E-commerce as a sales channel for the retail industry continues to grow. Online sales are expected to be more than $400 billion in the United States alone in the next several years, a growth rate that is becoming much higher than traditional in-store sales.

Before the rise of the smartphone, brick and mortar retail stores controlled the entire customer process. Stores influenced the consumers “discover” and “decide” activities through mainstream media advertising and in-store promotions. This was important for retailers, as the act of discovering a product and determining which product to buy are perhaps the most important steps for the consumer when buying something. In today’s world, these steps are performed more and more in the digital world. The days of an uninformed consumer walking into a store, finding the product and choosing between brands is all but over.

The FDA’s increasing international expansion means manufacturers and suppliers will be under constant global surveillance. From a manufacturer and supplier standpoint, this global, watchful FDA eye means the level of scrutiny on production facilities and clinical trial sites used by American manufacturers is on the rise.

In the pharmaceutical industry, the number of FDA-regulated shipments has nearly quadrupled in the past decade, quickly expanding from 8 million imports in 2004, to 31 million in 2014. Consider India, which stands second in terms of the number of pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities outside of the United States with a total of 523 and accounts for nearly 40 percent of the US drug imports. Often,  foreign-based manufacturers use less stringent processes and regulatory systems than here in the United States. However, this poses a conflict, as this industry faces some of the greatest margin pressures, harsher regulatory demands and ever-increasing competition. Manufacturers need to be vigilant with the management of their quality and standards practices, no matter where they are in the world. 

Manufacturer’s representatives are a critical link in the supply chains of many manufacturers. Companies that are looking to enter a new market, solidify their existing market presence, introduce a new product or are seeking sales manpower they may not possess often look to representatives as an extension of their own businesses.

Industry-specific manufacturer’s representatives offer a number of advantages  including product expertise, intimate knowledge of their territory and, in many cases, decades-old relationships with manufacturers and wholesalers. 

These days, customer orders can hit a warehouse from any direction. It doesn’t matter whether a company runs a B2C or B2B operation; the new rules of e-commerce have changed the distribution industry forever.

With customers purchasing across multiple channels including brick and mortar stores, online, over the phone, via mobile apps and direct from the warehouse, warehouse management systems (WMS) must now be able to handle not only traditional, large pallet storage and shipping operations efficiently, but also embrace complex custom orders and services in the context of an omni-channel supply chain.

How does an organization make a profit off of a single box of candy, picked and wrapped in a private label on location, and then shipped to a residence 1,200 miles away – with delivery overnight?

The success of mid-market enterprises is fueled by efficient, integrated and aligned supply chain operations. However, with day-to-day distractions, leadership often has limited time and energy to seek and implement measures to enhance collaboration and productivity across departmental operations. 

To combat this challenge and gain a competitive advantage, mid-market companies should consider creating a supply chain evangelist – an individual responsible for coaching employees and helping departments across the organization prioritize and streamline the supply chain. In addition to implementing strategic alignment, the evangelist offers a clear and compelling vision for the entire supply chain strategy, explaining why change is important to the company and staff.

Many inventory professionals are so demand focused that they are not balancing supply, demand and finance in their operations. Too few owners and senior managers are asking tough questions of nor are asking for recommendations from inventory, purchasing and financial managers about how to improve their company’s inventory management approach. 

There are five critical steps your company needs to take when it comes to inventory management. 

Think of a warehouse as a living organism which is home to all the business processes that take place under its roof – from receipt of products and materials through storage, picking and packing, and then shipment to distribution centers or end customers. In order for the warehouse to fully function it needs real-time data to flow automatically and unimpeded to and from each of the business processes and then back into the central unified core of the warehouse management system (WMS).

Data is the lifeblood fueling the brain of the organism. Any obstacles in the flow of data lead to slowdowns in overall warehouse productivity and result in a less intelligent organism. Real-time data is the key to a smart warehouse – one where information about products, the status of customer orders and inventory levels can be used as the basis of informed decision-making and future planning. Those decisions and plans can then be revisited and adjusted any time there’s a significant change.

As businesses expand, a logical step for most is to manage growth through focused competencies that enable a company to scale by improving functional expertise. Many companies are structured on such competencies that span offices, including globally distributed capabilities. As companies look to implement omni-channel business models, they often opt to break down silos in their systems and organizational structure. But is that necessary to achieve collaboration? In a word, no.

It is true that functional specialization creates more “silos” for a company to manage. And unlike an assembly line, where pieces may move from one station to the next in a linear order, many departments have to work in unison where the workflow is part of the organizational network, not linear hand-offs. For example, manufacturing should be operating in conjunction with sales and marketing as they build out forecasts and manufacturing plans, and the information each provides often needs to be understood in real time. With distributed locations and personnel, it can be challenging to share data and content accurately and at the point of need across the various functional silos.

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