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Supply Chain Matters 2015 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains- Part One


Once a year, just before the start of the New Year, the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters Blog provide our annual ten predictions concerning industry and global supply chains for the coming year. We have maintained this tradition since the founding of this blog in 2008 and it continues to be quite popular with our readers and clients.

These predictions are provided in the spirit of advising supply chain organizations in setting management agenda for the year ahead, as well as helping our readers and clients to prepare their supply chain management teams in establishing programs, initiatives and educational agendas for the upcoming year. Predictions are sourced from synthesizing developments and trends that are occurring in supply chain business, process and technology dimensions, researching various economic, industry and other forecasting data, along with input from clients, thought leaders and global supply chain observers. We take predictions seriously and align our research and blog commentaries to focus on each specific prediction area throughout the coming year.

Supply Chain Matters will revisit each of our annual predictions at the end of the year to ascertain how close or how far each fared.  The report card regarding our 2014 Predictions can be re-visited at the below web links:

2014 Predictions Report Card- Part One

2014 Predictions Report Card- Part Two

2014 Predictions Report Card- Part Three

2014 Predictions Report Card- Part Four

2014 Predictions Report Card- Part Five


We continue to believe that industry analysts should openly state their insight and opinion of what to expect in the coming year without the need for a paid subscription.  Readers therefore have the opportunity to compare and contrast various sources of predictions.

As in the past, all ten of these 2015 predictions will be included in a more detailed research report which will be made available for no-cost downloads in our Research Center in January. Readers will be able to register to download a copy or can email us directly.  More details regarding that process will come later.

In this Part One posting, we outline our first five predictions for 2015.

Drum roll please …..


2015 Prediction One: More optimistic global economic growth with the usual caveats and uncertainties

Forecasts point to an optimistic global economic outlook for 2015 with continued cautions and unknowns for industry supply chains.  The bright spots will continue to be the United States and Mexico.

The October 2014 forecast from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts 3.8 percent global growth vs. 3.3 percent in 2014. Advanced Economies are predicted to grow 2.3 percent vs. 1.8 percent in 2014. World trade growth is expected to expand 5 percent in dollar terms.

The most concern resides for the Eurozone, where tepid growth and deflation remains an identified and concerning risk.

China’s growth is predicted to be 7.1 percent vs projected 7.4 percent in 2014. China’s economic planners will be caught in a difficult balancing act to manage growth but deal with high levels of debt. We have read of more pessimistic forecasts foretelling of broader setbacks ahead for China’s economic growth, with concerns for a stumble.  Then again, China’s economic leaders were adroit in avoiding a stumble in 2014.

According to the IMF, developing economies are predicted to grow 5.0 percent vs. 4.4 percent in 2014.  A significant surprise will be India which is expected to grow 6.4 percent vs. 5.6 percent in 2014. Growth is expected to accelerate in Latin America with Brazil and Mexico leading the charge. Argentina remains an ongoing concern.

The IMF expects resurgence of U.S. economy to continue at 2.3 percent vs. projected 1.8 percent in 2014. However a poll of 50 economists conducted by The Wall Street Journal in September indicates closer to 3 percent U.S. GDP growth in 2015. For the United States, the ISM PMI Index in November was reported as 58.7, a significant 7.4 percentage points higher than the value recorded in January.

The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI Index, a composite index and recognized benchmark of composite global supply chain and production activity provided mixed signals by November of 2014. An overall value of 51.8 was recorded in November reflecting expansion of manufacturing production for the 25th consecutive month, but the rate of expansion eased to its lowest level since August 2013. Growth in new orders was recorded as a 16-month low with the trend in international trade volumes stagnated. North America continues to be reported as a key growth region while concerns were expressed for stagnation in China and further subdued growth for the Eurozone sector.

Another area of concern is fluctuations or shifts in global currency, particularly Asian currencies and the Chinese yuan. As we pen these predictions, the currency of Russia has been impacted by significant de-valuation.

The takeaway for industry supply chains and their sales and operations (S&OP) processes is to anticipate another year of needs to be able to predict supply chain demand and supply needs on an individual geographic region or country basis. Generalized planning no longer suffices and industry supply chain teams will need the means to be able to respond to short-term market opportunities or sudden changing trends.

