When a report directly impacting supply chain strategy is featured as a front page article in The Wall Street Journal, we are certainly going to bring it to Supply Chain Matters reader attention. When that report correlates with other related reports, namely supplier squeeze or bullying tactics, rest assured we will bring it to greater industry supply chain visibility.   Wal_Mart Store

We have previously featured reports of supplier bullying strategies involving certain consumer product goods supply chains, and quite recently, supplier squeeze tactics among certain commercial aerospace supply chains.

Today’s WSJ report (paid subscription or free metered view) indicates that last month, Wal-Mart began an effort to place increasing pressure on its North America based suppliers to cut the cost of their products. According to the report, the retailer is telling suppliers involved in a wide range of purchased categories to forgo any additional investments in joint marketing and focus the savings on lower prices to Wal-Mart. Apparently new executive leadership is embracing the concept of supplier squeeze in order to lower existing prices at retail stores. Wal-Mart recently raised salaries for store associates which have added a new cost burden. Further reported is that this effort has already caused renewed supplier tensions among suppliers who are already attuned to the retailer’s relentless focus on inbound cost.  The new tensions for suppliers are that they potentially have less control on the way their individual branded products are marketed to Wal-Mart consumers.

This new WSJ report revisits a previous report of Wal-Mart’s current dealings with well- known consumer products goods provider Procter & Gamble and its cash cow product, Tide laundry detergent. The retailer recently began merchandising Henkel’s Persil laundry detergent directly aside of Tide in a move that the WSJ now clearly declares was an attempt to pressure P&G to lower the price of its market-leading laundry detergent.

Yesterday, Amazon released the news of a Dash Button, a physical version of its 1-click ordering. An Amazon Prime member sets up the device to correspond to a certain product and places the physical device in a convenient place (perhaps inside the cupboard or cabinet where household products are stored). When the supply runs low, the user can press the button to order more of that product, which directly communicates with Amazon via a Wi-Fi connection. It is literally an electronic Kanban replenishment system in a B2C setting. A total of 255 products from 18 brands are reported as being available through the Dash Button program and surprise-surprise, P&G and its Tide detergent is noted as a participant. That may well be another motivation for Wal-Mart to place direct pressure on its most longstanding and loyal supplier partner. This is also not the first time that P&G and Wal-Mart have openly sparred over P&G’s collaborative efforts with Amazon.

As survey methodology often depicts, a single data point is an observation, a second similar data point is of interest and a third data point within a short period of time is the early indication of a building trend.

Supplier squeeze tactics are often prevalent in times of significant economic stress when preservation of cash is a critical corporate objective. Industry supply chains experienced many forms of such tactics during the great recession that began in 2008-2009 and some suppliers actually succumbed to bankruptcy as a result.  Today, global supply chain activity and output as manifested in the J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI Index has recorded 27 months of consecutive expansion. Thus, motivations for current supplier squeeze tactics have taken on different motivation, perhaps more related to short-term Wall Street and consequent stockholder expectations. In any case, it is by our lens, a concerning trend with the potential to provide setbacks to efforts towards deeper collaboration and/or partnerships with suppliers. Consider that Wal-Mart has embarked on a multi-billion dollar initiative to influence suppliers to source more products within the United States.  Wal-Mart gives, and then takes-away.

A short-term business outcomes perspective can permeate across the many levels of the value-chain and procurement teams and financial senior executives need to be reminded of the consequences for longer term supplier partnerships directed at product, process and customer fulfillment innovation. Focus on the P&G dynamics with Wal-Mart, both rather savvy and determined business partners who have experience in good and not so good times, and in the savvy of push-back.  Many suppliers, particularly smaller scope suppliers do not have the leverage of a P&G, and thus, there resides the current risks in supplier management.

Bob Ferrari

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