School’s out…Here are some tips to get your supply chain ready for before fall

Retail, Supply Chain, Warehousing & Distribution Management
June 13, 2014

It’s that time of year. School’s either out for summer or about to be. Kids are finishing exams, cleaning out desks and lockers and being released in waves from schools. They can’t wait to enjoy a seemingly endless summer of visiting family and friends, beach vacations, splashing in the pool, day camp and road trips.

Children have the luxury of living in the moment with little thought of planning ahead. However, if you’re in supply chain operations for a retailer or consumer packaged goods company, you know those same kids will be heading back to school in just a few months.

Supply Chain for Schools

5 tips for a “school-smart” supply chain

Getting the right products on shelves in the right quantity at the right time is always a balancing act. What’s the best way to avoid out-of-stock scenarios and ensure seasonal supply chain success for the back-to-school rush? Start preparing now. Here are a few tips that can help make your back-to-school plan a success.

  1. Give your network a capacity checkup
    Today’s distribution networks combine a mix of flows with fixed and variable capacity. For example, rack storage is fixed capacity. A receiving dock is variable, because you can add shifts to increase throughput.  In transportation, private delivery fleets are fixed, while purchased transportation (third-party common carriers) is variable.Every network is different, so it’s important to understand how peak seasons impact every link in your supply chain. Armed with capacity data, projected volumes and daily flow patterns, focus on the areas that need more capacity and have a contingency plan in place to cover variability.
  2. Labor over your labor plan
    The secret to a successful season is investing effort in working out the details, options and planning of your labor plan.  Will you get your supplemental workforce from temp agencies? The military? Homemakers, firemen, extra shifts or a 3PL?No matter where you source additional workers, bring them in weeks ahead of the expected surge. Then, train them so that they’re ramped up and their productivity is as close as possible to your full-time associates. If you don’t have the resources to recruit your own supplemental labor pool, consider engaging a 3PL to handle the volume. Or divert specific products to 3PL facilities for distribution. Some retailers rely on 3PL processors year round. This provides a ready source of additional capacity they can ramp up for peak seasons or to handle complex, value-added services.
  3. Explore Inbound & Outbound Options
    Skillfully orchestrating the inbound and outbound flow of trailers and products in and out of your DCs is critical during peak periods. Adding yard jockeys and finding  offsite trailer storage options are common ways to handle the influx of trailers. Or, skip the DC altogether (DC Bypass). Instead, use a transload operation that feeds multiple pool points across the country for final store delivery.In this scenario, domestic and international TL and FCL shipments are transported to the nearest transload facility or carrier hub (pool point.) There, original shipments are sorted and delivered to designated hubs for store delivery.This approach can help you get products to stores faster. Depending on volumes, it can also enable economical daily store deliveries. If you do skip the DC, keep an eye out for non-compliant shipments getting to the store floor and messing up your inventory accuracy. Retailers with vendor compliance programs report that they find errors in 20 percent of the shipments they audit. Retailers that are concerned about store accuracy but also want to save time and man-hours getting products to the floor are electing to use rainbow prepacks for cross docking.
  4. Inventory Isn’t Just for Warehouses
    Conversations about inventory typically gravitate to DCs, stores and in-transit operations. To make your peak season a success, broaden your view. Say your capacity check (see tip #1) reveals the need for an extra 2,000 pallet locations. That’s a significant number for your DC network to absorb.Further investigation shows that 500 of those pallets are high-volume, generic products like paper and water/drink packs. If your TL/LTL carrier’s network uses 25 hubs, consider storing 20 pallets at each hub. Distributing pallets not only minimizes DC space requirements, it enables you to replenish the stores faster.Here’s another common challenge during peak season: store back rooms seem to become too small instantly. Many retailers bring in rental trailers to stores for supplemental storage capacity.
  5. Expect the Unexpected
    We’ve all heard the phrase: even the best-laid plans can go awry. Takeaway: always be ready for the unexpected. I’ve often said the true definition of logistics is delivering products to stores on the day they’re required, based on a variety of real-world variations – sales projections, budgets, merchandise planning, sourcing, distribution and transportation.The reality is, there will always be early shipments and late shipments. And you never know which will be which. There will be one or two “rock star” back-to-school products that fly off of store shelves and out of DCs. And Murphy’s Law will always be at work, impacting your labor, equipment, IT and transportation systems. Expect these inevitable issues and create an exceptions team to handle them. And your plan will earn an A well before the school bell rings.

Heading into the back-to-school season with a solid plan and making adjustments as you go is the best way to ensure a successful back-to-school season. Looking for alternatives or assistance meeting peak season supply chain requirements? Contact your local Ryder representative to learn how Ryder Supply Chain Solutions helps customers drive performance in every season.

Written by Damian Burke, Director of Business Development for Ryder Supply Chain Solutions. Damian is a 26-year veteran in the retail logistics/supply chain industry with experience in supply chain consulting, third party logistics and material handling integration.

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