiences.
  2. Innovation is a way of life at Amazon.  Amazing amount of innovation and amazing how much of it bubbles up from the working level.  This, of course, does not happen by accident and the culture along with the infrastructure to support this environment has been nurtured over a long period of time.
  3. The concept of one way and two way doors in innovation was critical.  A two way door is where an innovation can easily be backed out of if it does not work. In this case, the innovation is moved along quickly, tried and adjusted if needed.

    The one way door is an innovation where the ability to come back is severely limited (Think Hernan Cortes burning of the boats).  This means there must be very careful thought, due diligence and research before going forward. 
    Hernan Cortes burns the boats
    This structure allows for a lot faster innovation on a lot more products and services?  He did not say this but I would think for every 1 "one way door" innovation there are at least 10 "two way door" innovations.  Why make those 10 go through the grind necessary for the one way door innovation?
  4. Speed is clearly their goal.  They measure order to delivery time from the time the customer hits "buy" to the time the product is out the door.
  5. When asked how they balance service and cost his answer was clear:  They don't.  They provide the service then figure out the cost.  When asked about profitability he responds that Amazon is very profitable... they just choose to reinvest all the money back into the company. 
If you are in any of the industries I mentioned above, don't think Amazon is not coming for your business ... they are.  

See all my writings on Amazon here

Sunday, September 27, 2015

CSCMP Annual Conference... Where you Need to Be

I have been in this industry coming on 30 years now and being part of it has been core to my enjoyment of the work.  I cannot think of anything more rewarding than being part of the logistics and supply chain industry.

And, the biggest portion of this enjoyment is developing and maintaining great relationships with the great people of this industry.  Some are industry legends, some are people who grew up in the industry with me and are now in key leadership positions and some, probably most, are the people who day to day make the great things happen.  They are responsible to ensure your groceries are at the store, your electronics are ready when you need them, your automobiles are where you need them and the many other 1,000's of items you use are ready, available, and built with quality.

Most recently those people I mention above are responsible to do this all in a very sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.

The best place to connect with these great heroes (most unsung) is at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference.  All the best are here and are ready and excited to exchange information, educate and connect.

I look forward to seeing you all here and please do not hesitate to reach out and connect with me. You can connect with me at @logisticsexpert on twitter.  I look forward to engaging.

Oh, and the location is not too shabby either....

The view from The CSCMP Annual Global Conference Location

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Twitter Feed

I realized some may not know of my twitter feed which is now up to close to 8K VERIFIED followers (have to go through a verification process to prevent robots from following).  I "micro blog" at that site a lot more frequently. The link is:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

UPS Buys Coyote Logistics - No Surprise to Readers of 10x Logistics

This week, after a few weeks of rumors, we learned that UPS Paid $1.8bl for Coyote Logistics.  This was no surprise to any reader of this blog as back in January of 2012 I wrote a post titled "The New Face of Brokerage".  In this post I opined that Coyote Logistics was something unique and new and was not the "old" brokerage company.  Great technology, great leadership and a "kick ass" attitude makes it one of the best.  This week UPS realized this.

I also questioned in July of 2013 whether XPO's purchase of 3PD was an "end around" and whether this would give XPO capabilities beyond what Coyote could provide.  In the end, for years now, I have seen a battle set up between XPO and Coyote - two new, fresh and innovative companies in the logistics space.  It is refreshing to see these companies grow and lead the industry and I think it is no accident they have taken the industry by storm and surpassed many long standing companies in size. XPO and Coyote are truly innovative and we are watching The Innovator's Dilemma play out in the logistics and supply chain industry - old "mainstream" companies cannot innovate at the pace of these two companies.

However, they now have gone two separate ways.  Through the incredible leadership of Bradley Jacobs, XPO is growing through acquisition.  They want to own and lead and they are the "hunter".

Coyote has decided (apparently) that the way to grow the company faster and gain more capabilities is to allow itself to get acquired by a much larger company in UPS.

