Not your average product recall: improving retail safety

The safety expectations placed on suppliers in China are vastly different from those in the west. The growth of Internet giant, Alibaba has seen a new wave of  ‘made in China’ products reach the US, but are they safe?

Buckyballs sweep the US

In 2009 a new toy stormed the US market. Buckyballs – tiny, highly magnetic spheres constructed of rare earth metals were a runaway success and registered $40 million dollars in sales over their first four years.

However, the same magnetic attraction that made the balls so much fun to play with, also made them incredibly dangerous if they wound up inside the human body. Despite only being marketed to adults, the small, candy like appearance of the product meant they had a habit of turning up in the digestive tracts of young children.

In his blog, Gastroenterologist Byran Vartabendian, gave the following horrifying rundown of what happens when the balls are accidentally swallowed.

“When two are ingested they have a way of finding one another. When they catch a loop of intestine, the pressure leads to loss of blood supply, tissue rot, perforation and potentially death.”

It was estimated that between 2009 and 2011, 1700 children passed through US emergency wards after having ingested the high-powered magnet.

In 2014 – the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a US federal agency established to stop hazardous products entering US homes – recalled the product, claiming a ‘substantial risk of injury and death to children and teenagers’.

While this ruling signalled the end for Buckyballs (a then multi-million dollar product), its five years of success and profitability had inspired a number of competitors to emerge. Many of these competitors were selling the same dangerous product direct to US consumers through the Chinese online retail platform Alibaba.

Not your average product recall

This disparate, multinational supply chain presented a significant challenge for the CPSC.

In the past the agency would have simply issued a recall, shut down warehouses and monitored local stores to ensure no substitute products appeared.

Today however, the supply market for the high-powered magnets (as well as thousands of other toys) stretches well beyond US toy stores. The proliferation of online shopping has meant that controlling the purchase point of these products has become infinitely more difficult to manage. The CPSC’s chairman Elliot F. Kaye highlighted this recently when he said:

“Long gone are the days when we could pull stuff off of shelves,”

“We anticipate the next frontier will be outside of US borders.”

Working together for Product Safety

In response to this new challenge, the CPSC has announced a partnership with Alibaba. The agreement, the first of its kind between the CPSC and a foreign owned website, will see the two organisations collaborate to limit the movement of hazardous toys into the US.

The CPSC has given Alibaba a list of 15 Chinese produced products (including Buckyballs) that have been recalled from US shelves and requested that retailers on the e-commerce platform cease selling these goods directly to customers in the United States.

At the time of writing Alibaba was yet to detail how it planned to carry out the promises it has made to the CPSC, but a spokesman from the online retailer did state the company’s intention to:

“work (sic) collaboratively with the chairman and his team to do everything possible to protect consumers.” 

2014 was huge for Alibaba in the US

This commitment to product safety from Alibaba comes at a time when the firm is making significant headway into the US market and arguably represents the company’s dedication to ongoing success in western markets.

In 2014 the online platform became one of the world’s most valuable companies and its owner instantly garnered the title of China’s richest man – after it raised $25 billion USD in its US IPO.

In September of 2014 the company had an estimated market cap of $215 billion USD, a valuation outshone in the tech space only by Apple, Google and Microsoft.

As well as its success on the US stock exchange, Alibaba opened 11 Main – its first website dedicated to US consumers in July of 2014.

Is its size a hindrance to growth?

The greatest challenge for Alibaba’s plans to smoothly and safely transition into western markets is the sheer size of its vast online marketplace.

Alibaba is not only the world’s largest e-commerce marketplace, but it is also the fastest growing. The company has hundreds of millions of users, hosts, and merchants.

This immense size, combined with the fact that Alibaba doesn’t actually own any of the products being sold on its website, makes it nearly impossible to ensure product safety measures are anything but reactive.

A Sea of Counterfeits

This sort of criticism is not new for Alibaba. As recently as last year the company’s inability to effectively control the standards of its sellers came under fire. This time for the way counterfeit or ‘fake’ products sold by its merchants had been managed.

Haydn Simpson – a product director at counterfeit-tracker NetNames, claims his clients (mostly well known international brands), estimate that 20 per cent to 80 per cent of the products listed on Taobao (an Alibaba owned site) with their nametag are in-fact fakes.

In response to these claims, Alibaba last year spent more than $160 million USD attempting to remove fakes from its website. However even the briefest look on the platform shows that this initiative was entirely fruitless and counterfeit products can still easily be found on the website.

So how then is the CPSC – a US federal agency with a 2014-operating budget of $117 million USD, supposed to ensure product safety in this vast marketplace?

One thing is for sure, if they plan on tackling the problem15 products at a time, they’ve got a long road ahead of them.

The WEF 2015 – where, why and what happened?

