Category Archives: Supply Chain

The next 35 years

Throughout 2018 CONTEXT has been marking its 35th birthday – we have used this anniversary year to look back and celebrate the growth of a company from small beginnings to being a serious force in the IT industry. On the occasion of the latest GTDC EMEA Summit last week –where vendor and distributor leaders meet and debate the most current issues in the industry – Jeremy and Howard Davies, CEO’s and co-founders, took the occasion at a CONTEXT vendor dinner to look forward to the next 35 years. Continue reading

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Thoughts from DISTREE EMEA

This year there were 500+ participants in the flagship event, and the buzz was back. The focus was on new technology, and everyone attending the conference can feel good about where we are. No, it is no longer the A brands – that has been the case for a number of years. But we have to get over this – HP, Intel, Acer, Microsoft and others no longer support conferences as they did before – they focus more on the big international events.

But in a world where new technology is exploding with fast growth rates and boundless innovation, more than ever there is the need to bring people together so that people can sit down and meet the latest innovative brands. And that is where the DISTREE model works well, because of the scheduling of meetings which means that vendors know that, if they pay to come, they will get a minimum number of meetings. And we had many of the big players here this year – Tech Data, Ingram Micro, Also, Exertis, Cool Blue and Amazon, as well as dozens of other smaller distributors.

DISTREE

But it is not just about meetings, and that is where the interest of the event comes in. As Ilona Weiss, CEO of ABC Data put it in her blog after the event, it is the time to “pick up the rhythm of global markets and predict accurately the direction in which things are changing so that I can buy enough time for ABC Data to adjust its course.” This comes from the informal discussions with other tech leaders, and also the rich thought leadership on offer, with keynotes and workshops which illuminate and stretch people’s imagination.

This year CONTEXT organised an invitation only event for C Suite executives from selected distributors and other invited guests. The content was rich, and the tone was set by Patrice Arzillier, Managing Director of Exertis Continental Europe, and board member of Exertis plc. He opened up to a series of questions about Board investment decisions, their approach to acquisitions and the challenges they face.

The meeting was done under Chatham house rules in order to create the right ambiance for senior executive sharing, but with Patrice there was no need, as he launched into a frank and open dialogue with the other participants in the room. These times of exchange are vital for the health of the industry, and to give each other the chance to “adjust your course if necessary”. This discussion was enriched by the input from Peter Van den Berg, the head of the GTDC in Europe and a presentation from Michael White of Quadmark, showing the new financial drivers of distribution, emphasising the need to have different measures for different types of revenue stream, and to take into account all investments, not just working capital.

The other theme we covered was strategic collaboration, and the level of congruence between the presentations was remarkable – old style confrontational negotiations are out, and the smart money is on those who find strategic ways of collaborating. One of the speakers, Marcos Garcia Esteban, until recently Purchasing Director of Worten (the Portuguese/Spanish tech retailer), spoke of high-level contacts between retailer and brand to find innovative ways of delivering product. Distributors are the “midfield” players, he said, and can bring everyone together in the new technology ecosystem.

Adam Williams, who has spent the last 6 months bringing a smart home product to market, laid out the complexity of the new emerging technology market and echoed Marcos, saying that distributors are the best placed to act as brokers between the various parties. Lastly Alan Clayton, a mentor at the Investment fund SOSV, one of the largest providers of seed capital to technology start-ups, spoke of the role he saw distributors playing in bringing products to market. “I need someone who, as a one-stop shop, can broker space in the top retailers in Europe.” His final call to action was memorable, for distributors to become “Co-creators of global brands.” A great and positive thought to keep distributors going forward in the right direction.

by AS

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Potential, Pitfalls of Strategic Collaboration

By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon

In this recent blog series we have repeatedly used the term “strategic collaboration”.   Collaboration is certainly not new. Business have been working in partnership and alliances for centuries. What is new in the retail marketplace are the rising demands of customers creating unprecedented demands on service levels and resources. Traditional supply chains are inadequate for both selling and delivering products to customers any time and everywhere.

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Beyond product transactions, customers are driving new expectations of choice, convenience and customization. These demands challenge the resources of even the world’s largest retailers. Increasingly, retail is becoming an ecosystem of collaborative partnerships. Future success will increasingly depend upon optimizing the joint strategic potential of collaborating with partners, and avoiding the landmines of misaligned objectives and communication that undermine relationships and results.