Personally, I think XPO has the right model by keeping control of its fate.  As long as the capital is there, I say grow and compete.  Don't allow yourself to get swallowed up. Which, I fear, is precisely what will happen to Coyote.

Anyone who has been to Coyote's headquarters knows it is a unique place.  As I said above it is all about innovation, working at an incredible pace, young, aggressive and brash.  It is an edgy company.
UPS is anything but what I see in Coyote.  UPS is deliberate, slow, and measured. It is more about protecting what is than innovating into tomorrow.  Perhaps it is possible UPS will truly allow itself to learn from Coyote but business history would say otherwise.  Business history would say that UPS will swallow up Coyote and in 5 years we will wonder where it went.

UPS has a big opportunity here and I hope they take advantage of it... Let Coyote be Coyote!

Companies in This post:

Coyote Logistics:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ben Cubitt From Transplace Interviewed - What Do Carriers Look For in A Shipper

Ben is a very smart person and has been doing this a long time.  However, this is another, yet again, "shipper of choice" interview.  Some good points are made so I thought I would share it.  Although, I must admit, I have no idea what a "fair" rate is especially as it relates to fuel surcharge.  Shouldn't a fair fuel surcharge be to just pay what the fuel costs?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

FTR Responds to 10xLogisticsExpert - Are We Driven by Fear

You may have read my blog posting Another Summer and More Fear from FTR.  I am happy to link back to the thoughtful and well written response from Jonathan Starks on the FTR Blog entitled "Are We Driven by Fear"?

First, he is right, I read a recap and did not listen to the entire webinar so today I went back and listened to the entire replay.  My opinion does not change and here is why.

 The point I was making in my post is threefold:

  • FTR and the "industry" very frequently report "now it is soft" but they predict "sometime in the future" capacity will tighten up and rates will spiral up. (This was exactly the position taken in this webinar)
  • They talk about it as if it is very homogeneous when really it is a lane by lane, area by area phenomenon. 
  • The carriers use this "in the future" research to spin their sales pitch.  Any shipper knows the pitch goes something like this:

Shipper to carrier:  "Wow, seems real soft now and rates have come down in the spot market (per FTR), what can you do to help lower my contract rates?"

Carrier to Shipper:  "Well, yes, may be down now but look at the research (provided by FTR and others), capacity in 2016 is going to tighten dramatically and when that happens rates will spiral up. You, the shipper, need to stick with us now (maybe even give us a cost increase) and we will "stick with you" when spiraling rates occur. 

Now, what comes of this:
  1. Shipper gets scared (thus the fear trade).
  2. Shipper pays more now as "insurance".
  3. The "insurance" never pays off (either the spiraling rates never occur or if they do, the carrier is still back at the table asking for more money). 
OK, so why am I so skeptical of this scenario?  It is really all about who the clients are of any consulting organization. I do not believe you can serve two masters .. absolutely impossible. Yet, some consulting companies try to do this.  Imagine this scenario:

Consulting company "A" gets 50% of their revenues from the carriers and is about to go to market with the following research: 
  1. Trucking capacity is loose and rates have softened dramatically
  2. This is going to exist into the foreseeable future.  We are "long" on the recovery and all indications are a recession is upon us (commodities are slowing, etc.).
  3. Shippers should use this as an immediate opportunity to ask for rate reductions to stay competitive.  Prices are about to fall.  
What do you think would happen to the "50%" of the revenues that are paid by trucking companies?  I will leave you to answer this question. 

I want to be clear: I think FTR produces the best research in the industry and it is a "must" listen to and a "must read" for anyone dealing with the shipping industry.  

I am merely saying you need to combine this with other research and, more importantly, what you are empirically seeing in the marketplace to determine your overall transportation procurement strategy.  

