Yahoo recently reported that L.L. Bean’s iconic duck boot has a wait list of 100,000 long. L.L. Bean is currently working overtime to meet the (daily) growing demand for its signature footwear and to make the close-knit buyer community happy this holiday season. By making a $1 million investment in an additional molding machine that creates the rubber bottoms of the boots, the company is hoping orders will be filled by the end of February.
It is clear that this holiday season, brand-named retailers and independent shop owners alike will be aiming for high sales and happy customers. But in order to uphold the ‘handmade in U.S.’ promise and generate the number of items necessary to meet purchase orders, retailers like L.L. Bean are undoubtedly under high levels of supply-chain stress. It is not just the manufacturers that are feeling this pressure. Last Christmas, the delivery debacle by both UPS and FedEx of not being able to meet the huge uptick in last minute orders and delivery promises by their vendor partners caused many consumers to not receive their gifts. UPS has invested $1 billion in their facility to process delivery sorting so they can be ready for huge last minute delivery demands.
The need to tighten up existing systems and improve upon areas of communication and quality management are more important than ever. In order to finish out the year strong, decision-makers must keep three principles in mind for increased efficiency and overall production success: correct errors in the supply chain and logistics quickly, encourage visibility into all production checkpoints and work even closer with partners to make sure the lines of communication remain open.
Quick Correction Yields Better Quality
Gone are the days of management relying on siloed systems using outdated data for efficient operations. When an issue is discovered during material receiving or elsewhere along the supply chain that will impact the process further down the line, everyone involved needs to be made aware – and quickly. Otherwise, entire organizational processes can be halted and information can get bottlenecked if not communicated upwards in a timely way. This not only saves money, but gives employees back the time and resources that they may have otherwise spent on correcting an avoidable issue. Also, proper risk assessment is crucial during a time when the margin for error may very well be at its lowest. Network access controls must be tightened to avoid any extraneous loss.
The key to absolute holiday harmony is the ability for decision makers to look into the supply chain system at any time and make changes to the process on the fly, depending on evolving needs and the context of the situation. This is when knowing demand and supply changes, having the ability to invoke changes to respond to fickle demands and issues, and sharing crucial information with key stakeholders in the value chain become indispensable. Supplies, operations, assembly changes and inspections are all areas of the supply chain that should be continuously monitored throughout the lifecycle of a manufacturing project. Through efficient process tracking and open communication, the product cycle time is tightened, thus reducing costs, improving standards and strengthening relationships between B2B and B2C customers.
Choosing the right partner is key to the overall success of the system, as a ‘weakest link’ can snowball into larger, more serious supply chain issues. Many manufacturers are finding the value in hand selecting their suppliers and working ever more closely with them throughout the production process. This selection ideally should start at the beginning of the product’s lifecycle. Suppliers can ensure they are providing exactly what the manufacturer needs and, in turn, manufacturers can help them design the components they intend to buy. It will be critical to build those working relationships into bonds that can withstand even the busiest of seasons. This working relationship begins long before the products hit the shelves for consumers. Demand is forecasted, promotions are planned, pricing is determined and suppliers and manufacturing partners are in the loop to fulfill the needs and the logistics partners are ready to deliver to the store shelves or to the customers’ doorsteps. All these moving parts works in total sync like a well-oiled machine.
The ingredients for long-lasting, repeat clientele relationships are only achievable when the entire supply chain system works in harmony to uphold an organization’s commitment to the overall goals of its various business partnerships – including manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
Mohan Ponnudurai is the Industry Solutions Director at Sparta Systems, a global leader in enterprise quality management software (EQMS) solutions. With over 20 years’ experience, Mohan helps both the company and its clients in the high tech manufacturing (including medical device), oil and gas (energy and services) and electronics sectors understand industry trends, needs and requirements.