What moves a transactional relationship to strategic collaboration?
There are a number of business relationships that are by their nature purely transactional. Retailers do need to purchase distribution and logistics to go the last mile to the customer’s door. What makes these relationships become strategic collaboration is twofold: 1) focus on objectives that create strategic competitive advantage for both partners, and 2) a trust relationship of exchange that focuses on creating results that count for both partners.

Pitfalls of partnering without a strategy
Amazon is particularly adept at innovation. It’s in their DNA to design customer centric services that create lasting, differentiated profitable relationships with customers. They have more collaborative partnerships and retail pilots than anyone in the west.

Amazon has recently created a strategic collaboration with Kohl’s department stores for selling Amazon devices and taking Amazon returns. This is a competitive advantage for Kohl’s stores in the short-term. However, Amazon also competes with Kohl’s the retailer in almost every product category. So what might be strategic now could be cannibalism in the near future.

Amazon is very strategic in structuring its business relationships. But that does not make Amazon a partner that collaborates particularly well. Especially with retailers. Amazon high profile partnerships have turned out badly for a number of retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us and mass merchant Target. In these three cases the retailers were essentially outsourcing key elements of their customer strategy.   Lessons learned: if Amazon can ultimately compete with you as a retailer or distributor, they will, and be the stronger for it.   As a brand or retailer they must avoid the landmines by focusing AND managing the critical success factors of collaboration.

5 Critical Success Factors and Requirements for Strategic Collaboration
Volumes have literally been written on the components of partnership and collaboration. Our focus here is the emerging retail ecosystem and the new levels of cross collaboration required to fill gaps and scale services that meet the rising demands of today’s consumers. To thrive, the retail C-Suite must be engaged and focused on these five essentials:

  1. Strategic Alignment

There is nothing wrong with outsourcing, companies do it all of the time. But true collaboration is not “transactional”. To collaborate means to: work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something”. Strategic collaboration requires that both parties clearly articulate objectives that matter strategically, and clearly define the joint processes they will employ to create/achieve them.

  1. Specific Objectives

In order to avoid the pitfall of the partnership being one sided, both parties need to clearly identify specific objectives they expect to achieve, individually AND together. The more the collaboration involves innovative transformation, the more important jointly defined objectives become.

  1. Measurable Outcomes

Intentions are NOT enough. To successfully create a win-win scenario there must be more than a mere transactional parameters. There needs to focus on measureable results. In a true collaboration relationship, the measurable outcomes must be jointly owned by both partners. You can’t jointly manage what you can’t measure AND share.   A fundamental requirement of collaboration is joint scoreboard with all the objectives, KPIs and joint outcomes visible for the collaborating partners.

  1. Data is the New Currency for Strategic Collaboration

Strategic collaboration is built upon a foundation of shared information and insights. Case in point is the “last mile of delivery”. In order for distributors to ensure that they have products in stock and the capacity for drop shipment, they need accurate timely data from their retailers. Weekly sales data is no longer sufficient. The retail ecosystem built to serve customer expectations for any time and everywhere. It requires accurately and timely sales and inventory data daily. There can no longer be separate retailer and vendor forecasts – there must be a shared forecast built upon shared, timely data exchange.

  1. Trust built upon open communication and sharing at ALL levels

True collaboration cannot be based upon guesses, hearsay and yesterday’s communication. The foundation of trust begins at the very top and flows all the way down. Trust requires on-going communication of the processes, the insights learned that will benefit both partners, and how to sustain achieving results. Simply, trust is built upon two way communication. Collaboration requires a deeper level of sharing required to align, create, manage and measure joint results.
Every retailer has a choice. They can wait until they are “ready”, or take action now to collaborate strategically to create a niche that makes them relevant. Customers will decide every day who wins by voting with their physical and digital wallet.

Chris Petersen and Adam Simon are collaborating on a series of blogs that explore the rise of strategic collaboration and new customer centric ecosystems. This blog series will culminate with a worldwide panel discussion at the ContextWorld CES CEO Breakfast, where a global Brand, Distributor and Retailer will share their perspectives on strategic collaboration.

If you are interested in more information on this CES event, contact tgibbons@contextworld.com.

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Are these the “best or worst of times” for consumer brands?