NOTE:  My comments about "serving two masters" are the whole idea of where the fiduciary responsibility lies.  Think of your investments.  If your investment advisor is paid for, in some part, by a specific mutual fund do you think that investment advisory can truly be "neutral" and "agnostic" in his or her advice?  Again, I leave it to you to answer.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

DOJ Investigates Airlines - Are the Trucking Companies Next?

A while back I wrote about how I thought executives in the trucking industry were getting dangerously close to collusion as they discussed capacity in the industry.  My comments were around a concept of "signaling".

I am not a lawyer and do not pretend to be one but "signaling" is when one company sends a signal to the other about its intents in terms of key actions effecting pricing.  So, for example, an executive says in an interview in a prominent industry magazine something like, "Until we see better ROI we cannot and will not add capacity to our system".

Ok, what just happened?  He essentially told his competitors two things which normally a company, especially a private one, would want to keep private.  He (or She) said:  "I am restricting capacity and raising rates".   Now, the executive on the other end knows he or she can do exactly the same thing and voila!  you know have thinly veiled collusion.

See the graph below, from the article cited below, which displays the profitability of the airline companies who publicly "restrict capacity":

I was thinking about this yesterday as I read in Bloomberg BusinessWeek an article about the FTC complaint against the airlines entitled "What Does it Take To Prove Airline Collusion"?  The core of the matter is what they call "unlawful coordination". A line from that article:
"A trigger may have been the June meeting ... where airline executives talked openly about 'capacity discipline', a not so subtle code for limiting the number of seats available" [My comment: thus increasing prices] (Bloomberg Businessweek, July 20, 2015)
It went on to say the following:
"At a press conference, Delta President Ed Bastian said his company is "continuing with the discipline the marketplace is expecting".  American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told Reuters it was important to avoid over capacity: "I think everybody in the industry knows that." (Bloomberg Businessweek, July 20, 2015)
 Does any of this sound familiar to the shipping community out there?  The DOJ has never really looked at the trucking industry because it was so fragmented.  However, is is becoming very consolidated at the top with the top 5 or 10 carriers commanding a huge market share and, of course, if you are a very large shipper, about the only carriers you can use are the very large ones.

At least we have come a long way. Businessweek recounts the following from 1982:
"Robert Crandall of American Airlines told the CEO of Braniff Airlines, Howard Putnam, 'I have a suggestion for you. Raise your goddamn fares 20%. I'll raise mine the next morning. "
While doing what is right for drivers and treating people right is the right thing to do (the infamous "shipper of choice" debate),  I really think shippers should be far more concerned about this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Upcoming Conferences - Opportunity to Connect

I will be attending the following up coming conferences and look forward to connecting!

CSCMP Annual Global Conference - Sept 27 - 30, 2015

MHI Annual Conference - October 4-6, 2015 (I will be part of a panel titled "The Impact of Automation on Global Supply Chains)

Look forward to catching up with you all!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Hoax of the Gartner 25

First, full disclosure:  I am a big fan of Lora Cecere so understand I almost always think what she says is big news - I have been following her since her AMR days.  Now, having said that, she posted an extremely interesting blog post entitled "Don't Perpetuate The Hoax of The Gartner 25" that is well worth reading.

In fact, I will summarize but clearly you need to go to the post to read the entire entry. 

Back when this started, I was actually on the board that voted (AMR days) and I always thought it was moving towards what Lora calls a "beauty" contest and now I believe it is fully just that.  Most of it is about brand name recognition.  After all, how could a company that so misses demand projections that their new products are unavailable be in the top 25 (Apple) unless it was just brand recognition.

I agree with Lora, to really rate supply chains you have to look at the detailed figures and facts and let the data speak. As she cites in the post, performance + real improvement (in a measurable way), is what should drive the top supply chains.

Go to her blog and give it a read for yourself!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A More Thoughtful Article on Capacity

This, from BCG, is a much more thoughtful article on the true capacity issues in transportation.  The issue is NOT trucking capacity as that can easily be solved with private fleets, some technology, moving DCs to more efficient locations etc.

