Ask an Expert: What’s Ahead for Supply Chain Management Professionals?
Stefania BlasiDirector, Ontario Field Sales & Industrial Vertical
Stefania is Purolator’s leading industrial vertical solutions expert with extensive experience in sales management, processes, strategic negotiations, and customer relationship management. Her continual pursuit for new creative strategies, supply chain management initiatives and tailored distribution solutions has resulted in maximized business partnerships and growth among top leading national and international customers within industrial, retail, telecommunications and high-tech markets.
Canada’s industrial sector is experiencing seismic changes as a direct result of the pandemic. From re-assessing supply chains to embracing e-commerce, industrial leaders are taking the opportunity to prepare their businesses for the future. Stefania discusses supply chain management and key questions and considerations that should be fueling the sector’s decision-making.
What do you think has been COVID-19’s biggest impact on supply chain management?
The pandemic has challenged businesses in a number of critical areas, such as inventory stock-outs, manufacturers closing throughout Asia, and overall speed-to-market hurdles from suppliers outside of Canada.
The last six months have underscored the importance – even necessity – of being nimble and having options when it comes to your supply chain. Businesses that maintained their competitiveness during the pandemic tend to have a larger network of suppliers, and were not dependent on one supplier source.
One Purolator client created a platform shortly after Trump’s trade war with China – so well before the arrival of COVID-19. That ended up being a very smart decision. It enabled them to pivot quickly away from relying on China for production, and secure personal protective equipment (PPE) from other countries.
Canadian businesses are and will continue to re-engineer more robust supply chains moving forward and potentially stock more parts and other supplies.
COVID-19 has also accelerated the consolidation of facilities. Expect more of the same at least in the short-term. Because there’s pressure on top-line revenue, there’s an urgency to find cost savings and efficiencies. In short, supply chain planning is a priority. One Fortune 100 company, for example, had been speaking to us for years on our northbound solutions. COVID-19 has created a heightened sense of urgency around the discussions.
Is there is any potential upside to the disruption?
If there’s any good news here it’s that business leaders are taking the time to adjust their approach to the market. They’re re-evaluating infrastructure and developing other areas to generate revenues and expand into new markets.
Industrial sector businesses, traditionally slow adapters compared to retail, are also increasingly building up their e-commerce capabilities. The pandemic has nudged them to reassess their supply chain and motivate them to become even more innovative – a good thing!
How is Purolator helping keep customers and employees safe?
Our team is ensuring that we comply with all new or updated health and safety standards initiated by our customers, such as locked doors for receiving, and any specific pick-up instructions.
We also adhere to our own rigorous standards. Our drivers wear PPE if entering customers’ facilities. In some cases, we’re asked to place deliveries in secure areas or in closed trailers to which only Purolator has access.
Customers have asked for specific technology to speak with Purolator, like setting up virtual meets. These are now being preferred over cell phone. In my opinion, they’re here to stay.
What are some of the supply chain management solutions Purolator implemented during the pandemic?
Flexibility has defined our approach to our customers’ businesses during COVID-19. We’re as obsessed with supply chain risk management as our customers. Whatever it takes to keep the supply chains moving!
Shipping between Canada and the U.S. is a good example. We centralized our domestic distribution centres to better leverage our air network for direct delivery to most locations within Canada.
We’re modifying our distribution centre departure times to reflect changing client volumes. We’re aligning assets to manage the increases personal protective equipment, mechanical engineering technology and janitorial/sanitation products.
Keeping our customers aware of our continuity plans and updates is one way we can ensure a healthy partnership going forward.
Another way Purolator pivoted is by offering new service options. There’s Purolator QuickShipTM service, which offers next-day delivery by 9 a.m., seven days a week offering evenings and weekends in certain Canadian markets, flexible speed to market solutions such as cross border, next flight out / just in time anywhere to and from the U.S. and Canada.
We only leverage Purolator assets, which speeds up service and reduces touchpoints, the latter of which also helps us manage the risks of COVID-19 to our employees and customers. As a direct result, our northbound solutions boosted fill rates to 100% from U.S. to Canada.
COVID-19 has likely accelerated shut-down or consolidation of facilities in smaller centres. Purolator customers can leverage larger carriers, and ship across Canada from larger centres. In the case of one iconic Canadian brand, we made important shipments from here to their U.S. locations.
We’re offering support and expertise with every aspect of our industrial customers’ supply chain. Services such as northbound, intra LTL, offshore, express, cargo and so on.
How do you keep track of businesses or job sites that remain closed vs reopening?
Generally customers are aware of closures and have incorporated the necessary flagging mechanisms in their processes, so it never gets too disruptive. Customers also provide status updates to us on their network closures to ensure product is returned to the correct facilities. A similar process is applied to reopenings.
As with everything in the partnership, communication is key here. Because we stay in touch with customers, we can ensure updates are communicated directly with our respective geo operations teams, thereby optimizing our customers’ supply chains and reducing costly resources managing the return cycle.
When it comes to supply chain management, what should business leaders look out for in the future?
There will definitely be long-term changes in the sector, so stay informed and nimble. I don’t think anyone can truly call themselves a business leader if they’re not changing or pivoting – or at the very least learning from this pandemic.
We’ve already talked about this, but it’s worth repeating that many businesses will continue to explore multiple supplier options in different locations to minimize future risk.
Smaller suppliers have been left vulnerable over the past few months. We’re already seeing some of them being scooped up by larger competitors, if they haven’t gone out of business entirely.
The CUSMA/USMCA agreement ratified this past July should improve trade between us and the States. Those in e-commerce, or the automotive and agriculture sectors, should pay special attention to the changes.
Finally, I think businesses will continue to embrace e-commerce, even though they may have never considered it previously. Will they go back to the way things were post-pandemic? It’s highly unlikely. Similarly, I see businesses shifting to reduce overhead, centralizing to main distributions centres, and expanding their online marketing.
In short, business leaders should do what comes naturally to them: taking on new challenges head-on and responding with smart, innovative supply chain management solutions.