2015 Prediction Two: General Moderation and Reduction of Commodity Costs with Industry Exceptions

Expect a continued overall moderation trend for the cost of commodities with certain industry specific exceptions.  Dramatically lower oil prices in 2015 will be the biggest headline driving commodity and pricing trends in 2015.

As of mid-December, the Standard & Poors GSCI Index of broad based commodities is projecting a 27 percent decrease in overall commodity prices over the next twelve months.

As we pen our 2015 predictions, the prices of crude oil have plunged to their lowest levels in five years after the International Energy Agency (IEA) cut its forecast for global oil demand on the fifth occasion in six months. The news has added volatility among global equity markets as investors become increasingly concerned about the implications. Global oil prices have consequently plunged from the peak of $110 per barrel to a range of $60-$70. Some forecasts now peg 2015 oil prices as low as $50 per barrel.

Global and industry supply chain strategies are driven by the forces related to oil prices and the cost of energy and thus this commodity trend looms large for broader implications in 2015. The open question is whether the trend is permanent or short-lived.

Purchasing and commodity teams can therefore anticipate inbound cost savings in the coming year with the usual exceptions related to unforeseen weather or risk events.


2015 Prediction Three: Momentum for U.S. and North America Based Manufacturing Sourcing Continues but Motivates Broader Needs

We predict that the momentum for U.S. and North America based manufacturing will continue in 2015 with discernable benefits for certain industries. The need to broaden investments in certain industry supply ecosystems and U.S. logistics and transportation infrastructure will continue to dominate business headlines and industry agenda.

Throughout 2014, U.S. and North America based supply chain related activity continued at a steady state.  As of October, 16 of the total 18 tracked industries within ISM’s PMI indices were reporting growth momentum.

The continued growth of U.S. and North America manufacturing comes from a number of factors not the least of which have been the ongoing double-digit increases of labor costs in China, increased positive momentum of the U.S. economy and more attractive energy costs throughout North America. Specific efforts by Wal-Mart, other retailers and manufacturers concerning significant long-term commitments for sourcing products in the region have helped immensely.

In August of 2014, the Boston Consulting Group noted in its report, Shifting Economics of Global Manufacturing, that in some cases, the shifts in relative costs of manufacturing among China and North America have placed Mexico as the cheaper low-cost manufacturing alternative.

However, the sourcing of U.S. and North America based manufacturing continues to uncover gaps in globally competitive component supply chain networks, many of which still reside in Asia or China. This is especially the case in high tech and consumer electronics, footwear, apparel and other industries. Continued momentum is thus increasingly dependent on further re-building of global cost competitive North America based supply ecosystems among multi-industry supply chains.

A caveat for 2015 stems from the plunging price of oil and energy outlined in Prediction Two which could influence some manufacturers to remain concentrated in an Asia or Eastern Europe based sourcing strategy.


2015 Prediction Four: Internet of Things (IoT) Continues to Attract Wide Multi-Industry Interest But Certain Challenges Need to be Purposely Addressed

Cross-industry interest levels and momentum surrounding B2B products and services leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) coupling sensor-based based technologies will continue to attract wide multi-industry interest. IoT provides a new era of interconnected and intelligent physical devices and/or machines that will revolutionize supply chain processes related to production, transportation, logistics and service management. We expect more technology vendors to jump into this area along with heightened M&A activity as these vendors position for industry needs and requirements.

IoT will further drive a convergence among product and service focused supply chain planning and execution processes as well as certain product lifecycle management information integration needs. PLM and SLM provider PTC is a current example of this dimension but other vendors will be attracted to this business model.

The realities in the lack of consistent or conflicting global-wide standards, overcoming data security concerns and scalability of networks will provide more visible challenges for broader industry deployments.  We have recently indicated a feeling of de-ja -vu for the replay of early RFID efforts, as vendors tended to ignore certain realities of the technology. Vendors will need to step-up efforts to address current challenges and individual industry needs.


2015 Prediction Five: Noted Industry Specific Supply Chain Challenges

Noted industry specific supply chain challenges will remain in B2C-Retail, Aerospace and Consumer Product Goods (CPG) sectors.  Automotive manufacturers will have to address continued shifting trends in global market demand and a renewed imperative for corporate-wide product and vehicle platform quality conformance measures.

