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In 2019, Retailers and Suppliers Will Need Each Other More than Ever

Posted By RCVF Admin, Monday, October 29, 2018

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In 2019, Retailers and Suppliers Will Need Each Other More than Ever

It’s no secret that many retailers and suppliers are facing serious challenges as they adapt to a quickly changing retail landscape. You have significant consolidation among both retailers and suppliers. Many companies have replaced seasoned professionals who knew how to achieve progress through collaboration with inexperienced folks who are forced to learn on the job, all in the name of cost-cutting and reducing headcounts.

Many retailers that were at one time among the most successful and respected in the industry no longer exist. They failed to adapt to new competition, new order fulfillment models, and new customer demands. Consolidation has made organizations on both sides larger, but the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

That said, retail is ripe with opportunity. Those who are willing to do the work to evolve and grow aren’t talking about survival. They’re talking about taking their success to new heights.

As we prepare for 2019, retailers and suppliers need each other more than ever. And RVCF membership creates more opportunities for collaboration than any organization in the industry.

This was evident at the 2018 RVCF Fall Conference. With more than 35 retailers in attendance, 30 educational sessions, more than 530 one-on-one meetings between retailers and suppliers, and peer-to-peer discussions about supplier relationship management and customer relationship management, collaboration was constant – and productive.

We plan to carry that momentum into 2019 and provide our members with the information, resources and collaborative opportunities they need throughout the year.

We’ll cultivate the concept of unified commerce in which there are no separate shopping channels with separate inventories and customer bases. Rather than brick-and-mortar commerce, e-commerce, mobile commerce, social commerce, etc., there is simply commerce. Unified commerce.

We’ll focus on the importance of data and how to use it. We’ll continue to look for ways to enhance drop ship strategies and develop best practices. We’ll advocate for the Perfect Order – on-time, in-full, damage-free, with accurate documentation.

Everything we do is designed to accelerate the error-free flow of goods through the supply chain, while controlling costs, and improving margins for both retailers and suppliers. RVCF members benefit from our initiatives, events and educational content, as well as our technology solutions and consulting services, throughout the year.

But you can’t sit on the sidelines. You have to get involved. You have to show up. You have to participate. You have to work with your peers and trading partners to find solutions and create competitive advantages instead of waiting for them to fall onto your lap.

2019 will undoubtedly be a rough year for some retailers and suppliers. For others, it has the potential to be the best year ever. What kind of year will it be for you?

I ask that question because I believe the answer is a choice, not a predetermined outcome. I hope you’ll choose success and become a member of RVCF to put your organization in a better position to succeed.

Please visit the RVCF website to learn more about membership, and feel free to contact any member of the RVCF team with questions or ideas about what we can do to better serve the retail community. Remember, RVCF exists to bring retailers and suppliers together to solve problems and grow profits. We hope you’ll join us.


Tags:  Collaboration  Membership  retailers  RVCF  Suppliers 

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From the Desk of Kim Zablocky: Want to Solve Problems? Pick. Up. The. Phone.

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 8, 2018
Updated: Thursday, February 8, 2018

I've been in sales of one form or another since the late 1970s. To be successful in sales back then, you needed a good product, a fair price and, most of all, a good reputation. You could build such a reputation, and a strong business, through word-of-mouth marketing and strong relationships with your customers.

Today, a lot of people are relying on technology and social media for word-of-mouth marketing and relationship building. Instead of conversations, people are relying on impressions, views, clicks, likes, shares, yada yada yada. Share a useful article on LinkedIn and it might get a few dozen views. Share a photo with a funny or interesting quote and it could easily get hundreds of likes and a handful of shares. Problem is, building a relationship is hard work, not entertainment.

Attention spans have evaporated. Years ago, we had 15-30 seconds to deliver an elevator pitch and express a value proposition. On today's digital platforms – website, social media brand pages, mobile apps, etc. – we have three seconds to make a first impression and keep someone's attention.

Year ago, we communicated in person, on the phone or by snail mail. Today, people send e-mails, texts and instant messages. Many aren't read, and fewer are returned. I was talking to an RVCF member the other day who was out of the office on business for a few days. He returned to find 3,000 e-mails in his inbox. How many of those e-mails do you think he read or responded to?