By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon

Charles Dickens begins his historical novel with the classic opening: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity”.

Dickens’ words also accurately describe the paradox facing consumer brands today.   In many ways, brands have unprecedented opportunities to reach consumers.   Yet, the consumer transformation to omnichannel has disrupted historical retail models creating new challenges. Those brands that thrive will be those that collaborate in ways that adapt to the changing dynamics of the retail ecosystem.

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Why these are the BEST of times for consumer brands
Prior to the rise of ecommerce, the route to market for consumer brands was primarily through the retail store.   The supply chain was essentially a linear model from manufactures, to distributors to retailers.   Today’s omnichannel consumers have disrupted that model and now expect to shop, purchase and take delivery anytime and everywhere.   This has created some dynamic new opportunities for brands marketing and selling products to consumers.

Direct Sales to Consumers
As consumers increasingly shop and purchase online, manufactures have an increasing opportunity to sell direct to consumers through their own ecommerce.   Direct channels can increase margin, but more importantly, they enable direct relationships with customers.

New Marketing Opportunities
More than 70% of customers begin their purchase journey online. Brands have an opportunity to engage customers early and often through multiple touch points, in addition to customer experiences in store.

Reach – Products and Supply at More Places
Through the integration of physical and digital retail, brands can effectively spread their supply across more places and use “virtual inventory” to reach more customers.

Long tail – Opportunities for Premium Mix and Revenue
The number of products carried in physical stores were limited by physical space and open to buy capital.   The growth of ecommerce enables means making a full range of products available to many more customers locally and globally.

Why these are the WORST of times for consumer brands
The rise of the omnichannel customer has swung the pendulum to be more customer centric. While the situation today might not constitute the “worst” that can happen, current customer behaviors certainly post major challenges to brands, their previous strategies and program effectiveness.

Commoditization of Products
The power of ecommerce and omnichannel customers is reaching customers anytime and everywhere. The corresponding challenge is the explosion of everyone’s products everywhere. Even if brands go direct, they are still competing with over 400 million products available on just Amazon, not to mention what’s available on Alibaba and Google.

Slippery Slope of Price Erosion
The challenge of ecommerce is transparency and ease of product and price comparison. The ecommerce giants can change pricing dynamically, by market hourly.   Once online, prices become the lowest common denominator. Even major retail stores have now realized that they must match prices online.

The missing 5th P – Personalization
Ecommerce has for the most part been an electronic catalog of what’s available at a price.   Brands have little opportunity to differentiate product or their value add services selling through ecommerce. Brands need to find ways to personalize solutions and services before and after the sale.

Connecting the Brand and User Experience
The experience online has been primarily features, function and price. Brands need more innovative ways to connect at multiple points with the customer, especially early in the journey, and at the critical points of decision to purchase which now occur across channels.

The bottom line: “All of the above” requires strategic collaboration
Brands have more opportunities than ever to reach today’s consumers.   Herein also lies the challenges of having the right media and resources to leverage those points of contact to optimize the brand experience.  The reality today is that few brands have the capacity or resources to able to do it all. Indeed, future success for consumer brands lies in their effectiveness to:

  • Optimize brand value beyond commoditization of product and price
  • Create an engaging brand experience across multiple channels
  • Solve for optimizing supply at the right time and place
  • The ability to solve for the last mile to the customer’s door
  • Personalizing service that meets customer expectations

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Chris Petersen and Adam Simon are collaborating on a series of blogs that explore the rise of strategic collaboration and new customer centric ecosystems. This blog series will culminate with a worldwide panel discussion at the ContextWorld CES CEO Breakfast, where a global Brand, Distributor and Retailer will share their perspectives on strategic collaboration.

If you are interested in more information on this CES event, contact tgibbons@contextworld.com.