B2C and Retail

Global retailers continue to be challenged in emerging and traditional markets and in permanent shifts in consumer shopping behaviors. In 2014, retailers encountered the realities of lower margins for online fulfillment, the needs to invest in enhanced inventory management, distrusted fulfillment and order management capabilities, and the perfect-storm presence of developments that resulted in dysfunctional west coast ports.

Retail sales in China, Asia and Australia are expected to surpass that in North America, but China’s efforts in greater scrutiny of foreign-based retailers and service firms will likely continue to impact growth expectations in the coming year. According to industry and business media, retailers are expected to instead target the other so-termed MINI countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey) for growth prospects in 2015.

The accelerating trends and implications of Omni-channel and online fulfillment will impact traditional retailers with more casualties recorded in 2015. Amazon, Google and Alibaba will continue to be industry disruptors, movers and shakers in 2015 and may join that list. We would not be surprised if Alibaba concentrates acquisition efforts toward more U.S. and North America online properties to prepare for a presence.

Consumer Product Goods

CPG companies continued to view emerging markets such as China and India as important regions for future growth but experienced the effects a far more complex and risk-laden supply and regulatory networks. The heightened influence and actions of short-term focused activist equity investors, applying dimensions of financial engineering to one or more CPG companies will continue to have special impacts on consumer goods industry supply chains with added, more troublesome cost reduction and consolidation efforts dominating organizational energy and performance objectives. The new winners in CPG will continue to be smaller, more nimble producers who lead in product, supply chain business process and technology innovation.


Industry dominants Airbus and Boeing and their respective supply ecosystems will continue to be challenged with the needs for dramatically stepping-up to make a dent in multi-year order backlogs and in increasing the delivery pace for completed aircraft.  Dramatically lower costs of jet fuel in 2015 will likely present the unique challenges of airline customers easing off on delivery scheduling, but at the same time insuring their competitors do not garner strategic cost advantages in deployment of newer, more fuel efficient and technology laden aircraft. Middle East and Asian based airlines and leasing operators will continue to influence market dynamics and aircraft design needs.

Renewed hostilities involving Ukraine or severe economic or currency crisis within Russia could impact strategic supply of titanium and other metals.  The economic malaise that is expected to continue across the Eurozone region along with expected contraction in China will present 2015 challenges for Airbus and Boeing’s supply ecosystems. Boeing will especially be focused on continuing to influence more cost reduction and productivity efforts among its global suppliers while continuing to address identified issues from regulatory investigations in practicing added supplier oversight for design and production process quality.


In the U.S., an unprecedented and overwhelming level of product recall activity spurred by heightened regulatory compliance pressures will drive product quality and compliance as the overarching corporate-wide imperative. Cascading incidents in 2014 pointed to issues of quality lapses among global suppliers and early-warning of potential component defects. Existing product recall campaigns will most likely extend through the first-half of 2015, placing added strains on aftermarket service dealerships.  Japan based air bag inflator supplier Takada will continue to deal with its creditability crisis and could lose significant new business if it does not step-up and get-ahead of the airbag quality crisis. OEM General Motors will especially be under the looking glass in 2015.


This concludes Part One of Supply Chain Matters 2015 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains.  Part Two in this series will unveil our next five predictions.

We encourage readers to share in the Comments section their own predictions on what to expect in 2015.

In the meantime, we extend best wishes for the holiday season and the New year.

Bob Ferrari

©2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog.  All rights reserved

Report Card on Supply Chain Matters 2014 Global and Industry Supply Chain Predictions- Part Three


We continue with our series of postings reflecting on our 2014 Predictions for Global and Industry Supply Chains that we published in December of last year.

Our research arm, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group has published annual predictions since our founding in 2008.  We not only publish our annualized ten predictions, but scorecard the projections as this point every year.  After we conclude the scorecard process, we will then unveil our 2015 annual projections for industry supply chains.

As has been our custom, our scoring process will be based on a four point scale.  Four will be the highest score, an indicator that we totally nailed the prediction.  One is the lowest score, an indicator of, what on earth were we thinking? Ratings in the 2-3 range reflect that we probably had the right intent but events turned out different.

