Saturday, April 30, 2016

Inventories Continue to Grow

For those who read this blog regularly, you know a key metric I track regularly is the Inventory to Sales ratio.  The reasons I do this are threefold:

  • As a supply chain professional and one who takes pride in our industry I feel this one measurement is a core metric to how the industry is doing.  Of course, inventory is built when information is less than optimal and therefore we miss forecasts or we feel the only solution to this problem of lacking information is to build inventory stocks. Finally, we all know inventory ties up working capital, has the problems of obsolescence, damage and shrinkage and consumes resources.  All of which is bad for business.
  • It is an early warning indicator of economic issues.  As either consumers stop buying or business start overproducing (due to irrational exuberance to borrow a phrase) inventories build.  So, it is a signal that one of those two things are happening and sooner or later either the consumer has to come raging back (highly unlikely given the wage situation) or businesses will start cutting back.
  • It is an indicator of pricing in transportation.  As inventories build, inbound will start slowing, transportation capacity will become in excess and ultimately prices fall for transportation.  It is, in fact, that simple.
As we look at the latest Inventory to sales ratio we see continuation of a troubling pattern:

Inventory to Sales Updated 4/2016 Data through February 2016
What we see is inventories have increased pretty dramatically since 2012 and do I dare say this - they are almost at recession levels.  

This is not a good indicator for the economy or for transportation in general.  Perhaps the wild bull is coming to an end. I guess we shall see but one of two things has to happen - consumers better start buying or businesses better slow down.  

Pricing Declines in Both Truckload and Intermodal

The promise of "pay me now so you don't have to pay me later" continues to be a mirage.  With the release of the March CASS reports we saw that pricing actually declined in the truckload sector YoY for the first time since 2010.  Intermodal continues to be a problem as well with significant price declines.  Intermodal declines were 3% YoY in March and 2.2% in January YoY and 3.8% in February YoY.

This all stems from the fact there is overcapacity.  Further, as shippers get far smarter in terms of network design, designing products for efficient shipping and inventory management, the problem of overcapacity is being exacerbated.  Avondale partners believes the "risk" is to the downside of 1% to 2%.  The overcapacity in rail can be attributed to the sharp decline in some commodity shipping such as oil.   The other part playing havoc on transportation is the Inventory to Sales ratio which I will discuss in my next posting.

At the end of the day, this continues to behave as a commodity market.  The idea that you should "pay up" during overcapacity months / years so you are protected when the market "turns" is a fools errand.  Of course, you should always be a good partner, you should always work to turn drivers fast, make their life easier and work with your carrier partners to balance demand.  But those are things a good business person does anyway.  Just makes sense.

But, to think you should "pay up" to be a "shipper of choice" is crazy and will only put you in a position of uncompetitiveness relative to your peer group.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Another Year of Dashed Hopes for Trucking

Well, another year starts off with the "this is the year for trucking" story and it is starting to look like it is another year where it is going to fizzle.  I am traveling a lot this week so it will be tough to get into the details here.

Having said that there are clearly two big data points.  As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an article titled "Trucking Stocks Tumble on Downgrade, Pricing Outlook", the bid season has not gone well for truckers.  This generally means there is excess capacity and that is driving lower prices.  An interesting quote (which blows apart the "shipper of choice" boloney over the last few years) is the following from a Stifel report lead authored by John Larkin:
"Many shippers have effectively elected to toss to the wayside any talk of partnerships, relationships, cooperation, collaboration, etc.,” the report read. “Shippers are under enormous pressure to cut transportation costs and seem not to be satisfied with the massive fuel surcharge reductions racked up over the past year and a half.”

If you don't believe that then use the trucking companies' actions to tell you what they think.  FTR reports Class 8 Orders at Lowest Level since 2012.  Having worked in the trucking sector I know as soon as the trucking executives see a prolonged slowdown the first thing they do is cancel truck orders.

Back to the future....

Class VIII Orders source:  FTR

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Supply Chain Talent As Competitive Advantage - Traction

I recently published a posting about the Ascendency of Supply Chain and the proof point I used was Amazon suing Target over "poaching" of supply chain talent.  20 years ago no one cared about hiring someone from supply chain.  Now it is seen as "stealing competitive secrets".