My point here is not to demonize technology. And I'm not going to take your ball and tell you to get off my lawn.

We have more collaboration tools today than we did 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Technology can be a wonderful thing. Social media can be a wonderful thing. But technology and social media shouldn't replace the most powerful collaboration tools we have at our disposal – the phone call and the face-to-face meeting.

If you have a problem with a trading partner, or you have an idea to share with your peers, you don't make progress and drive positive change by sending e-mails, texts and instant messages. Those things create noise. And noise creates problems and delays.

Unreturned e-mails might give the impression that your peers and trading partners don't want to hear from you, or that they're avoiding you. But that's usually not the case.

They do want to hear from you – literally. They want to hear your voice. They want to see your face. They want to sit across the table from you. They want to get rid of the noise. If you want to build stronger business relationships, solve problems, share and implement new ideas, and streamline processes, don't type or tap.

Pick. Up. The. Phone.

I'm not saying you should delete all your apps and never use LinkedIn again. I would humbly suggest that you use them to support and supplement real conversations and face-to-face meetings, not replace them.

If there's one form of technology I'd like to see embraced, it's video conferencing. It's not realistic to schedule an in-person visit with every peer or trading partner. I get that. But there's no reason why you can't have a real time, face-to-face video conference, whether it's with your counterpart or a large group.

You don't need a large conference room with expensive technology to hold an interactive meeting. You just need a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone with a quality video conferencing app.

The need and desire for real conversations and face-to-face collaboration are why RVCF exists. That's why we have our signature conferences and other live events every year. That's why we spend months planning one-on-one meetings. That's why we hold monthly conference calls. Every conference, every event, every meeting, and every call are opportunities to solve a problem and strengthen a relationship.

The retail industry landscape is too competitive and challenging to let noise get in the way of progress. Take advantage of events and calls that give you a platform for verbal and face-to-face collaboration. At the very least, pick up the phone. You'll be glad you did, and so will the people you're calling.

(646) 442-3473

CLICK HERE to return to the FEBRUARY 2018 RVCF LINK

Tags:  Collaboration 

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Retail Value Chain 101: How Retailers Can Ensure Effective Communication with Suppliers

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 19, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Ask trading partners the key to solving just about any problem and most will point to better communication, which enables more productive collaboration. But what does better communication look like? What does bad communication look like? What can retailers do to ensure suppliers have what they need to meet compliance requirements, minimize confusion and disputes, accelerate the flow of goods, satisfy the end consumer, and maximize profits for both sides?

Get the Message Straight Internally and Stick with It
Before reaching out to suppliers, retailers need to make sure they're on the same page internally. The worst kind of communication is conflicting communication. Nothing is more frustrating for suppliers than getting an answer from one person in one department, acting on that information, and then finding out that the information they received was incorrect. When this happens, suppliers don't know what to believe, who to trust, and what is and is not possible. It makes them think compliance is negotiable.

Effective communication with suppliers first requires effective communication within the retailer organization. Only after various departments have achieved alignment with regards to policy, procedure, and message can the retailer present a unified, consistent voice to the supplier.

Set a Positive Tone from the Outset
The first communication between the retailer and supplier typically involves the merchant side of the retailer and the sales side of the supplier. It's critical to set a positive tone right out of the gates.

If the retailer's merchant organization is aligned with vendor relations, as well as the overall goals and mission of the retailer, the retailer will be better prepared for the first discussions and negotiations. The supplier will then receive a clear message about how the retailer expects to communicate, who the key people are, which departments and individuals should be contacted for various issues, and how issues should be resolved or escalated.

Establish these points of contact on both sides to set the tone for a productive, collaborative relationship. The worst thing you can do is have a single point of contact that forces one person to field all inquiries and try to solve every problem. Good communication starts with that first point of contact.

Position the Supplier for Success During the Onboarding Process
Once the retailer has made the decision to do business with the supplier, the onboarding process begins. Onboarding is usually the first time the operational teams of both sides begin to communicate. They start to exchange e-mails and information. They start an EDI relationship. They begin to discuss how logistics and freight are handled and how orders are processed.