In our previous Part One posting, we score carded 2014 Predictions One and Two related to economic forces to expect in 2014. In our Part Two posting, we revisited Prediction Three, related to continued U.S. and North America based manufacturing momentum, and Prediction Four, ongoing challenges in supply chain talent management.

We now revisit Prediction Five.

2014 Prediction Five: Noted Industry Specific Supply Chain Turmoil and Challenges.

For the past few years, our annual predictions have specifically addressed particular industries that we felt would undergo extraordinary challenges during the calender year.  For 2014, we identified B2C Retail, Consumer Product Goods (CPG) and Aerospace industry supply chains as undergoing special challenges.

Retail and B2C Supply Chains

Self-Rating: 3.8

We predicted challenges for both the consumer demand and supply fronts.  On the demand side, many lessons were learned during the final stages of the 2013 holiday surge, not the least of which was consumers waiting until the very last minute to initiate their holiday purchases.  At the conclusion of 2013, many studies concluded that retail consumers were permanently altering their shopping habits in favor of online options with less visits to physical stores.

Throughout 2014, parcel firms FedEx and UPS concentrated on efforts to avoid being “thrown under the bus” which occurred during the final days of the 2013 holiday period.  FedEx, and especially UPS, re-examined their delivery network infrastructure practices for maximum peak surge periods.  UPS itself invested $500 million in augmented network infrastructure. For the first time in the parcel shipping’s firm’s 107 year history, UPS operated full U.S. based air and ground operations on the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, the traditional Black Friday shopping period, in order to stay ahead of expected surge in delivery activity. UPS is also implementing plans to augment its package-car capabilities by an additional 10 percent over last year’s levels as well as dramatically flexing its capacity and intermodal capabilities at its Worldport central hub. Brown will also deploy what it terms as pop-up “mobile distribution center villages” that will function across various U.S, network points beginning with the expected holiday delivery surge.

Retailers themselves entered the 2014 holiday period with higher expectations regarding consumer spending. Both FedEx and UPS re-doubled efforts to influence major B2C volume retailers to stagger promotional programs during the 2014 holiday surge and increase two-way visibility into that status of last-mile delivery networks. The U.S. Postal service stepped-up its efforts in offering retailers a new alternative for Sunday delivery along with more price competitive shipping rates. As we pen our prediction rating, preliminary reporting data surrounding the four day Thanksgiving and Black Friday holiday shopping period for 2014 indicates that consumers have indeed shifted even more buying preferences towards online channels with some online sites suffering periodic outages.

On the supply side, the “perfect storm” scenario unfolded among U.S. west coast ports starting in August. A combination of factors: stalled labor contract renewal talks among the Pacific Maritime Association and the longshoremen labor union, a shortage of inter-modal truck chassis, the appearance of much larger container vessels, along with efforts by independent truckers in seeking added wages and benefits all converged to bring port unloading and loading operations to a near standstill. The backlog poses a major threat for retailers and exporters in fulfilling revenue and profitability targets for the December ending quarter.

By our lens there is no doubt that B2C retail industry supply chains have indeed encountered extraordinary challenges in 2014.


Consumer Product Goods Supply Chains

Self-Rating: 4.0

In 2013, permanent changes in shopping habits among the majority of consumers were already evident and our prediction called for CPG industry supply chains to be especially challenged with the effects of these actions in 2014.  Our prediction further noted the heightened influence and actions of short-term focused activist investors, applying dimensions of financial engineering to one or more CPG companies as continuing to have special impacts.  CPG companies continued to view emerging markets such as China and India as important regions for future growth but experienced the effects a far more complex and risk-laden supply networks.

Most all of these forces were in-effect during the year.

In February, we highlighted supply chain implications presented at Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) Annual Conference by CPG firms Campbell Soup, General Mills, Hershey Company, Mondelez International and PepsiCo. Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison described market conditions as “tumultuous” “persistently challenging” adding that “a new normal is coming to food.” … “The winners will be the companies that adapt successfully to a changing world.”  Kraft CEO Tony Vernon described the industry challenge: “Our customers (are) coming to terms with changing shopping patterns and channel shifting; the rise of digital media, breaking established marketing principles and best practices. In some ways, we have to unlearn what we believed to work in the past and re-learn what will make a difference today. In the short-term, adjusting to such momentous shifts favors the smaller, more nimble players that are working from a small base.”