“Social media has created a historical shift from the historically powerful to the historically powerless. Now everyone has a voice.”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO and Member of the Board, Facebook at the WEF, Davos, 2015

The World Economic Forum

Unless you have been deliberately avoiding the news over the past week, you’ll be aware that The World Economic Forum has just taken place in Davos.

What is it?

According to the founder, Professor Klaus Schwab, the Forum is “a platform for collaborative thinking and searching for solutions, not for making decisions”.

What this means is that business leaders, thought leaders and politicians, as well as some celebrities, gather together to share ideas with the intention of bettering the world.

Does it work?

The jury is still out for many people. A lot of people look upon the event as a who’s who, rich-list party in the Swiss mountains, others that there isn’t enough tangible output from an event able to gather together a group of individuals with sizeable clout.

However, if these leaders leave Davos with fresh ideas on how to solve the major issues in the world, then, for the rest, the Forum will have fulfilled its purpose.

What were the major topics this year?

Key topics on the table this year included the falling price of oil, the Greek election, a growth agenda for Africa, how technology is changing our lives and what the future holds for Iraq. Check out www.weforum.org for the full programme.

Is there anything we take away?

From a Procurement point of view, we know that there were discussions around procurement efficiency on the agenda (as part of wider topics), as well as the business role in environmental sustainability. We should hear some details coming out over the next few weeks.

As we also reported on Procurious, the WEF raised the issue of cyber security. It certainly got people talking about what they needed to be doing and even came close to a consensus on an idea for a global body that sets cyber-security standards.

Otherwise, we would encourage you to check out some of the video content on the WEF website. For one thing, we’ll probably never have the chance to see Pharrell Williams on stage with Al Gore again!

Read on for more of the biggest stories commanding headlines right now:

DHL Express launches helicopter delivery service

  • DHL has launched a helicopter delivery service in the UK that promises next day delivery on packages from New York, Boston and Chicago. The new service, a first for the UK, will ferry up to 300kg of packages between London’s Heathrow Airport and major London business district Canary Wharf.
  • Fully operational from February, it follows similar operations launched in New York and Los Angeles.
  • “This new service from DHL Express offers even greater speed and reliability to our customers,” John Pearson, chief executive of DHL Express Europe said. “For the financial and professional services sector in particular, time really is money, so we are always looking for innovative, more efficient ways to move our customers’ shipments.”

Read more at Arabian Supply Chain

FSB tackles supply chain bullying at Whitehall

  • The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has hosted a cross-party group of MPs to identify possible solutions to the deterioration of payment practises in the UK.
  • Recent research by the FSB revealed that almost one in five small businesses had been subject to some form of poor payment tactics recently.
  • FSB national policy chairman Mike Cherry said: “It is simply unacceptable for any company to exploit its market position to enforce unfair and unreasonable payment terms. The money outstanding in late payments is in the billions and has consistently grown larger and larger. We need greater leadership from all parties competing to be in the next government to toughen up the prompt payment code and improve the UK’s payment culture.”

Read more at PRW.com

China smartphone supply chains estimate demand to pick up in March

  • China smartphone supply chain makers estimate they will begin shipments for new devices following the Lunar New Year period as local handset vendors remain concerned over clearing out inventories through the early part of first-quarter 2015.
  • Smartphone shipments were lower-than-expected in the China market during the second half of 2014, which many makers attribute to lagging 4G development and a lack of smartphone subsidies from local telecom providers in China. This led to a pile up in inventory, which vendors are now trying to tackle throughout the 2015 Lunar New Year period when sales are expected to get a boost.
  • Supply chain makers are optimistic, however, that shipments will pick up by March, and estimate that most handset replacement demand from consumers in China during 2015 will be for handsets sized 5-inch and above. Shipments will further pick up going into the second quarter, the makers noted.
  • Many supply chain makers believe that China handset vendors’ shipments will increase 17 per cent in 2015 as the vendors tackle low-priced solutions in emerging markets. Global smartphone shipments in 2015 meanwhile are estimated to grow 12 per cent to around 1.3 billion.

Read more at Digitimes

Top 10 supply chain CEOs of 2015

Supply Chain Digital has published a list of its top 10 supply chain CEOs for the year ahead.

[In ascending order] it named Nills S Andersen of Maersk, Dr Frank Appel of Deutsche Post DHL, and Frederick W. Smith of Fedex in its top 3.

To see the full list (along with selected career highlights from those included) head over to http://www.supplychaindigital.com/top10/3800/TOP-10-SUPPLY-CHAIN-CEOs-2015

How Tesco uses the cloud to work with its suppliers

  • Tesco is using online trading partner community solutions to embrace and extend its Oracle ERP and procure-to-pay systems and has significantly increased automation levels in their B2B e-commerce network during the last twelve months.
  • As a result Tesco has reduced the time to set up and approve new suppliers by 66 per cent.
  • With the help of GXS, Tesco has tackled the challenges that have, in the past, prevented some of its trading partners from adopting EDI. Tesco has significantly increased automation levels in their B2B e-commerce network during the last twelve months.