This is a critical, teachable moment in the trading partner relationship. Retailers must make sure the right people within the supplier organization have the information they need to fulfill orders correctly and meet retailer expectations. That includes but is not limited to current and accurate contact information, checklists, instructional videos and webinars, documentation and, of course, the compliance guide.

Point Suppliers in the Right Direction
Onboarding can feel like information overload to a supplier, so take the time to show them how to find the information they need. Most retailers either have a compliance website or dedicated compliance pages on their corporate website. More and more retailers are deploying sophisticated portals where suppliers can access the information required to be a high-performing supplier.

In addition to providing knowledge and information resources, a best-in-class website or portal allows suppliers to ask questions and get responses. These interactions don't have to occur in real time, but retailers should be able to capture supplier questions, find the answer based on previously agreed upon policies and procedures, and respond quickly. This is far more efficient than having the supplier search for the correct contact person via e-mail or phone calls.

Trust, but Verify
Best-in-class retailers take a "trust, but verify" approach. Originally employed by Ronald Reagan when dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980's, this approach by the retailer shows good faith to the supplier, but protects both sides by proactively validating the supplier's knowledge and capabilities.

How do I verify that the supplier has read my compliance guide and understands it? How do I find out what questions or concerns they have now so they don't turn into problems? This process shouldn't just involve vendor relations. Merchants should still be involved to confirm that the supplier is either ready to go or actively addressing issues. Verification is far less risky than simply nodding your head and assuming everything will go smoothly.

Take a Close Look at that First Order
Best-in-class retailers track and closely audit that first order when it hits their docks and offer detailed feedback to the supplier. The goal is to pinpoint issues, and the cause of those issues, as early as possible and get them fixed before the next shipment.

Communication can easily falter during this stage. Once the first shipment has been audited and problems have been addressed, there tends to be a lack of communication until something goes wrong. Retailers need to communicate throughout the year during meetings, including merchant meetings that cover new products, and supply chain and vendor relations meetings that deal with scorecarding and compliance performance.

Approach these meetings as you approach supplier communication in general by gaining internal alignment about issues that must be addressed with suppliers. Make those issues part of your meeting agendas. Be proactive and communicate regularly with your suppliers instead of waiting for a problem.

Survey Your Suppliers
In addition to validating supplier capabilities and evaluating performance, retailers need to take a look in the mirror and make sure they're living up to their end of the bargain from a communication standpoint.

The best way for retailers to find out if they're communicating effectively with suppliers is to survey them. Are you getting the information you need to operate successfully and efficiently? What problem areas need to be addressed? What do we need to work on within the retailer organization to help you reduce errors and costs?

Supplier surveys should not be a one-time event. Regular surveys will tell retailers if they're making progress and becoming better communicators. Top suppliers – those that have the most value to your organization – should be giving you the best scores because you're probably devoting the most resources to those relationships.

How RVCF Can Help
At RVCF Fall and Spring Conferences, we offer the retailers the opportunity to hold one-on-one, face-to-face meetings with suppliers, many of whom jump at the chance to have access to retailers. We also offer retailer breakout sessions so retailers can discuss bigger issues with a group of suppliers.

Retailers that don't do this through RVCF need to hold meetings on their own, whether face-to-face or via conference call, webinar, etc. RVCF can assist retailers that want a third-party to oversee these efforts. We can manage event logistics for seminars. We can also manage the backend of a webinar so trading partners can meet virtually without leaving their offices. This allows retailers to focus on what's most important – solving problems, discussing new initiatives, and looking for ways to improve supply chain performance.

So much of great communication begins with the retailer's compliance guide. RVCF can help to ensure compliance guides are properly structured, organized, clear, concise and complete. Retailers looking for a neutral, third-party perspective on their compliance guide should look for our new white paper, The Recommended Structure for Compliance Manuals and Websites, which is available for download here. This is a valuable reference tool to help retailers create or update their compliance guides in a way that's modeled after those of best-in-class retailers.