By mid-year, multiple CEO’s from well-noted CPG branded companies were each describing the blunt realities of a rapidly changing industry scenario where revenue growth was at a premium and profitability pressures dominated. In August, Procter & Gamble announced a re-structuring of its businesses to once again shed under-performing brands.  Similarly, Coca-Cola, Mondelez, General Mills embarked on a business re-structuring efforts to boost sales and shed costs with a multi-year cost savings initiatives. Some CPG firms such as Kellogg, elected to acquired other smaller firms in growth segments.

Entering the closing month of calendar year 2014, many CPG supply chain organizations find themselves navigating the need to once again reduce long-term cost structures to free-up funds for strategic business initiatives while being called upon to be more nimble to rapidly changing consumer preferences and tastes. For some, these goals continue to add extraordinary challenge.


Aerospace Supply Chains

Self-Rating: 3.8

The unique challenges within aerospace supply chains have stemmed from a rather enviable position, namely unprecedented demand for newer technology-laden aircraft and aircraft components while volume capacity limitations have stretched into multi-year customer delivery windows to airlines and aircraft lessors. The literal duopoly of Airbus and Boeing did indeed dominate industry news in 2014 as both global OEM’s continued to balance unprecedented increases in new orders for aircraft while challenged to dramatically increase the production volumes for finished aircraft. After publishing our prediction concerning continued unique challenges for aerospace in December, we were pleased to note a published Bloomberg report in late January, With Epic Backlogs at Airbus and Boeing, Can Business Be Too Good?. Bloomberg pretty much mirrored our prediction.

By mid-year, Airbus and Boeing reported first-half delivery performance that would slightly exceed 2013 levels, but not at the pace required to step-up production momentum for the coming years.  Once more, the latter part of 2014 featured considerable reductions in the cost of aviation fuel, and the open question is whether this will help or hinder the pressures for increased capacity and production of aerospace component supply chains.  Airbus completed international certification test trials for its new carbon fibre A350 XWB aircraft program as well as the maiden flight of the new A320 Neo in September and both programs are reported to be on-track for initial delivery of first operational aircraft to launch customers.  The A350 launch will represent a competitive offering to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for wide aisle, long-distance travel, while the Neo version of the A320 will continue to compete with Boeing’s next generation 737.

Throughout 2014, Boeing announced a series of strategic, multi-year supply agreements to ensure supply of critical materials and components. The most notable involved strategic supply of material required for producing titanium, in a long-term supply agreement announced at the height of hostilities among Russia and Ukraine. The most recent announcement involved a 10 year agreement to supply carbon fibre composite material from a key supplier in Japan.

Other smaller industry OEM’s such as Bombardier, COMAC and Mitsubishi Industries continue to compete for smaller niche aircraft segment needs, and each of these players faced setbacks during 2014 as they dealt with the realities of more complex, globally dispersed suppliers sharing in product innovation. Bombardier encountered a significant program setback concerning its C-Series program as pre-maiden flight tests encountered an engine malfunction. Reports indicate that China based COMAC is also dealing with some unspecified setbacks.

Thus, the commercial aerospace industry did indeed manifest its own unique set of industry supply chain challenges this year, challenges that other industry teams would perhaps envy.  Order backlogs extending beyond 10 years, technology innovation as a driving force, and supply chain scale-ups remain critical challenges in the months to come and commercial aerospace may indeed appear as an extraordinary challenge for 2015.


This concludes Part Three of our report card on our Supply Chain Matters 2014 Global Supply Chain PredictionsStay tuned as we assess the remainder of our 2014 predictions in follow-on postings.

Bob Ferrari

©2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog.  All rights reserved.


How the Ebola Outbreak Can Impact Industry and Global Supply Chains


The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the ongoing outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders continue to work on the front lines to control the outbreak.  The consequences of further Ebola humanitarian reliefinternational spread of the virus coupled with fears of wider-scale contagion have created a call for coordinated global public health actions to stop and reverse the outbreak.

Other concerns should be the short or longer impacts to industry and global supply chains if the current outbreak cannot be adequately controlled. Within close proximity to the current effected region within West Africa is the country of Cote d’Ivoire, which is a major supply source for cocoa.  Countries within the West Africa coastal and interior regions also produce supplies of palm oil, iron ore and other commodity materials.

