At most entrepreneurial companies, the sales team is responsible for forecasting sales. But when Scott Cleaver joined Rakuten Kobo Inc. three years ago, he wanted the e-reader and e-book company to approach its sales predictions from the supply chain side. Being able to more accurately estimate how many devices would sell would allow Kobo to streamline its supply chain and lessen its inventory, making the company more flexible and capable to react to new market trends.

But there was an inherent challenge in the e-reader market. E-commerce has allowed manufacturers to skip the traditional brick-and-mortar retailers and now more than 70 percent of all e-readers are sold directly to consumers. Most companies guard those sales carefully, meaning there is little available data on industry trends or sales figures for comparable devices. So Cleaver and his team developed their own demand forecasts. “We rely heavily on Kobo’s historical sales data and how our product is selling in the market,” he explains. 

When Jewelry Television first went on the air from a studio in Greensville, Tenn., in 1993, no one knew what lay in store for the channel or the company. What started out as a home shopping channel focused on collectibles and jewelry eventually evolved into one of the leading retailers of fine jewelry of any kind in the United States. 

Indeed, the company has grown a lot since its earliest days, and Senior Vice President of Global Operations and Logistics Steve Walsh says its supply chain operations have played a crucial role in its growth over the years. 

Incorporated in 1897 in Midland, Mich., The Dow Chemical Company is one of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world. Dow strives to combine science and technology to drive innovations that extract value from the intersection of chemical, physical and biological sciences. In this way, Dow can help address challenges such as the need for clean water, clean energy generation and conservation, and increasing agricultural productivity.

There can be no understating the impressive reach of the Dow organization. In 2014 alone, Dow had annual sales of more than $58 billion and employed approximately 53,000 people worldwide. It manufactures more than 6,000 product families at 201 sites in 35 countries around the globe.

Through this footprint, Dow has built an integrated, market-driven, industry-leading portfolio of specialty chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses. It delivers a broad range of technology-based products and solutions to customers in approximately 180 countries and in high-growth sectors such as packaging, electronics, water, coatings and agriculture.

Few retailers have the size and scope that Walmart does, and that means few retailers have as complete of an understanding of the consumer as Walmart does. As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart has a bird’s eye view of virtually every significant market on the planet, so it’s safe to say that if there’s a trend happening somewhere in the world, Walmart knows about it. As divisional vice president, supply chain, Sherry Harriman is responsible for ensuring that Walmart’s supply chain is up to the task of staying in front of those emerging trends. According to Harriman, all of Walmart’s leadership understands how important the supply chain is for changing along with the trends. 

“You have to keep adapting,” she says. “Our customer is changing and has changed significantly, and the companies that aren’t changing their supply chains are getting left behind.” 

Based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Viterra is a leading grain, oilseeds and pulses marketer and handler, and is also involved in canola processing. The company partners with growers in North America to help them market and deliver their grains in more ways and to more markets.

“Our company buys, markets and handles the leading share of western Canadian grain,” Supply Chain Manager Fernando Lamk says. “For more than 100 years, Viterra has earned farmers’ business with our expertise and commitment to service, tailored to their needs.”

A supply chain, like any other kind of chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. Many manufacturers must depend on the strength of numerous vendors throughout their supply chains to ensure the entire operation is strong. That’s not as much of a concern for Red Wing Shoe Company, however, as the company’s integrated supply chain maintains tight control over virtually every stage of production. As Director of Logistics Dewey Rothering explains, Red Wing’s vertically integrated supply chain makes it unique not only in the footwear industry, but in the manufacturing sector as a whole.

“I would say one of our largest strengths is that we have nearly full integration of everything we do in the company. We source raw material cattle hides which are tanned in our owned tannery, followed by shoe manufacturing in our plants, with finished goods shipped to our owned retail stores and mobile shoe trucks for sale to our many consumers in the United States and around the world,” Rothering says. “We are vertically integrated throughout the entire supply chain from beginning to end.”

Nowadays, not only are supermarkets expected to have in stock enough of an ever-growing variety of food and pharmaceuticals that consumers desire, but they even are being tasked with getting the merchandise into consumers’ homes. Previously, that last mile was the domain of the shopper, but now home delivery is being offered at five of Price Chopper Supermarkets’ 135 locations. An alternative curbside pickup option is also offered at seven of the chain’s locations.

“We have a fleet of vans which service these customers,” announces Jason Kennedy, who was director of distribution services at press time. “Personal shopping has become a growing part of our business over the last few years since we started offering these services in 2011.” The supply chain’s challenge is to drive cost out of what tends to be an expensive operation by using onboard computers, telematics data analysis and route optimization. 

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