Inbound Logistics | January 2024

A t the heart of every small business lies a great idea. Someone has a dream or spies an unfullled need and it becomes the genesis for a edgling enterprise. However, if that small business has any hope of sustaining itself and growing into a mid-sized business or larger, it’s essential for the company to invest in supply chain partnerships and technology and regularly reassess its needs.

determining how to best leverage the 3PL’s technology offerings. 3PLs also offer specic market expertise that is helpful for SMBs. Some 3PLs specialize in cold storage or pharmaceuticals, for instance, while others concentrate on other niches. “3PLs are starting to become a lot more targeted in the services they provide and the markets they serve,” says Novak. Before selecting a 3PL partner, Novack advises SMBs to interview the company just like they would any prospective employee. Key elements to investigate are the 3PL’s technology offerings and value-added services. As part of that process SMBs should ask 3PLs questions such as: Do they offer kitting services? Can they do labeling? How do they handle reverse logistics? Finding the right 3PL provider can bring many benets to SMBs. Most importantly, it enables the SMB to hand off supply chain and distribution functions so they can focus on their own core competencies. TECHNICAL DEBT Unfortunately, many SMBs—even successful companies that have been operating for decades—have cobbled together a number of software solutions to handle their supply chain operations. This approach may hold the companies back when it comes to efciency and productivity.

product-to-picker solutions that are smaller in scale but could potentially help an operation keep productivity and efciency humming cost effectively. THE SURPRISE ELEMENT Although undoubtedly good for business, the unexpected popularity of a product or products can cause major supply chain headaches for SMBs. When there’s no infrastructure in place to handle such a surge, Novak suggests SMBs lean into their vendors for a short- term solution. “If it’s possible to push any packaging or additional labeling upstream to vendors, companies should seize that opportunity so they have less work to do internally,” he says. The same applies to the opportunity to drop-ship directly from those same vendors. Relying on vendors in the short term buys an SMB some time to create or nd a solution that will serve them more effectively over the long term. This might entail engaging a third- party logistics (3PL) provider and

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are naturally focused on their product or service, but the ins and outs of supply chain and logistics planning may not be an area of specialty. Any SMB whose enterprise involves moving physical inventory must understand that failure to prepare and anticipate demand can kill even the best idea before it gets off the ground. For SMBs, navigating supply chain operations and learning to partner with the right logistics and technology vendors can be just as important—maybe even more so—as it is for large companies. OPEN FOR BUSINESS Newly established companies hope that orders come in; they are excited and ready for their initial customers. Typically, they are prepared for orders to ramp up and may even be ready for a sudden surge, at least at the front end. “The order-entry division or front end of a company’s supply chain can handle increasing demand, but the back end usually needs help,” says Brandon Novak, a senior director at consultancy Alpine Supply Chain Solutions. For businesses at this stage, Alpine encourages investment in goods-to- person (GTP) automation technologies. Novak calls these quick wins, or plug- and-play scenarios, involving software that can improve picking inefciencies fairly quickly in order to keep up with increasing demand. “These technologies don’t require nearly as much infrastructure and time investment as implementing a whole warehouse management system,” he says. If an SMB doesn’t have the capital to invest in a full GTP solution, there are smaller technologies such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs), automated robots and other types of

While SMBs may be prepared for surges in demand on the front end, their back-end distribution processes may not be optimized for growth. Partnering with a provider like Alpine Supply Chain Solutions can improve picking eciency, among other benefits.

152 Inbound Logistics • January 2024

Powered by