Final Thought
Effective communication is the cornerstone of any trading partner relationship – not one-time communication or occasional communication, but regular communication with a consistent, unified voice across the retailer organization. Your supplier communication strategy needs to be approached and developed with the same level of importance as any other business strategy.

CLICK HERE to return to the OCTOBER 2017 RVCF LINK

Tags:  Collaboration  Communication 

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Compliance Is an Opportunity, Not a Problem

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 17, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, November 16, 2016


According to a new report from Moody's, slow supply chains are making it difficult for department stores to stay competitive. Because today's customers are more inclined to prioritize value and convenience, and they have the ability to compare prices in a matter of seconds, department stores are already losing business to discount retailers and online channels. As a result, department stores are facing an 11 percent drop in aggregate operating income this year.

Slow supply chains have been their biggest Achilles' heel, according to Moody's. The resulting inventory backlogs and markdowns make the end consumer less willing to pay full price for merchandise. Department stores in particular have been slow to make supply chain improvements because they've always had the cover of a huge customer base and exclusive brands that didn't sell to discount retailers.

That's no longer the case. Customers can now find many of these brands at lower prices from online channels, mass merchants and discounters. Department stores are now under pressure to tighten up their supply chains while trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding.

Although the Moody's report focused on department stores, the entire industry is in an intense battle to maintain and build sales and customer loyalty. In some cases, it's battle for survival.

To accelerate time to shelf, retailers need suppliers that are willing and able to move merchandise quickly through the supply chain. Every time merchandise is diverted from stores to the distribution center so the retailer can perform tasks that the supplier was supposed to handle, cost and time are added to the supply chain, and excess inventory and markdowns rear their ugly heads.

This is why retailers are demanding more from suppliers, and compliance requirements are getting tougher. Suppliers would be well-served to be proactive in helping retailers combat the slow supply chain. That begins with doing everything possible to adhere to retailer requirements.

Use the RVCF Compliance Clearinghouse to stay on top of updates. Implement changes as quickly as possible. If there's a problem, address it right away. Be honest and forthcoming about your capabilities. If a retailer has a requirement that you can't meet, offer a solution instead of a sob story. Suggest an alternative or a compromise that works for both sides, including a timeline for implementation.

Most importantly, collaborate with your retailer counterparts. Build and nurture a mutually beneficial relationship. Schedule regular meetings, either in person or via video. Tour each other's facilities and familiarize yourself with each other's operations. Partner with retailers on initiatives for improving speed to shelf and enhancing the customer experience. Attend RVCF conferences and schedule One-on-One meetings with as many of your retailer customers as possible.

This will show retailers that you're going the extra mile to overcome supply chain issues, achieve high marks on scorecards, and become a best-in-class supplier. You're investing in the relationship. On the other hand, if you're just tolerating retailer compliance programs, you can't prosper – and you may not survive. Doing the bare minimum might buy you more time, but it doesn't change the outcome.

Best-in-class suppliers view compliance as a path to success. That's because compliance isn't just about reducing chargebacks. First and foremost, compliance is about speed to shelf, improving in-stocks, capturing the sale at full price, increasing profits, and delighting the customer.

But compliance also gives the retailer the confidence and motivation to reward the supplier with more assortment, more sales, more promotion, more advertising, and possibly a seat at the table to have a voice in the product category. More and more retailers are turning to their highest performing suppliers to take a leadership role in the overall category – not just the supplier's products, but all products in the category – as a way to optimize sales.

However, you can't get to that point if you drop the ball with compliance and contribute to a slow, costly supply chain. You can only ask for more from the retailer when you've proven yourself as a truly committed, best-in-class supplier. That's the "trading" in trading partner.

Supply chain improvements are critical for not only department stores, but for all retailers and merchandise suppliers. Retailers are depending on suppliers to raise their game and adhere to stricter requirements. Suppliers that embrace this challenge and view compliance as an opportunity will find rewards that extend far beyond a reduction in chargebacks.

