Archives for September 2014

Supply Chain Superhighway To Oblivion

By Art van Bodegraven | 09/29/2014 | 9:10 AM

Names can be misleading.  The crazy good Swedish band, Dirty Loops, for example, might conjure up images of guys clothed only in short black socks performing the unspeakable with women in ill-fitting underwear, but the Swedes are rockin' and rollin' to an entirely different tune.  And so it is with the newest entry in our neighborhood joining the retail food wars.

The establishment must remain nameless for obvious reasons, unless it does another face-plant in our presence, at which point the gloves come off.  Suffice it to say that the first of its two-word name connotes just-picked, just-gathered, just-harvested, just-prepared, just-processed - something like that.  The second word rhymes with slime.

Herewith a montage of our experiences.  After consuming a small portion of their featured apple pie, something explained only by the possibility that Johnny Appleseed had got into a mess of magic mushrooms, a brief mention to the Bakery Manager elicited this: "I know.  I can't eat the things, myself.  Sorry there's nothing we can do for you."  Next, the appearance of a large basket of bread loaves, unwrapped, uncovered, without a bag in which to insert one (if selected), and sans any utensil with which to pick one up.  This cheerful flouting of any rule of good sense, or health and safety, was placed at approximately the nose level of small children subject to sneezes and other outbursts of bodily fluids.  Compounding the insult, the bakery department refused to slice a loaf for anyone purchasing one, because "then we have to clean the machine."  Welcome to Disease Exchange Central.

The seafood counter was amply protected from external contamination, but an attempt to purchase was an exercise in self-restraint.  With a promise of, "Hang on, we'll get you some of the fresh stuff," we did two things: 1) wonder how not fresh the dead fish on display was, and 2) wait while customer after customer approached, ordered, and walked away with a bag of the same seafood we had ordered.  As we contemplated walking away, and out the door, the acne-scarred master-gutter (we assume that he was good at something) popped up with our bag of iced fish.  Meanwhile, another customer attempted to buy another fish, which was tagged as $10.95/lb.  The scale rang up a ticket at $11.95/lb.  The customer complained; the clerk explained that there was nothing he could do; it was $11.95 or nothing.  The customer, correctly, decided it was nothing, and left.

But, the adventure was not over.  The store features narrow aisles, giving the place the feel and look of a small independent market.  Customer movement with carts and small children is a thrill ride in itself, but is brought to a standstill by knots of employees chatting obliviously about our town's latest club sensation, the mega-metal sensation, Naked Kangaroo Rats, and other vital life matters, such as how much prison had changed her boyfriend and baby daddy.  Following our lead blocker (this is, of course, Ohio State country), we found some mighty attractive fresh tamales just before reaching the checkout lanes and freedom.  The hair we found in the tamales when we opened them for lunch was the end of the game for us.

Let's recap.  Can't fulfill orders when both customer and product are less than three feet away.  Have no clue about customer service and customer satisfaction.  Can't bend systems to avoid the appearance of fraud.  Willing to risk customers' health and welfare for the sake of appearance.  Overstaffed and undermanaged.  Untrained or ill-trained associates.  Unacceptable supplier performance in dimensions of quality and safety, without any apparent knowledge of or mitigating processes for.

Here's the point.  For this not-so-very-fine-company, the possible superiority and excellence of its logistics processes are irrelevant.  That DC operations might be superior means nothing.  That transportation cost and performance could be industry-leading is a red herring, a false accomplishment.

Until and unless all of the components of supply chain management are aligned and all are excellent, having really good logistics is like being the best violinist in the Titanic's orchestra.  And, this gang would be much better off getting the rest of the house in order before worrying about the invisible logistics part.

If they don't, they'll join an army of wanna-bes, coulda-beens, and used-to-wases in grocery  Purgatory.  They'll rationalize, and blame a marketplace that "wasn't ready".  And, the marketplace won't care.

So, where are you?  Any danger of achieving logistics excellence at some cost or risk to customer delight with the overall supply chain?

20-20-20 Vision

By Art van Bodegraven | 09/19/2014 | 7:50 AM

Oh, boy, now my ophthalmologist is wondering where I'm going with this. But, I was recently reminded of an old story, the gist being this . . .

An affluent patron visits a renowned artist to commision an original work. The artist agrees, and asks the patron to wait. Twenty minutes later, the artist reappears, a stunning, still-wet painting in his hands, and says, "That will be twenty thousand dollars, please." The patron, somewhere between nonplussed and outraged, screams, "Twenty thousand dollars for twenty minutes work? Are you mad?"

The artist calmly explains that the price is based on the twenty years that it took him to learn how to, in twenty minutes, convey a powerful message with a compelling image. So, when you sneer at the presumption of consultants charging otherworldly hourly rates, or are aghast at the fees commanded by famous (or infamous) public speakers, think about the Rule of 20-20-20.

This is not really about me. I'll be the first to admit that I am not Picasso, or Dali, or Dubuffet - or even Jackson Pollack. But, I ain't the guy on PBS with his happy little trees, either.

There is, in fact, a cohort of supply chain professionals with thirty years or so of experience (as opposed to two years of experience repeated fifteen times) whose observations and insights have staggeringly more value, relevance, and credibility than the latest social media posting from a bright wanna-be who is somewhere between receiving an MBA and earning a certification, and looking forward to that all-important first job.

It's just possible that the twenty thousand spent with one of them will have a significantly better ROI than "free" advice from an unfiltered discussion forum.

