conditions. During the pandemic, when volume for canned goods increased, one consumer product goods manufacturer pulled national distribution back to its two factories because it couldn’t make products fast enough to allow for the lead time to get to the distribution centers and then to stores. The change required a switch to longer haul transport, from which they relied on long-standing carrier partners to execute. The company says it has no plans to change the model while stress on its inventory remains, but it continues to make adjustments to nd the right carrier mix for its runs. Network optimization is a key strategy in Undercover Snacks’ growth, too. “The fact that we’re selling a lot to distributors means that now we’re able to engage them in discussions about network planning and consolidation,” Levy says. Making the most of capacity is difcult even when the market is ush with it. “The biggest challenge for SMB shippers is the planning process,” Kupillas explains. “They have to consider the must-arrive-by date windows for the retailer, production time, preferred carriers, and carriers’ actual transit all at the order level—and these vary by location and retailer. It’s hard for SMB shippers to do this without technology.” Shippers have to know if they’re using the right carrier for the job and if they’re giving the carrier enough time to deliver on time by considering factors such as carrier lead time and lead time from delivering terminal to get an appointment to drop or unload a trailer at a retailer. “A lot of these aspects to deliver are complicated to manage,” Kupillas notes. In addition to these middle-mile challenges, many small and mid- sized shippers like Undercover Snacks have to contend with the nal mile to consumers. In contrast to the middle mile where big moves can have big impact, in the nal mile little moves are what matter, starting with fast, free delivery.
E-commerce service expectations are higher than ever. To differentiate from competitors and remain profitable, SMBs must implement e-commerce best practices including fast shipping, easy returns, a streamlined checkout process, and efficient supply chain and logistics management on the back end.
“A big mistake some small to mid- sized shippers make is trying to save a few bucks on a load,” Kupillas says. “Shopping among brokers and asset- based LTL carriers spreads your data out everywhere. “By using ve different systems and 10 different carriers, you can’t capture enough information to make actionable or valuable changes to the organization,” he adds. “With our customers, we capture data in real time at the shipment and order level,” says Kupillas. “We do weekly performance reviews and we look at carrier performance and performance to retailers’ scorecards. What is impacting the carrier or your retailers’ on-time percentage? Because if you don’t capture this information quickly and stay exible with how you execute it, this is a challenging market to ship in.” Good data informs network optimization—another important strategy for SMB shippers like Undercover Snacks. “We have tailored key reports and alerts in NetSuite to track our business and logistics closely,” explains Levy. “We have much more visibility so we can talk with our various carriers or distributors about what we’re shipping and how much
we’re selling within periods of time to different locations.” Undercover Snacks relies primarily on distributors who consolidate the snacks with goods from other manufacturers to get its products to stores throughout the United States. They also ship by truckload for a small number of retailers and, to a lesser extent, rely on LTL, including temperature-controlled transportation in warmer climates to prevent the chocolates from melting. As the company eyes Western expansion, Levy says they’re starting to look at warehouse space and speak with 3PLs to partner with. The strategy of opening forward stocking locations to facilitate national distribution is not a given in today’s retail
194 Inbound Logistics • January 2022
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