CLICK HERE to return to the NOVEMBER 2016 RVCF LINK

Tags:  Collaboration  Slow Supply Chain  Supply Chain Disruptions 

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A Recap of the 2015 RVCF Annual Fall Conference

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 19, 2015
Updated: Saturday, November 14, 2015


Approximately 500 attendees representing retailers, merchandise suppliers and service providers – an attendance increase of about 10 percent from last year's event – gathered for the Retail Value Chain Federation (RVCF) Annual Fall Conference, held November 8-11, 2015 at the beautiful JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, AZ. The theme of the conference was "Consumer Driven Supply Chain" as industry stakeholders continue to look for better ways to satisfy the ever-increasing demands of the end consumer.

The Fall Conference featured 45 educational programs, a number of breakout sessions, and more than 700 pre-scheduled One-on-One meetings between retailers and suppliers. These fast-paced One-on-Ones, with the Sonoran Terrace serving as home base, gave trading partners the chance to discuss issues, identify disconnects, and open the door for improved communication. No other industry event offers this kind of opportunity for personalized collaboration.

Retailer breakout sessions allowed our retailer members to explain new and upcoming initiatives and outline requirements for suppliers. This helps suppliers proactively prepare for these initiatives and become better trading partners. Of course, networking and relationship-building were constant at the RVCF Fall Conference, whether attendees were chatting between sessions, during lunch and dinner, at the bar, or on the golf course. The goal of every RVCF event is to provide as many opportunities for collaboration as possible, both formal and informal, so problems can be solved and the industry as a whole can benefit.

Here are a few of the many highlights of the RVCF Fall Conference:

Mike McKinley of Alive! Alive! Associates delivered an inspiring keynote that truly focused on the title of the session – "Getting Back to Basics." Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? By asking these simple questions, Mike inspired each attendee to do some soul-searching and assess the purpose of not only their jobs, but their lives, discussing how daily behavior should be a reflection of professional and personal priorities.

In an informative retail-only session, Rob Oglesby of the Parker Avery Group discussed the logistical challenges of filling e-commerce orders from the store. Rob pointed out that inventory precision and accuracy are critical to omni-channel success and customer satisfaction, and offered ideas for improving inventory management and servicing customers who choose to pay online and pick up in store. Ken Lettre of Stage Stores and Jeff Eckel of OpenText/GXS also delivered a retail-only presentation about how a new web-based iPad solution can improve the processes of capturing and sharing compliance violations.

On the supplier-only side, Rachel Greer of Cascadia Product Testing Solutions provided valuable insight into the inner workings of Amazon, shedding light on the e-commerce giant's business practices. Rachel explained what suppliers can do to better manage compliance and navigate Amazon's Vendor Central and Transportation Manual. She offered recommendations for getting issues addressed, discussed why suppliers were experiencing problems with communicating with Amazon, and frankly outlined where suppliers will likely continue to see resistance.

The term "best practice" is often misunderstood and abused. In many cases, best practices are manufactured by consultants to ensure that best practices are aligned with their services. Focusing on retail consumer products, Jamie Tenser of VSN Strategies first helped attendees understand the true definition of "best practice" and what a best practice must support. Jamie then outlined and explained the five key traits of best practice in the retail consumer products industry – designed, conscious, realistic, measurable and customer-oriented.

In assessing the financial impact of drop-shipping, Annibal C. Sodero of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas presented the initial findings of a study being conducted jointly by RVCF, Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas. Annibal started by reviewing the market conditions and business reasoning that have been driving retailers to become increasingly dependent on suppliers to fulfill e-commerce orders directly to customers. He then outlined the research completed thus far via interviews with retailers and suppliers, explained the broad variations he has uncovered, and discussed difficulties experienced by both retailers and their supplier partners.

Leslie Montgomery of GS1 US led a workshop focused on industry initiatives related to the implementation of images and attributes guidelines and discussed the need for and benefits of these initiatives. By providing additional information required for extended attributes, ensuring that all product information is accurate and complete, and all images are compliant, you make it easier for the end consumer to make educated decisions about online purchases. This results in greater customer loyalty and satisfaction as well as a lower risk of returns.