Beyond local sourcing are the broader implications to global transportation and logistics networks if the current outbreak spreads to other countries and spawns additional travel and cross-border restrictions. In short, industry supply chain and sales and operations planning teams definitely need to monitor the current Ebola outbreak and have some form of scenario and backup plans identified.

This posting serves to alert our Supply Chain Matters readers who subscribe to Accenture Academy training and webinars that this author will overview the current Ebola crisis from an industry and infrastructure supply chain perspective and provide expert perspective on the areas to watch along with considerations for building risk contingency scenarios. Accenture Academy is launching a new series termed Trend Talks, which are more compact and two-way interactive webinars that address and provide  collective discussion on important, rapidly developing trends among industry supply chains.

I am pleased and looking forward to delivering this inaugural Trend Talk webinar addressing this timely and rather concerning global topic.  The session is scheduled for Wednesday, December 10th at 10am Eastern time with participation available only to Accenture Academy members. Readers can utilize this Accenture Academy web link for login and registration.

Bob Ferrari


Preliminary Data on Thanksgiving and Black Friday Shopping Trends- Mixed Results and Caution


Various surveys and actual data focused on this weekend’s all important shopping behaviors indicate a mixed bag of results.  The challenge for most of the collected data at this point is that there are different assumptions and context related to reported results and thus readers need to view the data as initial trending indicators.  However, for retail and B2C focused supply chains, the implication is that last year’s scenarios of last-minute promotional and shopping activity may well repeat during the few weeks remaining in the 2014 holiday shopping period.

The Thanksgiving Weekend Spending Survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) indicates that spending over this weekend’s 4 day period fell 11 percent from the same period last year. The report estimates that shoppers spent an average of $380.95, down 6.4 percent from the $407.02 recorded in the 2013 survey. Overall shopper traffic was estimated to have dropped by 5.2 percent. According to the NRF survey, Black Friday still drew an estimated 86.9 million of both online and brick-and-mortar shoppers.

During this weekend Supply Chain Matters also reviewed results of IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark report that 2014 online salesanalyzes actual online buying activity as it occurred. That report indicates that online sales during the Thanksgiving holiday was up 14.3 percent, while Black Friday sales were up 9.5 percent over 2013 levels. The IBM analytics data indicates that online shoppers spent on average $121.91 per order on Black Friday and that consumers continue to trend towards online buying preferences. We include some infographics generated by IBM’s online analysis.


According to the IBM survey, for the first time, traffic from mobile devices is outpacing traffic generated from Black Friday online salesdesktop devices. We believe that is a strong indicator that the mobile based consumer is the new shopping paradigm.






Regarding specific item categories, the NRF survey points to:

Apparel- up 54.5 percent

Toys- up 32.6 percent

Electronics- up 34.2 percent

Home Décor – up 20 percent

The IBM online analytics data provides some correlation to the above categories and indicates that the Health and Beauty category was the top destination for online shoppers, increasing 56.9 percent from 2013 levels.

For retail and B2C focused merchandising, sales and operations (S&OP) and supply chain fulfillment execution teams, the implication of data at this point implies that last year’s scenarios of last-minute promotional and shopping activity may well have to repeat during the few weeks remaining in the 2014 holiday shopping period.  That trend is obviously further compounded by goods that may be hung-up in U.S. west coast ports and inter-modal networks making their way to available inventory.  A continuance of severe winter weather storms are another open question. For carriers such as FedEx, UPS and various 3PL’s, prior plans to augment last-minute and last-mile delivery networks may well come to the forefront in the remaining weeks of 2014.

Bob Ferrari

Breaking News: Wal-Mart’s Chief Merchandising Officer for U.S. Retail Departs


Retailers will shun senior leadership or organizational changes within the critically important holiday sales period to avoid distraction or disruption to all-important operational execution.  That apparently may not be the case for global retailer Wal-Mart’s U.S. operations.

The Wall Street Journal reports (paid subscription) that the global retailer’s chief merchandising officer for U.S. operations, Duncan Mac Naughton will be leaving amidst an apparent shake-up involving U.S. retail merchandising.  According to the report, Greg Foran, chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S., informed employees in a memo that Mac Naughton decided to leave the company “to pursue new opportunities,” effective immediately. The publication cites unnamed internal sources as indicating that Mac Naughton’s departure was prompted by being passed over for the U.S. CEO role this past summer.

