Monday, June 27, 2016

Macroeconomic Monday® Special Edition - Watch the Debt

I have read two major books recently on the economy - one old and one new. Both appear to be seminal books on what drives economic booms, busts and panics.  The two books are:  1) The Makers and The Takers: The Rise of Finance and The Fall of American Business by Rana Foroohar. 2) Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises by Robert Z. Aliber.

The theme of both books is excess debt plays a huge role in the build up to any recession (or worse, depression).  The cycle goes something like this:

  1. Recovery begins through stimulus or some other external event (think war spending).
  2. The cycle takes off and should become self sustaining (Although we never saw that this cycle)
  3. Eventually it starts losing steam. In order to keep it going, we need to incur higher and higher amounts of debt. 
  4. In order to keep the higher debt going,  we have to allow sub-prime to participate. Not only does debt go up but debt quality goes down
  5. Eventually, defaults begin.
  6. People begin hoarding cash and spending less as they fear the economic downturn.  This causes  more defaults as layoffs begin. The downward spiral begins. 
  7. Voila!  Recession or worse and then we start all over again. 
This has been the case for hundreds of years (despite people wanting to go back to the "good old days",  hard depressions are less harsh now and certainly less frequent).  As we see freight volumes going down and with that, freight rates going down, I have to ask, are we starting to see this cycle in its later stages?  Certainly, we are at the tail end of an expansion but what does the debt data tell us?  

In this and subsequent editions of Macroeconomic Monday® I am going to attempt to explain where I think we are.  Today, we will look at three topics:  The overall debt (Household) in the nation, the makeup of that debt and finally the quality of auto loans.

The graph the the left depicts the issue at hand.  As you can see from this chart our overall household debt is almost at pre-recession levels. Two other key points are clear from this chart:
  1. The debt level relative to 2003 is incredibly high.
  2. The amount of debt due to student loans has grown exponentially (yes, this is a big problem - student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and do not have physical assets behind them).
Mortgage debt is still inflated and the very interesting part of this chart is the growth of auto loans. The key part to this, as explained in the graph below, is more and more auto loans are made to the sub-prime sector of the economy. 

This graph shows more detail on the auto sub-prime loans (When you see your friend get that new BMW, you have to wonder where the money came from).  You can see that auto sub-prime really telegraphed the previous recession and then people clamped down on their borrowing to right their personal balance sheets.

However, really since about 2011 this has changed and the sub-prime borrowing started taking off again. This was almost fully due to automobile companies needing to keep the "post recession party" going.  

So, our first lesson is pretty clear, and stark.  Personal debt is growing and total debt is almost at the pre-recession levels. For one of the biggest and riskiest categories (auto loans), sub-prime debt is increasing. Finally, student debt, which stops or delays household formation, is clearly at unsustainable levels.

Following our guidance in the two books I mentioned above, this is the "brake" on the economy which never lets the flywheel turn on its own.  It is also why markets go into turmoil every time Janet Yellen even remotely mentions increasing interest rates. This brake is why freight volumes are down, we have over capacity in transportation and rates are starting to plummet.  If people do not buy, companies do not make and therefore freight capacity exceeds volumes and rates go down. It is that simple. 

So, the next time someone says to you "things will get better next year", remember the debt story. They cannot get better when more and more money is going to pay interest on debt incurred for items already purchased.  And, of course, this is why you are seeing negative interest rates as central banks realize that is the only way to fight this.  But, more on that next time.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Revisit "Favored Shipper" During Downturn in Rates

I have advocated over and over that the idea of getting better rates because you are a "favored" or "preferred" shipper is a red herring.  The idea that a trucking company will take less in profit because you are preferred just does not make sense.

In the environment of rate reductions and over capacity I am sure shippers are starting to hear the same old mantra from the trucking companies:  "Stick with us and pay higher than market rates.  Once the "worm turns" we will stick with you".  This is the logic. Yet by all accounts, even the transportation executives believe transportation is a commodity play.  Less capacity and more demand = prices go up.  More capacity and less demand = prices go down.  That simple.

I had been somewhat a lonesome person in this argument until C.H. Robinson, along with Iowa State University, attempted to quantify this with a white paper entitled:  Do "Favored Shippers" Really Receive Better Pricing and Service.  Let me cut to the chase and let you know the answer is NO.  Here is a quote:
"Carriers cite many attributes that may result in "shipper of choice" status.  Research shows that keeping the driver moving and generating income is more important to these carriers than keeping a shipper as a customer".
The bottom line is that dwell time of the driver is the overriding factor to determine if you will get best price or not.  And really, it is not even the driver rather it is the trucking company asset (Truck and trailer) they truly care about.

So, remember, no matter what you do in terms of "market rates" what really matters is dwell time. The research clearly suggests that regardless of what you do in terms of rates now, in the future, it is all about dwell time and if you do not have best dwell time, what you did when rates turned down will be meaning less.

My advice is the same now (and even strengthened) as it always has been.  Take what is yours in terms of rates because the trucking company will take what is theirs when the environment changes. Then, of course, do the right thing and keep the trucks moving.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Predictions Coming True - Inventory Adjustment Under Way and Rates are Down

A special edition of Marcoeconomic Monday today!  The results are in and they are really showing a slowing economy (GDP adjustments have been lowered), inventory adjustments being made and therefore truckload and intermodal rates going down.