Well, the good news is the Wall Street Journal has caught on to this and after my post, Loretta Chao wrote her own well written article titled: Supply-Chain Lawsuits Mount Amid Drive For Logistics Talent.  You should read it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Leadership in Distribution Centers - Employer of Choice

It is a fierce battle out there for great talent in warehousing.  I mean for all talent - hourly and salary. This segment has really become the "manufacturing" of the 21st century.  While everyone seems to talk about manufacturing, hoping for jobs, what they really find is manufacturing has come back to the US due to high levels of automation and robotics.  It is warehousing and distribution, as E-Commerce grows, that will drive supply chain employment.

Back in September we were warned about the shortage of warehouse labor at both Marketwatch and in the JOC in an article titled: US Warehouse and Logistics Sector Warned of Labor Shortage.  Both of these predictions have come true and they are even more pronounced during the "busy" season(s).  So what is a leader to do?

One thing you do not want to do is get into a wage war.  That does not solve any problems for anyone.  The real activities which influence great employees to want to work in your warehouse v. the competitors are three-fold:

  1. Treatment:   It should go without saying if you do not treat people with dignity and respect, they will not want to work with you.  This is true for managers and it is true for hourly associates.  While this seems like a truism, in my travels and consulting, I find I almost always have to remind people of this.  Activities like communication, sharing business results, and involving people in decisions all show people they are being treated as true partners in the organization.
  2. Environment:  Make the environment a place you would want to work.  If you would not want to work in the location why would you expect others to want to work there?  This does not have to mean you have a fancy place.  But, it does mean, attention to cleanliness, a place for people to take breaks that you would be willing to take a break in, a safe environment and ergonomically friendly all will lead to people wanting to work in your location.
  3. Ability to Advance:  Nothing makes people more mad than when they see people coming "off the street" getting the benefit of the doubt over current employees.  People want to work where they are respected and one sign of respect is to offer them training and opportunity for advancement.  
Finally, yes, you do have to pay competitively (that goes without saying).  However, if you do not do the three items I mention above, your chances of having a great workforce, with low turnover and high engagement, will be next to nil.  

A great recent read is over at Forbes on Line and the article is titled: Employee Engagement is Not Just a State of Mind.  I will not recite everything it says as you should go and read it however the author lists 4 key factors for engagement:
  1. Recognition
  2. Planning
  3. Communication
  4. Contribution
Every manager needs to have an employee engagement plan.  It needs to be written, tracked, measured and adjusted as needed.  You may find, if you are a center manager, this is the biggest leverage point you have to drive both quality and productivity.  

For some more ideas, read a great article over at Harvard Business Review How One Fast Food Chain Keeps Its turnover Rates Absurdly Low.  We in supply chain can borrow these ideas.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Ascendency of Supply Chain

I found the articles recently about Amazon suing a supply chain executive fascinating.  To recap, a top executive (although not the very top) of Amazon was hired by Target to bring life into their supply chain - specifically e-commerce and the Omni-Channel portion.  Amazon is suing saying he is violating a 18 month non compete clause and saying he will cause harm to Amazon by bringing supply chain "secrets" with him. 

20 years ago no one would have thought anything about supply chain was so secret and provided so much competitive advantage that they would sue for hiring a single person.  I believe this action really shows how high supply chain has risen as one of, if not the, competitive advantage of a company. 

For those thinking of entering our field, be rest assured, you are no longer a "back office cost".  You are now a front office, revenue generating portion of the business.  You are providing the competitive advantage and differentiation for your company. 

Congratulations supply chain, you have made it!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Amazon as a 3PL

Back in October I asked the question:  What is Amazon? A 3PL, Retailer, IT Company, Delivery Company?  And, I answered the question by saying:  All of the Above.  Now it is February and with the advent of Amazon registering as a NVO and with their purchase of trailers it has become clear - they are a 3PL and most likely will quickly become the best there is.

Amazon has such a unique ability to do things very quickly, apply incredible technology and put rock solid processes in place (supported by the incredible technology) that when they do this it seems like it comes out of no where.  But, of course, it does not.  I have written many times that Amazon could easily do this with their fulfillment capabilities.