View the full findings of this case study at Supply Chain 24/7

 

How to use Big Data to inform your commodity strategies

Have you ever wondered what all the fuss about this thing call “Big Data” is all about?  Of course we all have access to spend data don’t we?  So why are people getting themselves in such a lather about the whole Big Data thing?

WARNING: ONCE YOU’VE PLUNGED INTO YOUR BIG DATA YOU MIGHT NEVER COME UP FOR AIR!

Well first of all I need to share my guilty secret with you.  Big Data is addictive.  We’re lucky to have the national procurement information hub, which we lovingly call Spikes after it’s creator Spikes Cavell, to play with up here in Scottish public procurement.  Rather than being prickly and difficult to love, Spikes is cuddly and warm.

Plunging in can tell me about my spend, what category I spent it on, whether there was a contract for that spend, whether the suppliers were local, whether they were small, whether they were from the region… and on and on.  Knowing that you can find out all this stuff can leave you craving for the next Big Data hit.  Be careful, the addiction is frightening!

Next up is the fascination with the data.  Once you plunge in you can drill down and the fascination builds.  OK so we spend 5 per cent on a particular category like building supplies; who was that with, what type of products did we buy (we have classification codes on Spikes to help us there), how many invoices did we pay, which department was buying that?  Then off you go to find the line item detail from your purchasing system.  “I need to find out more… and more…and more” It can be as captivating as watching Professor Brian Cox explaining the Wonders of the Universe this plunging into Big Data thing.

Having all that Big Data also really helps on a practical level.  We use it to inform our commodity strategies.  We recently did some research to identify what we’d spent with suppliers of security systems.  Knowing what we’d bought helped us drill down into line item detail and then forecast what we needed to buy.  This was really powerful when it came to developing a strategy to secure a great contract going forward.  Forecasting based on our Big Data something we really need to do more of.

Big Data can ask us some difficult questions.  If 34 per cent of our spend is on construction then why are we focussing all our contract management effort on something else?  Why do we pay over 10,000 invoices a year to our catering suppliers?  Is there a better P2P process we could put in place to save both sides costs?

In this age of infographics and instant reporting Big Data is just what we need to help us present information to our senior management teams, operational managers, Boards or, in our case in public procurement, our elected councillors or Government Ministers.  It’s not good enough these days to say we don’t know the key procurement metrics for our organisation.

So all in all Big Data has the power to suck you in, pull you under and never let you go.  There’s so much potential, there’s so much we can find out.  The key is to make sure you have a plan to get out of Big Data and TAKE ACTION on what you find out today.

So come on, share with me the times when you’ve taken the plunge into Big Data!  Did you find your way out?  What tales can you tell of good savings and great outcomes?

How to break out of the mould and become an entrepreneur

We’re kicking off our #procuriousactive profile series with David Lawrence from Sydney. We’re profiling (and celebrating) some of our most-active members – Procurious thanks David for all of his support to-date! 

Want to see your name in lights like David? New members should follow our primer to get more out of the site, while existing users can extend their enjoyment with these tips.

Having taken a much-needed career break in June 2014, David looks back to his time at Sensis where he was responsible for National Logistics, Distribution, Publishing & Print.

Procurious asks: What excited you most about your role?

David answers: A number of things to come to mind. Firstly, getting a great result for the business (not always the lowest price) is always satisfying after a long process. In addition, working with and developing suppliers to improve their business to benefit the entire supply chain and by providing leadership through working with the team to develop “our” skills and competencies are also rewarding.

I say “our” as I am continually amazed at what I learn from those around me. I don’t pretend to know it all and enjoy learning from others, even if they are a new starter straight out of university. In summary, it is the people side that excites me, as without relationships, the business world would stop. 

Procurious: When did you decide on procurement as a profession, and what attracted you to it?

David: Around 10 years ago, I was working as an operations manager with FedEx. Well known for their training and development of people, which is based on a People, Service, Profit philosophy, I felt that at the end of my tenure I was hamstrung to a certain degree, more number cruncher than entrepreneur. I felt that I was missing the interaction with suppliers and the ability to run my own process from start to end. I probably wanted to break out of the mould that FedEx developed and become more of an “entrepreneur” in my career.

While the Procurement profession still offered me the opportunity to build on my people skills it also allowed me to develop a more strategic approach to business. Within the procurement cycle I was afforded the opportunity to build business cases, to develop strategic plans and to make my own mark on business success. With cost of goods and general expenses being a significant percentage of business spend, what better way to contribute to business success than getting your hands dirty in influencing these areas.

Procurious: Can you recall a moment you’re been especially proud of professionally?