The real issue is around port capacity, rail capacity, infrastructure and consumer demands.  These cannot be moved around.  And this is what companies have to be thinking about now assuming they want to stay around.

What the trucking companies ignore is the demands being put on transportation are due to rising consumer demands - the demands are not just created by the shipper for the heck of it.  My advice is shippers really need to think more about private fleets.  You can be very competitive, get higher loyalty from the employees and be far more nimble.

Don't Be Fooled Again..

For those who read my last post and are not sure it is true, I refer you back to the post from November 7th, 2013 titled:  "The Fear Trade Picks Up Steam... Don't Be Fooled".   Same story from the carriers and the "analysts" (who mostly are just talking their book) just years ago. 

And, since it is starting again, I think a great rendition of "Won't Get Fooled Again" is in order:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Another Summer and More Fear from FTR

It is like clockwork.  I can set my watch by the articles that will be printed by the logistics' press such as FTR.  Here is the story of the "study" (it has been the same for 5 years):

  1. We thought prices would be a lot higher than they are
  2. Freight is softer than we thought
  1. Watch out, it will tighten soon
  2. Give in to the demands of your carriers as they try to get you to "pre-pay" for price increases.
  3. Those who do this will be rewarded...
And of course my response continues to be the same:  Prepaying for tight capacity is a waste of money.  Those who followed this course 3 to 5 years ago have paid a lot of money for a day that still has not arrived.  

Actually, you should follow the direction of the executives running these companies:  They essentially say when capacity is tight, rates go up and when capacity is loose rates go down. That is the ultimate definition of a commodity.  So,  therefore, treat it that way.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Is Being The Shipper of Choice a Rational Buying Behavior?

I once again had to sit through a "shipper of choice" meeting with a carrier and I was as disappointed as I am with every one of these I attend.  First, congratulations to the consultant who coined this phrase "shipper of choice" - you have done a great job peddling this idea and I hope you have made a lot of money with it.  Every presentation I go to is the same so I have to believe they emanate from the same person.

For those who have not been "blessed" by one of these presentations, let me walk you through what they mean.  In a nutshell it is:  "If you (shipper) do everything in the way we want it done, regardless of what your customers want, then you will be a "shipper of choice".  Things such as:

  1. Pay your bills on time
  2. Give the freight the carrier they are awarded
  3. Perfectly forecast the freight
  4. Pay above market (or what the carrier will call "fair") rates
  5. No window times for deliver - let the carrier deliver and pick up at their leisure
  6. Have a luxurious wait room for the driver
  7. Don't have the driver do anything when he shows up
Well, you get the feeling. 

What is missing from all of this is what does the CUSTOMER really want?  I raised this question to the trucking company and, honestly, I am not sure they ever had thought about this.  I mentioned to them that we (the shipper) are not the ultimate customer.  We have customers (call them consumers) who are demanding certain things.  We are looking for the freight provider to partner with us to fully understand and respond to what the consumer wants (which, as I pointed out to them, is what each of us wants as a consumer).  So, what does the consumer want:

  1. Short order to delivery times
  2. Windows (anyone want to sit at home all day waiting for someone or do you want to know that they will come within a two hour window)
  3. Be market competitive in pricing
  4. Full delivery (White glove).
These are what the consumer wants and these are not things that are being put on the logistics network for any other reason then they are customer demands. 

Of course, there are things that make sense and should be done:  Pay bills on time, if you award the freight give them the freight etc. 

But this idea that we can ignore what the end consumer wants is completely ridiculous.  The challenge for us the shipper and the trucking company is how do we meet these complex and ever increasing demands AND be efficient. 

I wonder when that meeting will occur?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Independent Truckers Pick Up on Mobile Apps

Re-reading a great article from the Wall Street Journal called " Mobile Apps Get Picked Up By Independent Truckers for Better Routes" (Subscription May Be Required).  While I am not sure this rises to the level of "Where is Elon Musk in Logistics" (which I asked in my last posting), I do think it is very instructive to see the growth of Mobile Apps in routing trucks.  I can remember when people were wondering if they should write computer software for independent truckers because, after all, "how many truck drivers have a computer"?