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What’s changing retail – Strategic distributor collaboration

By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon

Distributors have been part of the traditional supply chain for decades.   They were often called the “box movers” of the industry because they quite literally performed the essential service of moving mass quantities of products from suppliers to retailers’ warehouses.   While distributors still function in that role, what is rapidly changing retail is the customer demand of fulfilling a single unit to a local point they choose.   The rising expectations of consumers are creating stress points on logistics and profitability for both retailers and brands.   The capabilities for local distribution the last mile are not only a cornerstone of the new retail ecosystem, distributors are emerging as innovation partners creating strategic opportunities for both retailers and brands. Continue reading

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The Future of Retail – An ecosystem of strategic collaboration

By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon

Consumer demands are driving a retail renaissance, not an apocalypse
In reviewing world headlines regarding store closings and retailers filing for bankruptcy, it would be easy to conclude that a retail apocalypse is upon us. If you only look through the retail lens of “stores”, many bricks and mortar store formats are struggling. But through the eyes of today’s consumers, it is no longer a question of shopping stores versus online. Customers simply don’t see “channels”, or separate physical from digital shopping.

Customers expect a seamless experience across time and place, with multiple choices of how and where to acquire their purchase. It is these rising consumer expectations for “real time retail” that are outstripping the capacity of individual retailers, distributors and vendors to independently deliver. The future of retail is quite literally becoming a transformation of the traditional linear supply chain into an ecosystem of strategic collaboration.

Innovations are increasingly the product of strategic collaborations
The e-tail giants of Amazon and Alibaba are increasingly viewed as the great innovators and disruptors of retail. Both have driven innovation focused on customer centric choice, convenience and personalized service which has disrupted traditional stores. However, not all of these innovations are internally driven and executed. Both e-tailers collaborate extensively with vendors and resellers in a “marketplace” in order to expand breadth of assortments, without undo inventory exposure and risks. Amazon has even collaborated with the very traditional US Postal Service in order to gain weekend delivery and capacity, and last week announced a collaboration with Kohl’s for the reception of returned goods.

The wave of strategic collaboration is not limited to ecommerce. In its race against Amazon, Walmart is collaborating with a host of partners for assortment breadth, fresh produce and last mile delivery. Walmart’s newest pilot involves partnering with August Home smart devices to enable a Deliv delivery driver to have one time home access to put the groceries in the refrigerator. A unique aspect of this service is the customer can remotely control and watch the delivery real time on the Wi-Fi web cam. It is too early to tell if customers will opt in for this level of in home service. The crucial point is that this level of differentiated, personalized service would be inconceivable without strategically thinking “outside of the box [store]” on how to collaborate with the right combination of partners who can create and deliver it.

Today’s consumer dynamics drive demands that few can solve alone
Today’s omnichannel consumers are quite literally shopping anytime and everywhere. In addition, their purchase has become a journey across both time and place. Regardless of where the purchase takes place (in home, online or on phone), customers now expect a seamless experience with personalized service on how and where they take delivery. Even the very largest retailer, distributor or vendor does not have enough trucks for the “last mile”.

The new dynamics of executing retail dynamically in real time requires technology, systems, expertise and resources beyond the capacity of a single retailer, distributor or a vendor. There are a host of new “retail” issues driving demand for strategic collaboration:

  • Long tail breadth inventory – Who holds the inventory, where and at what cost?
  • Drop shipments – Are forecasts accurate to enable overnight fulfillment?
  • Inventory “everywhere” – Who owns it and who has the risk if it doesn’t sell?
  • Real time availability – What’s required to show store stock plus virtual options?
  • Customer experience – If more SKUs go online, who owns experience and pays for it?

A new partnership and blog series focused on Strategic Collaboration
Chris Petersen and Adam Simon have collaborated on a host of projects and retail events. As they jointly explored omnichannel and digital transformation of retail, clear patterns began to emerge. Omnichannel is the consumer normal, the execution is inherently expensive. Relatively few retailers or vendors can afford all of the infrastructure, systems and costs associated with inventory and fulfillment. They also discovered that many of the innovative retail breakthroughs are in fact a function of strategic collaboration, which in turn is creating a new ecosystem.

As strategic collaboration evolves as a new ecosystem for retail, there are many more questions than there are answers. Over the course of the next 12 weeks Petersen and Simon will share their findings and discussions with leading vendors, distributors and retailers regarding their views of strategic collaboration, including:

  • What are the best practices and pitfalls of strategic collaboration?
  • What are the parameters and guidelines for collaboration?
  • What do you look for in a strategic partner?
  • What are the criteria and requirements for success?
  • How do you measure results?

This blog series will culminate with a worldwide panel at the ContextWorld CES CEO Breakfast where a global Vendor, Distributor and Retailer will share their perspectives. Please contact us for more details on the event or to register!

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