Cutting supply chains to fit
That’s one lesson, agrees Mike Skinner, CIO of Eurpac. “But I’d add a close knowledge of your particular business as well,” he says. Eurpac does business with the military resale industry, the part of the military that stocks and operates the PX and commissary stores on every U.S. military base worldwide. Eurpac’s business is 80 percent domestic and 20 percent overseas, and the company deals with supply chain management issues and retail marketing when the products hit the shelves.
No matter how much technology you throw at a supply chain problem, though, Murphy’s Law can’t be disregarded. “For example, we’ve got product going overseas on ships,” Skinner says. “Those can get diverted for storms, or customs, or any number of reasons and disrupt your careful supply chain operation. That could mean you’re getting your July 4th holiday products on July 5th, for example.”
Knowing the particulars of your retail business and its products, he maintains, will allow you to more efficiently plan a supply chain operation to incorporate the best of just-in-time delivery and ensure your shelves are stocked when they should be. Just remember not to cut it too close, or you’ll risk running out of stock -- which isn’t worth the incremental reward of just-in-time turnaround, he says.
Powell agrees. Spencer Gifts also owns Spirit Halloween, a 400-store Halloween specialty operation. “We spin up these 400 locations every year from September to October and then close them down,” Powell says. That’s a tremendous undertaking, and Powell is carefully applying technology to make this process more efficient.
“This year, we’re doing a pilot project on 15 locations where we’ll deploy DSL or EvDO [Evolution Data Optimized] wireless broadband for all eight weeks of operation,” Powell says. He’s planned this down to the last detail, including participating in a beta test of a new model of the SonicWall TZ 170 SP, which includes a PC Card slot so he can deploy pre-configured EvDO cards prior to sending the box on-site. With EvDO, the Spirit stores get 3G broadband through the air from various carriers around the country, eliminating the hassle of provisioning DSL lines.
With broadband connectivity to the home office, Powell hopes to allow Spirit locations to eventually monitor the entire operation’s supply chain, possibly diverting excess inventory to places where it’s needed. At present, the company is in the early stages of selecting supply chain software.
“But with 400 stores going online for eight weeks, the process must be carefully mapped out; technology can’t be an added burden. You just have to take it slow,” Powell says.