As silly as that seemed, it is equally silly to believe that truckers will not use Mobile Apps.  One of the quotes from the article is from Bryan Beshore, founder of Keychain Logistics:
"I really don’t think that the brokerages serve a huge purpose anymore,” 
Using geotracking, the smart phone and some really good software it is becoming easier and easier for the independent trucker to cut the middleman (read broker) out of the equation.  While this was doable on laptops and regular computers it was just too clunky and hard.  With smartphones, and these types of services, an independent truck driver can get their next load in the time it takes to fuel up.  This could be real disruptive technology.

Here we have "silicon valley" meets the old stodgy trucking industry.  And just like every other industry it is the new upstarts who will "disrupt" the industry because the old guard (big brokers) will cater to the allusion of protecting their  somewhat bloated bureaucracies and infrastructures.

Look out trucking executives... here come the whiz kids from Silicon Valley!

Where is The Elon Musk of the Logistics World?

I am currently reading the book  Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future I highly encourage everyone to read it.  However the book gave me pause to think about our industry. An industry that at one time was filled with innovative giants such as Don Schneider and J.B. Hunt. Now, I have to ask, where have they all gone?

Where is the innovation in logistics and supply chain?  Think of it... with all the technology, education and advanced degrees, we still shut down the West Coast ports.  And when they shut down, supply chains came to a swift halt.

I consistently hear trucking and intermodal company executives talk about "supply and demand" as a driver of price.  They say "Watch out, capacity is low.. prices are going up and you need to be a shipper of choice".  Of course, this is nothing more than commodity pricing.  They are admitting they are out of ideas and they are pricing their service as a commodity.

In my early days in the industry I was able to see huge risk takers and innovators develop the use of satellite tracking for better routing (Don Schneider) and the proper use of trains and the overall development of intermodal (J.B. Hunt).  It was a thrilling time.  Lots of change, lots of risk, great growth and huge innovation.   Today, it appears innovation is either becoming a broker or buying a company.  In some cases, financial engineering has become the innovation of logistics.

I ask, where is our Elon Musk?  Where is our Steve Jobs?  The industry is screaming for someone to innovate.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Inventory to Sales Ratio is Not Showing a Pretty Picture - Macroeconomic Monday is Back!

All the data I am seeing is indicating some real softness in the economy. At first, people thought it was the weather and then we went to the port strike.  However, now we are starting to see some real convergence of data pointing to a slower economy:

Inventory to Sales Ratio:

As we can see by the FRED graph, this has been on a climb however the slope has increased.  Essentially, this is indicating that inventory is building in the supply chain and there is not adequate sell through.  Every time this indicator has turned this way, we have seen ultimate softness (as companies work to right size the inventory) and this means softness in the freight markets:

You can see that this is nothing like the spike during the "great recession" however you also clearly can see that when this goes up, recessions do follow (or this is just an indicator of the recession as it happens.

ATA Truck Tonnage Drops in April; Off 5.3% from High in January:

The ATA freight tonnage index peaked in January and has been struggling ever since.  While increasing 1% over prior year, it is down 5.9% against previous month, down 5.3% against high in January and indications are the freight index will stay soft.  This will drive lower expectations for GDP and, once again, our dream of a year above 3% GDP is starting to fizzle.

While the CASS freight index is still showing some healthy gains in pricing, I really attribute that to the successful "fear mongering" of the carrier base.  If buyers of freight truly were objective about the data, they would aggressively be seeking price decreases and not stand for any price increases.  This will utimately turn down once the shippers realize what is happening and once the buyers start getting pressured by their managers to adjust the cost basis to reflect what is really happening.

Manufacturer's Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) Adjusts Manufacturing Growth to 2.5% From Previous Estimate of 3.5%.