In Supply Chain Quarterly, the magazine asks this question:  Amazon a 3PL? The most interesting part of this article is the "head in the sand" responses from some of the major company CEOs.  Only 6 of the CEOs considered Amazon to already be a 3PL.  Let's look at the basics of what Amazon does:

  1. They have huge warehouse / order fulfillment centers
  2. They take in product both from themselves but also from other retailers and e-tailers
  3. They provide customized fulfillment
  4. They now have trucks and do deliveries
  5. They are building out a courier service for final mile. 
Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, acts like a duck - pretty sure it is a duck.  Although, as was outlined in Richard Tedlow's seminal work "Denial:  Why Business leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face - and what to do about it" we know that history is full of companies who cannot see change even though it is staring them in the face.  Think Sears ignoring Wal-Mart and then Wal-Mart ignoring Amazon. 

Let's close this once and for all.  Amazon is a 3PL.  Amazon is a cloud computing company. Amazon is a retailer (Now including bricks and mortar).  And, most importantly, if you are in those businesses, Amazon is coming after you.

Read this book and you will see how easy it is to ignore the facts - but you do that at your own peril.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

More Tough News for the Rail Roads - Carloads Dropped 16.6%

The January AAR report has come out and it is not pretty for the railroads.  Of course coal has been a big driver but it looks like all commodities are in a decline and that has really hurt the rail. Intermodal is up 3.4% which is "ok" but nothing spectacular.

Bottom line is the economy is just slow and not sure when it will come out of this.  I have not written my "Macroeconomic Monday" report in a long time but I can tell you that the dynamics of this economy are very slow growth, tepid employment and lack of wage growth.  All of this is driving the consumer to save more or pay down debt which limits macro demand.  This is always first seen in the transportation of goods.

More to come... Buckle up for 2016.

Courier and Delivery Driver Employment Fall; Warehouse Employment Up

Post the holiday e-commerce surge, the inevitable arrived.  According to the Wall Street Journal, courier and delivery jobs were shed quickly by companies with lower demand.

Warehouse employment continues to outpace the overall economy.  Just go to towns like Lakeland, FL, Memphis, TN or Nashville and you can see that for mile upon miles.

What is fascinating about all this is this means buffer inventory is increasing. The graph below shows the incredible climb of inventory relative to sales in our economy.  Wasn't this what all this fancy supply chain software was supposed to solve?

Inventory to Sales Ratio
We are back to roughly 2002 levels which, if you measure supply chain efficiency by inventory levels you could say that we are in a "lost decade" of supply chain improvement.

Is Your 3PL Working for You The Shipper or For The Carrier

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I am not a fan of this carrier creation called "be a shipper of choice".  To simplify my reasons I break my reasons down into three categories:

  1. The carriers themselves speak as a commodity.  They always talk about the fact that if demand is greater than supply - prices will go up.  This is the text book description of a commodity.  I have never met a carrier who, in a time of rate increases, tell you "We will take less price because you are some magical "shipper of choice.
  2. It takes all the requirements for continuous improvement off of the carrier's shoulders and puts them on the customer.  I have never seen an industry (except for maybe the airlines) where the supplier's strategy is to essentially go to war with their customer.  This is the new trucking industry.  The icons of the industry (Don Schneider, JB Hunt - the man) would never do this. They would compete for customers by providing a higher level of efficiency and better service. Not try to put fear in the customer.
  3. This is a race to the bottom for shippers.  Imagine if everyone followed the checklist of "Shipper of choice".  Now, all shippers are equal and who is actually the shipper of choice?  Well, what happens is the carriers ratchet up what they want out of you.  This is a perverse way to run an industry.  
To help with carrier management and to help shippers navigate this craziness some hire a 3PL.  But, what happens when the 3PL is in the tank for the carrier?  Well, we know what happens - the 3PL tells the customer they have to pay "higher rates" to ensure capacity (any third grader could have figured that out - no need to pay a 3PL).  But, of course, the 3PL makes more money off of these higher rates so on and on it goes. 

So, here is my checklist for how a CARRIER can be the CARRIER of choice:

  1. Provide great value - service for price.  Overdue the service.
  2. Understand your customer's business so you can understand why they are asking for what they are asking for. 
  3. Do what you commit to do - don't over commit. 
  4. Don't complain about stupid stuff.  I love it when a carrier complains that we should level load our freight volume.  Great request.  What is a person to do, tell the consumer (who is the only one in this entire chain who is actually injecting money into this supply chain) they can't buy more product on the weekends?  They have to buy as much on Monday - Thursday?  
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  6. Use technology to everyone's benefit. 
The Transplace checklist for shipper of choice is one example where a 3PL is no longer working for their customer.  They are working for the carrier.  

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.