David: In 2013 after a two year process spanning the globe my team delivered significant savings to the business. While the business was extremely overjoyed at this result I was more circumspect. It wasn’t the savings that satisfied me, it was the way in which we worked with the incumbent supplier. A large number of people were made redundant and a plant was shut down, however the professionalism and strong relationship between my team and the supplier was evident in the way they worked with us; to reduce our costs at their own expense. We always treated the relationship on a strategic level and in the end  it led to both of us decoupling that relationship.     

Procurious: How did you first find out about Procurious, and what prompted you to become a member?

David: From memory I think it was the “a new website coming soon” campaign. I became a member as it was another avenue to learn from others. The news articles and questions are a great way to interact and gain knowledge. As I noted above, I don’t pretend to know it all so reading others opinions is enjoyable. 

Procurious: What are you doing to help spread the word?

David: I believe that I have encouraged two people to join up. Discussing the site is easy as it is not a personality contest nor a place for producing the best one liners or clichéd sayings. Getting people interested is easier when the discussions on Procurious are based on fact and real world experience.   

Procurious: Some would argue that procurement suffers from an image problem; do you feel that there needs to be more education around the profession?

David: I believe that it is more the dynamic of the business world rather than procurement itself. Image problems stem from the functional silos that exist. Operations versus Sales, Customer Service versus Logistics, Marketing versus Procurement, (Everyone versus Finance!), are traditional sore points in business relationships.

As Deming noted, silos and management are the biggest inhibitors to improving business performance. To fix the image problem requires fixing the dynamic within your business. Procurement leaders need to build internal relationships, demonstrate what value they add, operate cross functionally and support the business strategy. Image problems will exist if Procurement cant demonstrate how it is contributing to the business.

Procurious: Do you foresee any particular challenges in 2015 for the profession?

David: Making sure that Procurement remains relevant to the business with demonstrable results. With the global economy still stagnating, procurement professionals need to be agile and innovative in their approach to delivering on these results.

Procurious: And finally, if you had to sum procurement up in three phrases – what would they be?

Innovative and Agile

Internal and external Partnership building

Quantifiable and strategic results

Thanks David! We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. 

Quantitative Easing: What does it mean for the European economy?

Everything you ever wanted to know about Quantitative Easing but were too afraid to ask…

The European Central Bank (ECB) announced this week it will inject 1.1 trillion (1,100,000,000,000) Euros into the floundering Eurozone economy.

ECB President Mario Draghi suggested the move was made to “address heightened risks of too prolonged a period of low inflation”.

This process, known as Quantitative Easing (QE), is designed to stimulate the Eurozone economy and steer the continent away from another recession – a challenging task in the face of heightened deflation.

It’s a term we’ve heard a lot of in recent years, but what exactly is Quantitative Easing? Fortunately our friends at the BBC have put some time into describing this complex finance play in laymen’s terms.

Now you know what it is, what outcomes should we expect from QE?

James Sproule, chief economist at the Institute of Directors (IoD) provided us with the following comments:

“Ultimately, QE on its own risks setting the Eurozone on the road to Japanese-style stagnation and deflation. QE is not, should not and cannot be seen as a substitute for the kind of structural reforms to labour and product markets that the EU so desperately needs.”

He goes on to say: “The problem across much of the Eurozone is a lack of entrepreneurialism, as rigid and anti-competitive systems hold back enterprise and growth. Much greater liberalisation of product markets is necessary and we must appreciate and accept that the disruption this causes will lead to a degree of creative destruction.”

Sproule also believes that QE will have no discernable effect on unemployment levels across Europe – despite the general good health of the economy. High European unemployment remains a structural issue, and businesses are unwilling to hire because of a desire to avoid the significant liabilities of employment that still characterises Eurozone labour markets.

So how exactly does QE differ to the financial practices adopted outside of the Eurozone?

Sproule explains: “European businesses are far more dependent on bank debt than their American counterparts. In order for Eurozone QE to work, European banks have to use the new cash to lend, which in turn means they must be confident that their existing balance sheet is solvent and that the new loans they make are equally prudent.”

In closing, Sproule makes a recommendation for the European Union going forward:

“Member states need to work quickly to liberalise social and employment law, complete the single market in services and embrace digital innovation. The risk now is that QE blunts the desperate need for wider economic reforms.”

Tim Cook: From Supply Chain Management to CEO

Is Apple CEO, Tim Cook, procurement’s greatest ambassador?

One of the key goals of Procurious is to improve the image of our function.

It’s fair to say procurement has received a bad wrap over the years. We’ve been dubbed corporate policemen, paper pushers, roadblocks, as well as a raft of other unflattering names we dare not mention.

Thankfully, due to the innovation and hard graft of procurement professionals, the function is shedding this negative image and starting to become recognised as an integral part of any successful business.

Perhaps the greatest exemplar of procurement’s ascendancy to date is Apple CEO Tim Cook.

In 1998 Tim was the vice president of Corporate Materials for the Compaq computer company, a role that that saw him hold responsibility for the organisation’s procurement and inventory operations. Despite having no real intentions of leaving this role, the enigmatic Steve Jobs managed to convince Tim to take on a role at Apple (pre iMac, iPod, iPad, and iPhone).