This is a big movement and they attribute this to four key areas from their report:
  1. Oil and natural gas prices collapsed, causing a sudden contraction of the energy supply chain.
  2. The strong U.S. dollar reduced growth, a result of cheaper imports to the U.S. and U.S. exports becoming more expensive to foreign buyers, as well as deflation pressure on exports.
  3. Consumers spent some of their fuel savings in the fourth quarter of 2014.
  4. The inventory-to-sales ratio rose sharply in the first quarter, while the inventory runoff in the second quarter slowed production growth
The interesting item of all of this is in item #3 above.  Where is all the money gone that the consumer is saving due to low fuel prices?  I think it is has gone into the bank or the continued deleveraging of households - meaning people are still not buying.

Without some real big changes, I think we are in for another "sputter" and halt type economy - we are far to used to this now.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

XPO Logistics Buys Dentressangle - Logistics Companies: Yes, Be Afraid

I have been covering XPO logistics for a  very long time on this blog.  In that coverage I have evolved my thought from thinking it was just another aggregator that will fail to it being just a big final mile player to finally saying, "watch out", Bradley Jacobs is coming after you.

Yesterday was the deal of the year (in an early year) showing that logistics companies should fear what is going on at XPO.  Yesterday, XPO purchased the French company Dentressangle in a deal worth $3.56bl.  Now, XPO is clearly a global powerhouse.

At first it looked like XPO was going to be just another big brokerage house. Then came the acquisition of 3PD and rebranding to XPO Final Mile which said they were going to own the delivery from the manufacturer (through brokerage) to your home (through final mile).  The next big acquisition in my mind was that of Pacer which immediately made XPO a leader in intermodal.

Now, with the acquisition of Dentressangle they have become truly a global powerhouse.  If you are a leader of a global supply chain you absolutely cannot ignore doing business with XPO.  The holy grail has been to find a supplier who can do "end to end" supply chain management for your global supply chain and with XPO you most likely have that now.

In all my writings on XPO logistics (which go back to November 19, 2013) I have said they are a force to be reckoned with and now that is clearly come to life.

In full disclosure, I also do business with XPO and I will tell you that the hype is reality.  This is a well run, disciplined and well led / well financed company.  Trust me - you will do business with XPO at some point.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Seeking First to Understand in Supply Chain Design

Well, it has been a long time and thank you for all the readers who stayed close to this.  I have so many thoughts to write about and I realized when I am not writing I get a bit lazy in terms of researching what best in class people are doing.  So, therefore, I need to write.

Today's posting is about "Seeking First to Understand".  As Steven Covey told us, when you are engaging with either your team, customers or your spouse for that matter, you should always "seek first to understand".  God gave us two ears and one month for a reason.  Listen, think and then talk if you have something to say.  

How does this relate to Supply Chain Design?  Simple, when engaging with a customer or one of your team you should spend the vast majority of your time seeking to understand.  Listen to what they have to say, ask probing questions (not yes / no questions but questions that are open ended such as "Tell me More...  "Help me understand...") and then think.

If you are formulating a response in your head while someone is talking then I can assure you that you are not listening.  Despite popular belief, most people and virtually all minds, cannot multitask while communicating.  If you are thinking of your response while the person is talking then you are not listening ... it is that simple.

In Supply Chain design, listening means asking:

  1. What are your pain points?
  2. What are you trying to accomplish with the brand?
  3. What does the client's or the user of the supply chain customers say and think?
  4. What does your company want to be known for (for example.. is the competitive advantage being the low cost provider, is it being the high service..i.e. Zappos provider)?
When having one of these sessions you should not respond with immediate ideas but rather with a lot more probing questions.  Then, you think.. and that may take days but you think hard. Only then will you be able to formulate a good strategy.

Thinking is hard work and it is tough because, in general, people like to see action (sometimes any action) and thinking is not an outward action.  But, trust me, it is the right thing to do.