Doug Cowan of Cognizant led a workshop and live demonstration that showed how to optimize SAP workflows and processes for accounts receivable and deduction management, incorporating real world applications and roadblocks from audience members into his presentation. Specific areas covered included dispute management, auto assignment and automatic write-off of reason codes, dispute workflow, and dispute correspondence.

EDI cost management required a double-length session and Kelvin Takhar of Edisoft, Inc. filled the program with valuable information. Kevin reviewed trends and challenges facing suppliers and retailers, such as omni-channel data management requirements, and laid out the five key principles desired in a high-quality EDI solution configuration – greater flexibility, full configurability, end-to-end modularity, scalability, and support for B2B or B2C compliance. The session then transitioned to a workshop format focused on addressing actual issues raised by audience members.

David Schneider of We Are The Practitioners discussed how collaboration and not the chargeback is more likely to result in a quantum shift in supply chain performance. This requires a change in mindset rooted in a genuine desire to better understand problems and perspectives – first between departments within the retail organization, and then with each supplier. This is how you enable proactive problem-solving based on communication and mutual respect.

From a global perspective, Karen Dickinson of the Polsinelli law firm and Deborah Weidenhamer of iPai Auction Company and Auction Systems Auctioneers and Appraisers discussed the ins and outs of joint-venturing in China. Karen discussed the cultural differences between the U.S. and China and how this impacts business relationships and practices, and explained the new five-year plan (2016-2020) for economic transformation and upgrading by the Chinese government. Deborah profiled the Chinese middle class consumer and emphasized the need for truly understanding this consumer when developing an e-commerce strategy.

Ron Marotta of Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc. and Kevin Smith of Sustainable Supply Chain Consulting discussed the factors to consider when navigating the sea of risk in global trade. After getting the audience up to speed on major global trade agreements and China's political and economic issues, Ron and Kevin laid out the primary risks encountered globally. These risks include changes in East and West Coast port volumes, increasing container capacity outpacing demand, Panama Canal expansion, the growing trend of "near sourcing," and driver shortages.

We at RVCF would like to thank everyone who attended and participated in the Annual Fall Conference. What parts of the conference did you find particularly helpful or valuable? What topics or issues would you like to see us cover more comprehensively at future conferences? We want to hear your feedback!

CLICK HERE to return to the NOVEMBER 2015 RVCF LINK

Tags:  Collaboration  One-on-One Meetings  One-on-Ones  RVCF Conferences  RVCF Fall Conference 2015 

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The Power of One-on-Ones

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 19, 2015
Updated: Saturday, November 14, 2015


During the past few years, we at the Retail Value Chain Federation (RVCF) have been gradually increasing the number of one-on-one meetings between retailers and suppliers at our conferences. In fact, approximately 700 one-on-ones were held at the RVCF Fall Conference last week as we maximized the number of meetings based on the time available and the number of participants. More than a meeting, each of these one-on-ones represents an opportunity – an opportunity for trading partners to build stronger relationships and solve problems.

This is why RVCF exists.

A one-on-one meeting is a prescheduled meeting – a sit-down, so to speak – between a retailer and a supplier at an RVCF conference. All one-on-one meetings are held in a designated area that is closely monitored by RVCF staff to ensure that only those attendees who have scheduled one-on-one meetings are admitted. Each retailer is assigned one or more tables, depending on how many representatives are available, and suppliers move between retailer tables according to a pre-determined schedule.

What Retailers Need to Know about One-on-One Meetings
Retailers that would like to schedule one-on-ones with suppliers just need to inform RVCF of their interest and availability. We'll provide you with a list of suppliers that have requested to meet with you, their supplier number, and what topics each supplier wants to discuss during a one-on-one. RVCF will schedule one-on-one meetings with only those suppliers that have been approved by the retailer.

We understand that many retailers attend RVCF conferences for the educational sessions, which is why we work so hard throughout the year to ensure that each session delivers helpful, valuable information. At the same time, retailers can benefit tremendously by participating in one-on-one meetings. In fact, the number one reason why suppliers attend RVCF conferences is to meet with their retailer partners.

Many retailers send one person and have a single table in the designated one-on-one area. But if this person wants to attend educational sessions, it limits their availability for one-on-ones and more suppliers are turned away. As you can imagine, this can be frustrating for supplier members whose primary reason for attending the conference is to meet with multiple retailers.

