Supply chain is complex. Like most enterprises, yours is probably moving material across time zones, jurisdictions, suppliers and vendors. You must meet time and cost commitments, or are trying to get to JIT. You’re dealing with bullwhip effects, where a minor blunder in Jakarta creates serious delays in Khartoum and furious end users in St. Louis.

Bullwhip effects are a part of “closely coupled” systems without “cushioning:” when one element is out of place, the others follow suit in unpredictable, out-of-scale ways. Complexity as the result of a hidden waste is often the cause, and must be rooted out. We need simplicity, not only in chain design, but also in information and inventory management, and perhaps even pricing.  

The Industrial Supply Association (ISA) was formed in 2004 to provide its members with the tools they need to increase sales, decrease expenses and increase their profitability. “The biggest way we do this for our members is through our annual convention,” ISA President and CEO Jeff Hughes says.  “The convention puts them in front of as many clients and potential business partners as possible, many of whom are high-level decision makers. It’s just a phenomenal, one-of-a-kind opportunity for people in our industry.”   

The ISA’s 2016 convention, planned April 16 to 18 in Rosemont, Ill., just outside of Chicago, will give many of the organization’s 900 members plenty of opportunities to gain the knowledge they need to remain competitive in a changing and dynamic marketplace. 

Many wholesale and distribution companies do not perceive that they have any significant exposure to cyber risk given that most of the publicity around these incidents involves government entities, large retailers and healthcare providers. While these industries certainly have a more acute exposure to risks involving cyber attacks, wholesalers and distributors are far from immune. 

Every wholesaler and distributor conducts business with their employees, their vendors and their customers through e-mail, wire transfer and electronic data entry. Every one of these transactions exposes them to a potential cyber breach. An employee mistakenly sending a corrupted file, a hidden virus or an inadvertent attachment can result in allowing malicious third parties access to other organizations’ computer systems. It is for these reasons that companies take a look at the cyber security measures they have in place. 

A supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The pain of supply chain disruptions is most acute and costly for wholesale distributors, where failure to deliver the right quantity on time can cause problems that matriculate up and down the greater network. Companies that can’t deliver on their promise often meet the same fate – they get tossed aside for one of their competitors, and there isn’t a second chance to right the service wrongs of the past. At the same time, wholesalers are challenged to achieve improved profitability in an industry where margins are razor thin, and customer loyalty is a concept of a bygone era.

Software has created a brand new business reality. Over the last decade, it has increased automation of processes, transactions and distribution across every industry and organization, including wholesale. The shift not only involves the use of software in particular processes, but also with exposure of software interfaces to others — internal developers, partners, customers and the world at large. The result is a transformation for individual businesses that makes them radically more flexible and better able to engage with their customers.

The dawn of this revolution has to do largely with the cloud, and the promise that you can drastically reduce costs for processing orders while improving the buying experience for all customers in all channels, anywhere at any time.

There comes a time in every company’s lifecycle where the decision has to be made whether to sell the business. This turning point can be due to several factors – lack of proper management team to continue the business, lack of a younger familial generation to take over or outside competitive or financial pressures. There are several important practical considerations to address when going through this process. 

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. 

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