Tim’s performance at Apple was stellar, particularly from a procurement point of view. In his authorised autobiography of Steve Jobs, Walter Issacson described Cook’s methodical approach to supplier rationalisation and inventory management.

“Cook reduced the number of Apple’s key suppliers from a hundred to twenty-four, forced them to cut better deals to keep the business, convinced many to locate next to Apple’s plants, and closed ten of the company’s nineteen warehouses. By reducing the places where inventory could pile up, he reduced inventory. Jobs had cut inventory from two months’ worth of product down to one by early 1998. By September of that year, Cook had gotten it to six days. By the following September, it was down to an amazing two days’ worth. In addition, he cut the production process for making an Apple computer from four months to two. All of this not only saved money, it also allowed each new computer to have the very latest components available.”

The procurement and supply chain decisions made by Cook highlight the critical importance of procurement to Apple’s success. The strength of the company (and arguably its competitive advantage) has been in building and managing a complex network of suppliers that the company has successfully leveraged to produce ground-breaking technology products. Put simply, without the supply network, there is no product.

Cook’s performance in Apple’s supply chain clearly caught the attention of Steve Jobs who gave the follow recommendation of Cook during his departure from the firm.

“I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.” Steve Jobs

The promotion of Cook to CEO shows that the board of Apple understands the critical importance of external suppliers as a source of innovation for the company. Apple clearly sees the procurement function as the conduit to successfully managing these relationships and ensuring the future success of the business.

Apple is the world’s most valuable brand, has undergone a remarkably successful business transformation and has produced products that have changed the way we interact with each other and the world around us. With so much of this success being attributed to great procurement practices, could there really be a stronger endorsement for our function?

“Tim Cook came out of procurement which is just the right background for what we needed.” Steve Jobs

Want to start your own ‘Group’ on Procurious?

So you’re a fully-registered Procurious member: you’re sharing stories with your peers, contributing to interesting discussion topics, brushing-up on your learning using our learning resources, yet you’re still craving more… Let us introduce you to our new Procurious Groups – the perfect haven to hang out with likeminded professionals around a core theme.

Groups on Procurious

Sergio Giordano – one of our original, early Procurious members has forged ahead and set up The Italian Procurement Professional Community. It currently boasts 44 members, making it the largest active Group on Procurious.

We asked Sergio if he’d like to share some words about the Group, and the approaches he’s adopted to entice new members:

“Italian professionals are beginning to understand that to achieve reputation you must first demonstrate your competence by helping colleagues and proving to be an expert in a specific field.

This is an essential feature which is the basis of my request to join the group. I also tried to make it clear to them that the opportunity to grow the Italian community in Procurious is huge. On one hand it helps to get in touch with a world of international procurement with the support of other Italian colleagues with whom to share their knowledge. And on the other hand, a means to enrich themselves with the expertise of colleagues from other countries. 

Finally, as you know, Italians like sport (and competition) so I spurred the decision to join the group by issuing a challenge: to be the most numerous and competent team in Procurious, by putting together the excellence of Italian procurement professionals. However I think that the first interest in joining  the group is the uniqueness of Procurious: we all felt a great need of a specialistic network like yours or, let me say… like ours.”

Create your own Group

To take a leaf out of Sergio’s book, navigate to the ‘Groups’ page by following the link (it’s nestled between the Discussions and Blog items).

To set up a group of your own, begin by clicking the ‘Create Group’ button.

Now you need a good name… The Group name should be succinct, and easily identifiable. You can go into extra detail in the ‘Description’ field – this should spell out your modus operandi.

You’ll also need to specify relevant industry and category choices using the drop-down menus (just like you did when you originally joined Procurious).

Finally, upload a small image that can be used as the Group’s profile picture. Now you’re ready to start inviting other Procurious members to your new Group – you can do this by typing names into the ‘Add members’ field.

Set privacy and permissions for your Group

Ideally you’ll want to retain full control of your little corner of Procurious – this is where the privacy and permissions controls come into play.

Set the Group privacy to ‘Posts visible only to group members’.

To manage the flow of new members to your Group we’d recommend selecting the ‘Any Procurious member can ask to join’ option in the first instance. This means that every time someone makes a request to come onboard you’ll receive a notification to approve/deny their membership.

We’ll be exploring Groups in more detail in future postings, but in the meantime we encourage you to have a play around and explore the new functionality on offer.

Have any feedback/comments? Leave below for Procurious to see!

Oil’s dropped, when will my flights get cheaper?

Oil is at $47 a barrel, shouldn’t we all be flying for less?

To answer this question I’d like to roll back the clock to 2012; a slimmer, less grey-haired version of me was working as a Procurement Specialist and had been tasked with renegotiating air travel, a category admittedly I knew little about…

After perusing an article in the Economist magazine on the way to work detailing the falling price of oil and its impact on the economy, I foolishly assumed my upcoming contract negotiation would be a breeze.

