October 16, 2023
In its third season, the We Supply America Tour has continued to be a beacon of knowledge and inspiration in the distribution industry. In this blog post, we will focus on the key lessons learned from this remarkable journey. We'll also explore how these lessons apply to the broader distribution industry, shedding light on industry trends, best practices, and effective strategies for success. Additionally, we will examine the invaluable role played by Infor as the tour's sponsor and the impact of their support.
The We Supply America Tour: A brief overview
The We Supply America Tour is a nationwide initiative that saw industry icon Dirk Beveridge travel the nation to visit several of America’s distribution industry companies to celebrate the noble calling of the distribution industry and discuss pressing topics. Dirk kept his focus on family and employee-owned businesses. In Season 3, Dirk and crew once again created eight masterpiece films during his first stops on the tour. In addition to these films, this year saw the start of an eight-part podcast series featuring topics like the transformation of the customer experience, the future of customer engagement, the role of artificial intelligence and cloud computing, the pursuit of operational excellence, addressing customer challenges, setting strategic goals, fostering innovation and invention, and much more.
Key lessons learned
Adaptability is key: In the third season of the tour, distributors across America taught us that adaptability is the cornerstone of success in the industry. We saw how companies that quickly pivoted their operations and embraced technology fared better during disruption, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This underscores the importance of remaining agile in the face of unforeseen challenges.
Digital transformation is non-negotiable: The tour emphasized that embracing digital transformation is no longer an option but a necessity. Distribution companies that have invested in technology solutions like warehouse automation, data analytics, and digital supply chain management have gained a competitive edge. Real-time data and automation are crucial for streamlining operations and meeting customer demands efficiently.
Customer-centric approach: Season 3 highlighted the paramount importance of a customer-centric approach. Successful distribution companies understand customers' needs and preferences, tailoring their services accordingly. Personalization, quick response times, and excellent customer service are the cornerstones of retaining and expanding customer relationships.
Culture matters: The distribution industry is complex and demanding, requiring high teamwork and collaboration. Distribution centers are often large and fast-paced, with employees working around the clock to process and ship goods to customers. The company culture shapes this social and labor-driven environment, ultimately driven by leadership. Managers who value and respect team members create a positive and supportive work environment. This can lead to many benefits, including increased employee engagement and motivation, improved communication and collaboration, reduced turnover, and increased customer satisfaction. However, it is important to note that a company culture of respect and value cannot be achieved solely through top-down leadership. Individual team members also need to value and respect each other. This is essential for creating a cohesive and efficient distribution center.
Supply chain resilience matters: The disruptions caused by the pandemic highlighted the fragility of global supply chains. As a result, the tour underscored the need for supply chain resilience. Diversifying suppliers, building buffer stocks, and employing risk mitigation strategies have become crucial for business continuity.
Invest in workforce development: A well-trained and motivated workforce is the backbone of any distribution company. The tour showcased how investing in employee development, including training and upskilling, leads to higher productivity, employee satisfaction, and reduced turnover.
Top 3 challenges in 2023
- Supply chain disruptions: The most significant challenge during the tour was the persistent supply chain disruptions. Delays in transportation, shortages of critical materials, and increased shipping costs have posed significant challenges for distribution companies.
- Labor shortages: Labor shortages were another recurring challenge. Distribution companies have struggled to find and retain skilled workers, particularly in warehouse and logistics roles. This has put pressure on operations and led to increased labor costs.
- Evolving regulatory landscape: The regulatory landscape for the distribution industry is constantly evolving. Companies must stay up-to-date with safety, environmental compliance, and data privacy regulations, which can be time-consuming and costly.
The tour served as a platform for networking and collaboration among industry professionals. Many successful partnerships and business opportunities were forged during the events, showcasing the power of collective expertise. Season 3 of the tour also emphasized educational outreach. Providing valuable insights and resources contributed to attendees' professional development and helped address some of the industry's knowledge gaps. Lastly, the tour highlighted cutting-edge innovations in the distribution sector, inspiring companies to invest in new technologies and processes to improve efficiency and competitiveness.
Insights for the distribution industry
Drawing from the We Supply America Tour, several insights and strategies can benefit the broader distribution industry:
- Embrace technology: Adopting technology, including automation, data analytics, and AI-driven solutions, is a game-changer. Companies should assess their tech stack and invest in innovations that improve operations and customer experiences.
- Prioritize culture: Creating a positive culture that respects each team member is crucial.
- Strengthen supply chains: Diversifying suppliers, enhancing transparency, and implementing risk mitigation strategies are critical for building resilient supply chains. A flexible and responsive supply chain can navigate disruptions effectively.
- Invest in workforce development: A skilled and motivated workforce enhances operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Providing training and growth opportunities can help retain top talent.
Infor's sponsorship and contribution
Infor's sponsorship of the We Supply America Tour for the past three years deserves special recognition. Their support enabled the tour to reach new heights by expanding its reach and impact. Infor's expertise in cloud-based software solutions and digital transformation has been instrumental in helping distribution companies navigate the challenges of the modern business landscape. Infor's contributions go beyond financial support; they have actively participated in panel discussions and knowledge-sharing sessions, enriching the tour's content. Their commitment to driving innovation and excellence in the distribution industry aligns perfectly with the tour's mission.
During a recent conversation with Dirk, I asked him, “What about the tour makes you most proud?” Dirk responded, “Spotlighting the businesses that keep our country supplied has been an honor. I think I’m most proud of how the stories we continue to tell are inspiring the current and next generation of leaders to be a Force for Good. And I’m deeply grateful to Infor and to the entire Infor team for the partnership from day one.”