I have shown throughout this year that the inventory to sales ratio was telling me that inventory was growing at an unsustainable rate and sooner or later a correction will come.  The Wall Street Journal recently acknowledged this with an article called: Inventory Pullback a Drag on Logistics Spending. As companies have realized the need to adjust inventory levels, the need for more product decreases and therefore the need for transportation goes down.  Result?  A capacity / demand imbalance that supports lower rates.

The newest CASS readings show this is coming out in the industry rate structure.  The truckload index fell 1.2% in May after reductions in April and March.  The intermodal index reduced by 2% and Cass has acknowledged this is 17 consecutive months of YoY declines.

Bottom line:  Rates are going down, the economy continues to sputter and another year of "this is the year" seems to be fading away.

Schneider Enters The Final Mile Battle - A Very Late Arrival

An interesting development over the last few weeks which I needed to digest was the entrance of Schneider National into the Final Mile foray.  My readers know I have followed the growth of final mile for many years (See where I showed XPO's acquisition in 2013 was "game over").  I was an "early adopter" of how important this segment was to the overall logistics network moving products to customers.  One thing we know is Schneider cannot be seen as an "early adopter" of anything - they are very disciplined and careful in investment.  So, this is why their entrance is so important.

The service is called Final Mile+ (JB Hunt has had Final Mile Services for many years - confusing branding by Schneider) and it appears to be a direct competitor to the XPO story of owning the supply chain from raw materials through manufacturing to retail then to the customer's home.  They acquired both an operating company, Watkins and Shepard, and a technology company, Lodeso.   The key will be whether Schneider is successful at stitching this together to give the customer a seamless view from the beginning to the end.  To this point, few companies have been able to do that and it has been tough for 3PLs to make the case that "one stop shopping" really adds value.

I personally believe the model is getting a bit crowded at the integrator level and very sparse at the operating level.  Remember, all these companies (XPO, Schneider etc.) are really just brokers to a final mile courier service.  It is at the bottom level where the problem exists.  We need more people actually doing the hard work of pick up, delivery and installation.  I don't believe we need more integrators.

JB Hunt Final Mile differentiates itself because, for the vast majority of what they do, they use their own trucks and drivers.  I think that ultimately will be the competitive advantage.  While today it may be cheaper to integrate many couriers, I think in the long run service will be the key element and the way to get that service is to own the assets.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How Lack of Same Day Delivery Saved Me

This is a logistics story in reverse.  Rather than discuss the benefits of same day delivery I am going to review with you how lack of same day helped this hapless consumer.

I was out wandering as I tend to do on Saturdays.  Usually I shop with my wife and while she looks for things I look at things and wonder how they got there and why someone would buy this stuff.  My eyes wandered to a "Big Green Egg" in Ace Hardware.  Ok, this may need some explaining.

A "Green Egg" is a ceramic outdoor cooker / smoker / grill.  A fascinating device which looks cool, people swear by the food it produces and costs a ton of money (Do I really need a $1000 grill)?  Of course, like all good products, once you buy the base produce there is a wall of "accessories" which can bring the full cost to $1300+.  They have learned well from the Iphone!

Ok, back to logistics.  I spent a lot of time looking at this device and two questions came to mind:  1) How would I get this home (I have cars not trucks) and 2) How would I get it to the back yard (it is very heavy)?  Those were the final two questions the sales person had to "sell" me on and I probably would have made this impulse buy.  Unfortunately, there were two answers he gave:

1) Earliest they could get it to me was next Wednesday (I live 5 miles from the store, he could have brought it in a pick up truck during his break).

2) They only do "curbside" delivery - I had to get it to my back yard and he agreed that was not easy.

I looked at him and said "let me think about that and I will get back to you".  Suffice to say, I never got back to him.   What happened?

Whatever the chemical is that causes a person to impulse buy started to go away and the "rational" chemical took over.  As my wife and I drove home we asked ourselves:  1) Do we really need a $1300 grill?  2) Who would move it if I had to move it again from the original location?  3) Wouldn't a $60 weber grill do a good enough job?

The answers came back:  1) NO,  2) Who knows and 3) Probably yes.  Therefore, no purchase and I went on my way (For the record, I did not even buy the Weber grill).  So, what are the lessons here:

1) If he had same day delivery I most likely would have bought it.
2) If he was willing to bring it around to my backyard (or even just help me) I definitely would have bought it.

The key lesson here is same day delivery makes a difference!  It is a differentiator and it drives sales.  Not only did I not buy this on this day, I most likely will never buy it.  Too hard.  Make it easy for the consumer and make it fast and you have a sale. Allow the consumer to think about it, and you could easily lose the sale.

This lesson is learned in reverse by the people who hawk timeshares in Vegas.  I once went to their pitch to get free show tickets (I had no intention of buying one of these).  I asked the sales person, trying to be polite, to let me look at the information over a few days and I would get back to him.  He said to me, "No one will buy these if we let them look at the information...".  Wildly honest but what he realized is the ability to deliver same day (in this case, same hour) took advantage of the adrenaline rush going on during the sale process - it assures a sale.  They delivered it same hour by having all the paper work ready, the financing there on site, the keys etc. etc.

You may ask, well does same day delivery really help since the person can just return the product once the urge is lost?  This question ignores both the normal inertia that exists in a consumer and the high desire to tell their friends, spouses, and themselves that they did not make a mistake and it was actually a brilliant purchase.

Ever hear someone defend buying a timeshare?  It is almost laughable listening to them try to explain it but, alas, they do.

Speed and ease of delivery drives sales - it is plain and simple.

As a consumer though, I was rescued by ACE not having same day delivery!

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.