I’d done my research. I knew that jet fuel accounted for between 30-50 per cent of an airline’s operating expenditure. So it stood to reason that if the price of this commodity fell, so too would airfares. I started doing some rudimentary savings calculations in my head and readied myself for a round of congratulatory high-fives.

Not so fast…

As it turns out, the link between oil prices and airfares is a little stickier than I first thought. The following points provide some background into why:

Airlines are now reluctant towards unchecked growth

In the past, airlines have seen lower fuel costs as an opportunity to increase their fleet, boost the number of routes they service and to reduce ticket prices.

While these knee jerk responses to low fuel costs made airlines money in the short term, as oil prices started to climb again, many firms were burnt (often to the point of no return) by the investments they made.

As one industry expert put it: “there are a lot of decisions that make sense at $80 a barrel that simply don’t add up at $100 a barrel.”

Having learnt from their past mistakes, airlines are now far more disciplined in their approach to capacity growth.

Jet fuel pricing is managed on a long-term basis

Whether it is locking in long term pricing agreements, or creating business strategies that are based on high oil prices, airline operating models are no longer designed to offer fare reductions every time the price of oil drops.

John Heimlich, the Vice President and Chief Economist of trade group Airlines for America, suggested in a recent conference call that the primary objective for airlines is to secure long term financial health and to implement measures that will help weather the next recession. He noted that spot discounting of fares would not aid in this endeavour.

In response to calls that the falling oil price should signal a period of discounted air travel John clever stated. 

“We don’t really hear people clamouring for lower prices of cheeseburgers when the price of beef comes down or lower prices of iPhones when the price of semiconductors go down.”

Not all costs are variable

Many consumers (and mainstream media outlets) assume that if oil prices fall by 50 per cent, so too should the cost of flying. This logic flies in the face of the most basic procurement theories, fixed vs. variable costs.

It’s true that fuel is, to some degree, a variable cost (see previous point). However, the majority of an airline’s operating expenditure is tied to costs that do not fluctuate with the price of fuel (wages, planes, airport taxes, food, etc.). This means that only a small percentage of a ticket’s price is subject to change based on oil price fluctuations.

Demand remains high

Airlines simply don’t need to reduce prices when demand levels are as high as they are.

An IATA (International Air Transport Association) press release published on January 8th indicated a 6 per cent growth in total passenger kilometres (a demand indicator used in the airline industry) for the month of November; similar figures have been recorded throughout 2014.

If flights are full at current prices, where is motivation for airlines discount fares?

The comments of American Airlines President, Scott Kirby, not only sum up this sentiment, but also make sound economic sense.

“Air travel remains a great bargain. We’ll continue to keep it a great bargain for customers. But in a strong demand environment, we don’t have plans to go off and just proactively cut fares.”

The airlines need to cash in

The airline industry has always been a tough place to make a buck. Warren Buffet articulated the cutthroat nature of the airlines when he famously stated:

“How do you become a millionaire? Make a billion dollars and then buy an airline.”

Airline bosses know that tough times will again befall the industry, so many are seeing the current boon in profitability as opportunity to prepare for the tough times that lie ahead. The following quote from B. Ben Baldanza, CEO, President, and Director of Spirit Airlines highlights this point.

“Lower fuel prices create a little bit of tailwind in the margin right now, which is good for us and probably good for the industry. But as long as demand stays strong, as we see it right now, we believe that, that (sic) we’ll take good advantage of that in the pricing environment as well.”

Well there you have it. While airfares may indeed decrease over the coming months, be prepared to discover (like I did) that they may not move as much as you initially thought. So you just might have to find another way to earn that high five from your boss. Here’s a hint to get you started.

Supply and demand is alive and well in the British toy industry

With sales at a four-year high, is it all fun and games for the British toy industry? 

Toy Fair is the only dedicated toy, game and hobby trade exhibition in the UK. Through Jan 20-22 London’s Olympia opens its doors to the UK and European toy trade, as more than 260 companies debut their wares to retailers, buyers, and the media.

The British toy market has increased by 4.4 per cent in 2014, its best result since 2010 (+8 per cent), to reach £3 billion at retail, an increase of £130 million.

According to the global information provider, The NPD Group, 2014 was boosted by a comeback of collectable brands where unit sales rose by over 12 per cent to 416 million toys, as sales under £5 increased by 9 per cent. This comes after a flat performance was recorded for 2013.

“This is a tremendous result for the British toy industry during a year of challenging trading conditions. The industry continually evolves to remain relevant to the demands from children and their families and this innovation combined with many consumers’ desire to prioritise their children’s playtime has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the year,” commented Roland Earl, Director General of the BTHA.

