Latest In Perspective
For those engaged in independent distribution channels 20 years ago, there was much discussion about how the channel had to tighten up to remain a viable part of the supply chain. Too many redundant activities were taking place at the manufacturer and distributor levels, and customers would migrate to more cost-effective supply sources if their current suppliers did not find ways to be more competitive. Oh, and distributor margins were going to have to squeeze to pay for this improvement.
You need engaged team members scrambling just as hard as you to find the right answers to deal with the upheaval right now. In most cases it’s not the same skills as five years ago.
I’ve been using a saying attributed to Warren Buffet this spring in presentations to groups about current markets: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” At this point, the more appropriate saying might be: “You can drown when the tide rises above your head.” The Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection filing by Alamo Iron Works on April 5 was triggered by what the company alleges was non-payment of $1 million for work by a large customer.
This is not likely to be an isolated incident. Increased sales are great, but I’m hearing about difficulties with supplier lead times, financing inventory and cash flow.
Case 1: Airgas is in a fight for its life. In February, Air Products made a hostile bid for Airgas. It has been getting more hostile since. The investor analysis by Air Products is at www.airgasoffer.com. And here are the documents Airgas has produced for its investors to fight the offer.
From our surveys, we found that many distributors were forced to use layoffs to stay viable, and many more did everything in their power to avoid layoffs or use them as creatively as possible.
Grainger's investments into e-commerce 10 to 15 years ago don't look like large gambles today, but as our lead article by associate editor Jenel Stelton-Holtmeier illustrates, it was in fact a large dollar amount for what the adoption rate was at the time and also the company's culture. I was publicly skeptical at the time, questioning whether it was bleeding edge rather than leading edge. How smart was I?
As the timeline illustrates, Grainger's online sales took off with the dot-com era by 1999. It has continued to scale up along with the Internet.