For Want Of A Nail . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 09/12/2014 | 7:30 AM

The ancient rhyme chronicles that for want of a nail, the shoe - and ultimately the kingdom - was lost. That progression is echoed in Shakespeare's Richard III's call "A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" Is it possible that a retail colossus might be brought down for want of a sock?

I recently restocked (pun intended) my personal hosiery inventory with a wizard assortment at a phenomenal price from the best of the membership mega-stores. Names will not be named, but HQ is not all that far from Starbucks'.

I examined the booty as we unpacked the usual trunkful of irresistible bargains in absurd quantities, and was well pleased until discovering that one particular pair consisted of one stocking of normal size and one more suited for either an infant or a grown person with a severe pedal deformity.

The supply chain implications were clear. The supplier was the weak link. And, the retailer deserved to know, which only encouraged me to communicate in a friendly, but pointed and direct way. the retailer did the right thing, btw.

But, what had happened at the supplier? Was there insufficient, or non-existent, final quality checking? Did off-shore management condone - or encourage - shipping defective product? Was slipping the fun-sized mismatch into the mix the desperate act of an employee fearful of the consequences of having made - or found - a defective product? Was production equipment subject to occasional fits of manufacturing misbehavior?

It doesn't matter. The end result was that a malformed product had been produced. Someone had knowingly packaged it for sale as something other that what it actually was. No safeguards were in place to detect either shenanigans or shortfalls in the production and packaging processes. And, the sock factory's customer paid a price - a credit to the end consumer, loss of confidence in their merchandise, spillover of uncertainty into prospective purchases of their other offerings. Could there be more?

From me, no. I'll still shop there, with generally great confidence. But, I'll never buy socks there again. Others might take a harder line, and shoot themselves in the foot by boycotting the establishment, at least for a while.

How is it in your world? Are you somewhat at the mercy of outside (domestic or international) suppliers? Are your fortunes, at least partially, in the hands of third parties in your end-to-end supply chains? Are you inclined, and thus vulnerable, to compensate customers for defective, or disappointing, product? Do you have to invest internal resources to ensure that incoming product is 100% right, in size, color, specs, functionality, packaging, etc?

And, how forgiving are your customers when things are not quite right?

All these questions continue to underline the reality that there is more than price at stake when you are looking for product sources that bolster your competitive position.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck with a sock that is too small to be used even as a hand puppet, which has disappointed the grandchildren immensely.

Another Overnight Success

By Art van Bodegraven | 09/07/2014 | 10:33 AM

What comes to mind when you see "Gaslight"? A classic film? A historic district in a city of some age? Old times, when horses ruled the road?

Whatever your inclination, check out the very fine band, The Gaslight Anthem, which is getting some major league attention. Of course, they've been at it for several years, with a prior history of different casts and different names, as well as experience with other bands even before that. A little bit punk, a little bit Springsteen, a little of this, a little of that - and the whole is distinctly their own.

I was attracted by two things, beyond the foundation of the music. One was the trigger word, anthem. We need anthems to focus, to align on objectives, to understand our foundations. The other was the lesson of perseverance, the, if not triumph, survival based on staying true to roots and selves, come what may.

These are important in our world. The ball will not always bounce our way. The critical breaks may not come when we think they should. We may not be able to surmount functional, environmental, or cultural barriers on the first (or second, or third) try.

Then, we have choices, which need to be selected rationally, based on clear-eyed understanding of either the righteousness of our visions or the possibility that someone else's perspective is more appropriate in the long run. We can adapt to the better point of view, we can stay the course set by our own stars, or we can chameleon-like take on whatever the transient position of the moment might be.

The Gaslight Anthem's hot new number is Get Hurt, btw. You probably won't get hurt if you select the better approach; you might get hurt if you stick to your guns, but you will heal and be fine in the long run; you will surely get hurt, and probably badly, if you blow in the wind with every situation's easy way out.

The Simpleton Within

By Art van Bodegraven | 09/01/2014 | 2:17 PM

As part of my never-ending quest for knowledge, I managed to take the wrong meds at the wrong time last week. The ensuing strange behavior attracted no one's attention, what with the venue being California.

Coming out of a hallucinatory state, I did have an opportunity to observe the EMTs in action. The process flow may have contained some useful examples for supply chain operations, and design. The EMT challenge is essentially to manage and execute a number of parallel simultaneous action sequences in such a way that they are all completed at the same time, including arriving at the nearest ER. Very impressive. And instructive, when you think about how often a distribution center is faced with similar operating requirements.

Once in the ER, the care and recovery processes revert to serial flows to an end point that has no particular time certain identification. Granted, ERs perform simultaneous action sequences for several patients, but they have no relationship to one another, or any need to coordinate the literally side-by-side activities. With each independent flow randomly requiring the same resources, there are occasional and unplannable choke points in the overall operation. And "no time" has an indefinite and highly variable meaning, as in the phrase, "We'll have you up and out of here in no time".

My big takeaway was reinforcement of the understanding that a supply chain management perspective can be more than useful in an enormous span of non-traditional scenarios. Pointing this out to those engaged in high-stress environments requires planning, preparation, and pausing to wait for the right moment, however.

Kudos, and major thanks, btw, to: Alameda Fire Department EMTs, the stunningly attentive staff at the Alameda/Airport Hampton Inn, and the all-stars at the Alameda Hospital ER.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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