For the first time ever, toy sales during Black Friday week increased by as much as 10 per cent as consumers snapped up big ticket items and electronic toys. This resulted in Black Friday sales exceeding those of the week prior to Christmas, traditionally the largest selling week in the toy market. Overall, the Christmas season was strong with an overall increase of 3 per cent year-on-year for December.

Dog eat dog

It’s not just the supplier trying to keep their costs down, and losses at a minimum.

Despite the health of the British toy market, there are pitched battles being fought in the retail space, as Brian Simpson – Buyer and General Manager of the family-run SMF ToyTown observes:

“Our industry is set on slaughtering each other, with most of the majors trying to be the cheapest on every line and leaving the rest of us to try and shift the stocks we bought at cost price or below.”

Simpson continues: “Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of good stuff happening in 2015… but we really need another craze that captures kids minds. I know that sales of other items reduced because of the Loom craze, but I don’t see things being balanced with the natural uplift of other items to cover off the demand from Looms, it will be an interesting Q1 for us to see what trends there are… I’m finding my attention is increasingly drawn towards trying to see which products I feel will be price-slashed at Christmas, and therefore my approach is far more defensive.”

Peering into the crystal ball – Jonty Chippendale from The Toy Shop in Cumbria comments: “[2015 needs] better margins, lower carriage paid enabling me to order frequently, and lower volumes to thereby range better.” 

Coiledspring Games - a UK success story with Robot Turtles

Coiledspring Games: a UK success story

Coiledspring Games are completely UK-based (Twickenham to be precise), but the moderate-sized distributors are growing rapidly. Coiledspring has now amassed a portfolio of a few hundred games, and to-date it has shifted over three million Rory’s Story Cubes. Last year Coiledspring Games had three of the Guardian’s top 5 new games for 2014…

Coiledspring told us that they’ve started to turn their attention to manufacturing their own games and products. Why? For profitability of course.

There are two ways of achieving this: either buy a game that’s already available in another terror and rebrand it, or in the case of Dodekka (otherwise known as Numberwang) take preexisting elements to carve a new theme.

Dodekka was a cross-collaborative effort. Coiledspring initially (and remotely) worked with an artist in the States, a UK-based designer helped with the rules, before Coiledspring started talking to manufacturers about box sizes, texture of the card, as well as card quality.

This has proved a good process to run through – so much so, that Coiledspring plan on bringing their first full-sized board game to market later in 2015.

WowWee demoed the MiPosaur at Toy Fair 2015

Is WowWee’s football playing dinosaur the saviour of toys?

From Coiledspring’s humble beginnings to a Hong Kong-based behemoth that designs, develops, markets and distributes its own brand of breakthrough consumer technology.

In 2014 WowWee’s MiP proved to be one of the world’s most popular consumer robots – shifted 750k units, capping-off a truly successful year.

For 2015 WowWee toyed with different forms, maybe a dog, maybe another different robotic form. They settled on MiPosaur – a highly intelligent, gesture controlled, robotic creature that can sense its own surroundings and environment.

WowWee’s product is all made overseas [in China], the stock is then imported, and stored domestically ready for distribution.

We spoke to a WowWee representative at the show: “We [WowWee] were the pioneers of robotics, it’s definitely a more-cluttered space these days. Spin Master is obviously a big competitor with tech stuff. But still think we deliver top quality product in the space, and it’s nice, it’s nice to have competition. It expands the category as well; it’s a very growing category in a lot of retailers. With regards to cutting corners: for someone to knock us off – the amount of technology in here [MiPosaur] is huge – I’d tip my hat to them.” 

“WowWee’s goals for 2015 will continue on its path of providing great innovation with proprietary technology and methodology that will deliver fantastic experiences at affordable prices within the field of robotics and youth electronics,” said WowWee Canada President Richard Yanofsky.

2015 will also see the launch of REV (Robotic Enhanced Vehicles).

Extreme Fliers will launch Micro Drone 3.0

The Drones are (still) coming

As regular readers will know this isn’t the first time the humble Drone has entered our airspace… Companies are increasingly looking towards Drone technology to provide logistics solutions – see Amazon, DHL, and more.

Of course kids need Drones too, so we were thrilled to see the Olympia’s skies awash with buzzing machines – some big, some small, and some even smaller.

But with Drones being in vogue, are there any worries that the market will soon be saturated?

We spoke to Extreme Fliers (the folks behind the Micro Drone) – a palm-sized Drone whose development dates back to 2010. They told us that when it comes to sourcing the highly specialized parts a lot of their competitors will elect to buy 1000 units (from China) to help drive costs down. Micro Drone differs because it’s taken a great deal of research and investment to get to this point – added to that; the company uses Makerbot 3D printers to build its toys. The investment spans a five-year period – and the end result is clearly not something that just happened overnight.

The third iteration of the popular flyer will incorporate HD camera-toting skills, a micro gimbal (for a smooth and stable flight), and support for the Google Cardboard VR Headset. All of that has been achieved at one of the most-affordable price points on the market – the Micro Drone 3 is expected to retail below £100 (competing models come in anywhere between £200-300+).

