Supply Chain Transparency and Control
Corporate America's expectations for supply chain transparency and control continue to grow as companies work to manage growing risk in light of the evolving product safety and compliance environment.
In the past few weeks alone, final determinations on lead in substrates and third-party testing requirements were published by the CPSC. The California Supply Chain Transparency Act goes into effect January 2012. Up to 30 states are considering some form of BPA ban. What the federal governments do not regulate, the states will.
The only way we can move past the pain of chasing the latest specific requirements is to proactively focus on the source of much of our angst—the prevalence of poorly developed supply chains in our industry.
Matt Barnes did a recent blog on "Choosing the Right Supplier." Matt is right on the money and the topic warrants much deeper discussion. I hope his blog caused you to pause and reflect on the hands you are placing the success of your projects or even your business in. Choosing the right supplier could be the single most important decision you make on a day-to-day basis. Do your suppliers have control and transparency of their supply chain? Or are you doing business with opportunistic vendors?
I'm in a unique position to hear the gory details from both suppliers and distributors alike. It is not uncommon for the conversations I have on product safety and compliance to include a mention of the business lost because of factory or supplier failures. I've heard from corporate end-users about the factory workers running out the back door as the auditors go in the front door. I have my own experiences in painfully managing projects to success to draw from.
Several long-term industry veterans have characterized many supply chains in our industry as "two guys and a cell phone" or "a guy who knows a guy in China." This is especially apparent when companies dabble in occasional direct importing outside of their core competencies. You know a few companies who fit these descriptions and they are proving the common wisdom that you get what you pay for.
You cannot consistently manage quality, product safety or compliance into an order—especially when the product is already on the water. The only way to effectively deliver on Corporate America's requirements is to proactively develop your supply chain to the point where you can manage the inputs so you actually get your desired outputs—project management speak for "Garbage in = Garbage out".
Don't get me wrong. There are a handful of well-known companies who are true industry leaders and shining examples for the rest of us. These organizations, both suppliers and distributors, have a long-held strategic focus on a properly developed and vetted supply chain. It is perhaps their strongest competitive advantage. Unfortunately for distributors and more importantly for their clients, these companies are too few and far in between. Take care with who you are sourcing from. Look under the hood to see if they are a supplier or a vendor, there is a difference. Protect your end-user clients' brands and get the value for doing so. Your odds of long term success will go up.
Brent Stone is executive director - operations for Quality Certification Alliance (QCA), the promotional products industry's only independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping companies provide safe products. A Six Sigma Black Belt, Stone has more than 25 years of in-depth supply chain management experience with extensive expertise in process design, development, improvement and management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qcalliance.org.