The company also announced it will replace its U.S. head of grocery operations, Jack Sinclair. Steve Bratspies, who leads the general merchandise division, will take over as executive vice president of food merchandising. Mr. Sinclair will be taking another role within Wal-Mart to be announced at a later date.

According to the WSJ, Wal-Mart won’t name a new U.S. chief merchant at this time and executives in charge of food, general merchandise, apparel and several other business lines will report to U.S. CEO Duncan directly as he examines merchandising more closely.

This news obviously comes just prior to the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday and kickoff of the Black Friday retail sales holiday and could be a sign of other operational changes within U.S. retail operations in the weeks to come. In its reporting, the WSJ makes reference to Wal-Mart’s recent announcement to spread out Black Friday holiday promotions and in-store availability of fresh grocery and other items as potential issues that might have led-up to these leadership changes. A Wal-Mart spokesperson indicated to the WSJ that any potential organization disruption was minimal since the bulk of holiday related merchandising plans were already in-place and that is was now up to operations to execute the holiday focused merchandising plan in the coming weeks.

From our Supply Chain Matters lens, recent holiday surge periods have featured very dynamic changes in merchandising plans as retailers maneuvered to capture consumer wallet interest with the most attractive and well-timed promotions. With the current looming uncertainty for what inbound inventories will remain hung-up in west coast ports or U.S. transportation networks, dynamic merchandising may well be a more prominent tactical response in the coming weeks.

This development is significant, one that will have further implications.

Bob Ferrari



Severe Congestion and Paralysis Among U.S. West Coast Ports- Supply Chain Matters Update Four


In last week’s Update Three commentary regarding the current crisis involving the near paralysis among the U.S. West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Supply Chain Matters highlighted that conditions on the ground were not showing any signs of improvement.  As this week draws to a close, the situation appears to be deteriorating even more, and now involves clear impacts and continued disruption for both U.S. exports as well as imports.

Last week, the National Retail Federation (NRF) published an editorial with the statement: “The sudden change in tone is alarming and suggests that a shutdown of the ports — either from a walkout by labor or a lockout by management — is imminent.” The NRF has since been joined by other industry associations  including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and 60 other organizations representing agricultural growers.

Agricultural exports such as apples, forest products, potatoes and other crops are now jeopardized.  Growers indicate that Far East buyers are now cancelling orders and moving to alternative sources of supply. According to a report from industry trade group, Agriculture Transportation Coalition, the consequences of the current port congestion are being felt throughout the United States. The railroads are unable to bring agriculture products from the Midwest and the South to West Coast ports because of the port congestion crisis. In addition, ocean carriers continue to attempt to pass on their increased costs by imposing draconian congestion surcharge fees on U.S. exporters and importers.

A published report in American Shipper (registered sign-up or paid subscription) now indicates that formal labor negotiations among the lead negotiators of the international longshoreman’s union and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) are currently in recess and not expected to resume until December 2. The publication characterizes this development as: “bad news for importers and exporters hoping for a quick agreement and rapid restoration of normal operations at West Coast ports.”

A new wrinkle concerning labor work stoppages expanded earlier in the week as independent truck drivers contracted by trucking firms serving both ports initiated multi-day job actions seeking fair wages and better working conditions. These job actions expanded to five trucking firms serving the port complex as of Monday.  Truck drivers, mostly hired as independent contractors, have had longstanding grievances with local trucking firms and now the Teamsters labor union has taken the current port crisis as an opportunity to leverage driver demands to be recognized as full-time employees.

We again echo our Supply Chain Matters advice that industry supply chains impacted by the current west coast port disruption should be in full response management mode and seeking alternative options for both imports and exports from these ports.  The situation is such that there appears to be little indication of improvement and further indications of shutdown, lock-out or government imposed mediation. Response time to save holiday revenue budgets is in critical stages, too late to save the Black Friday-Cyber Monday holiday weekend, and essential to save customer December and January holiday fulfillment commitments.

We may well observe that the winners and losers of the 2014 holiday buying surge were those individual industry supply chain teams that demonstrated the most resiliency and responsiveness to the west coast port debacle.

Bob Ferrari

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