2014 a year to forget for McDonalds Japan

From the Great Fries Shortage to McNugget-Gate – 2014 was a tough procurement year for McDonalds Japan.

Food rationing, emergency airlifts, contaminated meat scandals and cultural insensitivities. It sounds more like a review of a military organisation’s supply chain operations than that of a global fast food giant. However, as hard as it is to believe, these events all occurred in the supply chain of McDonalds Japan in 2014.

Procurement’s Butterfly Effect

The inherent relationship between external market forces and procurement performance was once again exemplified over the December holiday period as McDonald’s Japanese supply chain descended into crisis.

The issue began on the US west coast where 20,000 dockworkers have been locked in protracted contract negotiations since July of last year. Operators at the affected Pacific Coast ports have accused the dockworkers of deliberately slowing work in order to impact the turnaround times of ships.

In keeping with butterfly effect, this lethargy at the ports sent waves across the Pacific, waves that crashed into the supply chain of McDonalds Japan.

Delays at the ports caused shipping times for US produced french fries, destined for Japan, to stretch from two weeks out to more than four. This slippage caused a major shortage of the popular side dish in Japan, a country that imports more $330M USD of American potato products a year.

The sheer volume of potatoes required to services Japan’s insatiable appetite for fast food, combined with McDonald’s complex internal procurement arrangements, meant it was difficult for the company to quickly find alternative suppliers to cover this shortcoming.

The magnitude and impact of this series of events only becomes apparent when you consider that McDonalds Japan sources 100 per cent of its fries from the US.

By mid-December the impact of the delayed shipments started to be felt at McDonalds outlets across Japan with the New York Times announcing that the country had “entered the great French fry shortage of 2014”.

Drastic Times Call for Drastic Measures

In a move normally reserved for times of war or natural disaster, McDonald’s was forced to implement a rationing strategy to manage the distribution of its dwindling supply of fries.

In order to avoid “running out of fries” during the December/January holiday period, customers at McDonald’s 3135 Japanese outlets were limited to only small serves of French fries.

A note on the company’s website stated:

“Because we are currently having difficulty stably procuring McDonald’s French fries, we are offering them in the small size only,”

To sure up supply, McDonald’s took the drastic step of airlifting 1,000 tones of frozen processed potatoes into Japan. The firm has also established a longer-term solution that sees shipments of fries being dispatched from US east coast while the west coast labour discussions continue.

Fortunately for the fans of the golden arches, these measures enabled McDonald’s outlets in Japan to once again offer all three sizes of fries from January 5 onwards, signalling the end of a three-week period of rationing.

2014 a year to forget for McDonalds Japan

The Christmas fries shortage has rounded out a terrible year for the firm’s Japanese procurement operations. In July the organization faced an even more serious supply chain issue when it was found that expired meat (procured from Chinese supplier Shanghai Husi Food) had found its way into the production of the company’s popular Chicken McNugget product.

Despite the best efforts of one Kanagawa Prefecture store manager, who told his staff to bow more deeply than usual to customers who bought chicken products, concerns over the safety of McDonald’s food led to a 17.4 per cent drop in same-store sales during the month of July. Similar drops in sales were recorded for the proceeding months.

The crisis could have been better managed

The way the in which ‘McNugget-Gate’ (as it was so dubbed) was handled by management at McDonald’s has also drawn stern criticism in Japan. The President of FamilyMart, a leading convenience store in Japan that also held contracts with the disgraced Chinese supplier, made an apology to customers immediately after the contaminated meat story broke.

An apology from McDonalds President and CEO, Sarah Casanova, was not received until a week after the story broke and even then, was only delivered in response to a question posed at a scheduled earnings announcement.

 

Casanova was further criticized and accused of being insensitive to Japanese corporate practices when she portrayed her firm as a victim of the crisis rather than taking responsibility for the errors that had occurred in her company’s supply chain.

Brand and bottom line both take a hit

As well as impacting the firm’s brand image in Japan, it appears 2014’s supply chain slip ups will have a marked and lasting impact on the company’s financial performance.

On December 8th (prior to the rationing program) the company released a statement claiming Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa sales were again down for the month of November, directly referencing “the ongoing impact of the supplier issue on performance in Japan and China”.

What can we learn from all this?

From a procurement point of view, there is a great deal to take away from McDonald’s recent shortcomings. The impact that external market forces can have on a procurement team’s ability to secure supply, the risk of overreliance on single geographies and the fact that a company’s image can be tainted (pun intended) by the actions of its suppliers jump immediately to mind.

Fortunately for Japanese french fry fans, the rationing is now over, Big Macs will once again be accompanied by a sufficient supply of American fried potatoes and fast food dining in Japan can return to normal.

I bet the McDonalds procurement team is hoping for the same.