Monday, July 31, 2017

Amazon Doesn't Kill Businesses - Ignoring Customer Needs Does

I am going to formulate a more detailed post on this tonight and I think this is a topic needing coverage. It is all about how Amazon got where they are.

The central point: Don't blame Amazon for killing retail.  Amazon was and still is insanely focused on the customer which causes them to innovate around CUSTOMER needs and not internal politics.

While other companies are trying to figure out how to cut out value for the customer to improve costs, Amazon figured out what will "wow" the customer and then figured out how to do this at an acceptable cost.

If others would get maniacal about serving the customer, they could compete. The funny thing is most won't do it.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Week in Review - ELDs, Amazon (again), Foxconn, Border Adjustment Tax - Dead, and Drivers

Another week down in 2017 and amazingly just a few more weeks before those in the retail supply chain will be going crazy getting ready for black Friday.  A lot of topics to discuss from this week so let's get going:

  1. Foxconn - Beside being a great job growth engine what does this really mean for those in the supply chain?  As you probably heard, Foxconn, the mammoth supplier for Apple and other electronics companies has decided to put a large plant in SE Wisconsin.  This will clearly generate jobs, will bring sub suppliers to the region and will make the drive from Chicago to Milwaukee a nightmare given the number of trucks that will move from the Chicago intermodal yards North.

    But, the real finding here is that the cost of production in the US is starting to come in balance with the equation of foreign manufacturing.  The "equation of foreign manufacturing" includes the following components:  Cost of MFG + Cost to move to port + cost of ocean / air + Cost to move from Port inland + GLOBAL GEOPOLITICAL RISK + SPEED + INVENTORY CARRYING COST.  The last few I have capitalized because these are normally considered "soft costs" (and therefore get ignored by many at their own peril).

    More will come and the "heartland" of America is where they will go due to transportation and now labor costs.  If you are a cartage company and haul boxes out of the Chicago rail yards, this is a happy day for you!
  2. The Border Adjustment Tax is Dead - This was sold and designed to adjust the cost of goods coming over the borders to be roughly equal to the cost of manufacturing in the US.  It was to penalize those companies who move out of the US for the purpose of evading items such as labor laws, environmental laws etc.  When it was first proposed the stocks of those supply chain companies benefiting from cross border activity tanked.  Well, as they say, if you wait long enough good things will come.  The border adjustment tax is dead.  If you make your money moving products across borders and from the ports your money is safe.
  3. ELDs are Dead, No They are Alive, No They Are Dead...    This continues to be a back and forth.  For the the life of me, I cannot understand why the industry is against this as it will level the playing field between those who cheat and break the law and those who try to run a lawful company.  But, alas, it appears a lot of people are against it.  Despite 21 Congressman co-sponsoring a bill to delay the mandate for one year,  the prevailing wisdom this week is the delay is dead and ELDS will go in as mandated.  
  4. Amazon Files Patent for Underwater Warehouses -   I am going to leave this alone and just say nothing amazes me anymore.  I will need to have a lot more thought about this and conversation before I fully understand why you would want to put stuff underwater.  Is land that expensive?  Are the rich going to start moving to offshore locations which will need to be serviced from the sea?  Who knows.
  5. Drivers - Hire Felons?  -  My guess is when you first saw this you figured I had lost my mind and this is the craziest thing you have heard of.  I now ask you to take your emotion hat off and put on your thinking cap.  Forget the social arguments, the fact is we have millions of non violent felons in this country who are no longer incarcerated.  There is a shortage of almost 200K drivers.  The solution seems like a match made in heaven.  That courier driver you had who just delivered a package to your door?  Today, he could absolutely be a prior felon.  Why not allow a non violent felon deliver to a warehouse dock?

A lot going on in logistics and I will be writing shortly about the growth of silicon valley's influence in the logistics and supply chain world.  Just as Detroit has learned their "center of gravity" is moving West, so too is the supply chain industry.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Amazon and Kenmore - A Match Made in Heaven

It is incredible it took this long for the marriage made in heaven to happen. Kenmore is the crown jewel of Sears and Amazon has always wanted to capture appliance sales.  But how?  The logistics are daunting.

Enter Kenmore and enter Sears Logistics (SLS). I have always said, the best logistics company in the country is "buried" inside Sears. This has been my contention for over 10 years. SLS had perfected final mile, especially final mile for big box items, long before "final mile" was fashionable or an industry. 

Ask your parents if you don't believe me. A SLS person delivering to your home has been a staple for years.

Now, combine this with the Amazon order platform and the comfort and reliability of Kenmore and you have a powerhouse.

More to come on this but if Amazon uses SLS they have picked up an incredible scoop. And, soon, they will just buy the Kenmore brand, bring SLS with it and use the few Sears stores left as showrooms.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Inventories Are Heading in The Right Direction

Anyone who follows me knows I feel very strongly about the Total Inventory to Sales Ratio and how it forecasts the future for transportation (in the near term).  If inventories rise over a period of time then it only stands to reason companies will start cutting them back.  When they do that, freight slows to a crawl.

Recently, a lot has been made about the current measurement decreasing (ever so slightly).  As you can see below, they had been going down for most of 2016 and now have stayed steady in 2017:

Inventory to Sales Ratio through June 14, 2017
If you look at this in isolation - i.e., just the last year - you would say it is going in the right direction - which it is.  However, by looking at the full measure over a longer period of time you will see the "recovery" from 2012 to 2016 included a substantial inventory build.  We have just recently moved it down and it is a very slight move.   This tells me there is still substantial room for inventories to be depleted which also means transportation capacity still has a way to go before it becomes a "scarce" commodity.  Yes, there are blips but the longer term trend tells me the curve has room to decrease.

As a supply chain professional I also tend to cringe when I see the contents of this graph. To discuss this, let's ask ourselves why we have inventory in the first place.  Two key tenets of supply chain management:

  1. Inventory at rest is a bad thing:   Said a different way, bad things happen to inventory.  It can become obsolete, spoil (in the case of food), get lost, stolen or damaged. When inventory rests, you should see opportunity.
  2. Inventory exists as a buffer for lack of information:  In a world where you have perfect information (i.e, perfect forecast, perfect purchase signals, perfect transportation signals) you have little need for inventory. Given this, more inventory relative to your sales indicates your progress in S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) information accuracy is stalling.  You are not improving this information flow, rather, you are making it worse which drives inventory levels. 
Put these two together and you have to ask yourselves if we, as supply chain professionals and as a supply chain industry, have made global supply chains worse or better since 2012?  With all the investment in software, data and analytics, you would think we would have at least stayed even.  But, we have not.  

What we have done as an industry is cut costs.  As reported in CSCMP's State of Logistics Report, we have decreased overall logistics' costs as a % of GDP for the first time since 2009.   But, to what end has this occurred?  The 5 year CAGR for storage costs for inventory is now at 3.6% - far higher than inflation.  While the financial cost of inventory has actually decreased, a lot of this is attributed to lower financing costs (i.e., interest rates) rather than great inventory management. 

The bottom line:  Inventory has been somewhat ignored during this time of incredibly favorable financing.  I do not expect this to continue and as this turns, it is going to turn quickly.  Expect a renewed focus on inventory and expect inventories to be managed a lot tighter in the future.  

And when that happens, expect any sign of a "transportation recovery" to stall (as it has in many years prior).