In many cases, it would be helpful if retailers could send more people and have two or even three tables for one-to-one meetings. We understand that you'll never be able to meet with everyone. But the more people you meet with, the more problems you solve.

We're also asking our retail members if it would be more feasible to extend the conference to accommodate more one-on-one meetings. An RVCF conference typically runs from mid-afternoon on Sunday to late morning on Wednesday. Would you be willing to meet with more suppliers if we extended the conference through Wednesday afternoon? We appreciate and encourage your feedback and participation.

What Suppliers Need to Know about One-on-One Meetings
Suppliers that would like to schedule one-on-ones with retailers will receive a One-on-One Request Survey after paying their RVCF conference registration fee. Surveys are sent approximately six weeks prior to the conference. In this survey, suppliers can indicate which retailers they would like to meet and the reason for requesting each meeting. A valid supplier number must also be provided.

Due to the laws of supply and demand, suppliers are not guaranteed to receive every meeting that they request. However, there are a few things suppliers can do to improve their chances of having meeting requests approved. First, register for the conference early to ensure that you receive the One-on-One Request Survey at the same time as other suppliers. Second, be specific about what you want to discuss during each one-on-one. For example, don't request a one-on-one meeting to discuss a topic that a retailer will cover during a Supplier Breakout session.

Keep in mind that the goal of each one-on-one is to address and solve problems. Casual meet-and-greets and catching up with people who you've been working with for years should happen during a reception or at the golf course, not a one-on-one. As mentioned previously, every one-one-one meeting is an opportunity to build a stronger trading partner relationship. Look for solutions to problems before you look for settlements, and make sure you bring operations people to the table, not just the credit and finance people, as operations people are the ones retailers want to see since they can put solutions into action.

Start Preparing Now
Another successful RVCF Annual Fall Conference is still fresh in our minds, but we're already looking forward to the Spring Conference from April 17-20, 2016 at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa in Fort Myers, FL. Start thinking about supply chain issues that need to be addressed. Start thinking about who you would like to meet to discuss these issues. Start talking to senior management about the business value of being able to meet with multiple trading partners during the same event over the course of three days.

Again, the kind of collaboration that occurs during a one-on-one meeting is the reason why RVCF exists. We want as many retailers and suppliers as possible to take advantage of these opportunities so that everyone may benefit. Your input is welcome and valued, so please contact us if you have any suggestions about how we can improve the one-on-one meeting process.

CLICK HERE to return to the NOVEMBER 2015 RVCF LINK

Tags:  Collaboration  One-on-One Meetings  One-on-Ones  RVCF Conferences 

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From the Desk of Kim Zablocky: Retailers Want Collaboration. Suppliers Want Forgiveness. What Gives?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 8, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Retail Value Chain Federation (RVCF) recently completed two whitepapers on the state of retailer-supplier collaboration. Last month, I participated in a town hall meeting about the same topic with the folks at Supply Chain Digest. We have our monthly conference calls and I speak with retailer and suppliers every single day.

During the past few months, a recurring theme has become painfully obvious. By and large, retailers want collaboration, but suppliers want forgiveness. Let me explain.

The retailer is looking to collaborate and find better ways to work together. They want to deal with the people on the supplier side who fill the orders so they can reduce shipping errors. They want suppliers to step up, become more engaged, and solve problems.

The supplier, however, will typically say that the people who fill the orders don't have time to collaborate. Instead, they send the finance people to request or demand money back for chargebacks assessed by the retailer.

The supplier knows they screwed up. But instead of collaborating, many suppliers play hardball. They'll say, "What's in it for us? We can just bury the price of compliance in the cost of goods. If you really want us to collaborate, and you really want us to comply, make it worth our while."

Retailers who are doing breakouts at the RVCF Fall Conference are sending letters to their suppliers, encouraging them to attend. The first thing they hear from the supplier is, "Why should we spend money to go there? What's in it for us?"

I think the answer to that question is pretty cut and dry. If a supplier ships to 10 retailers who will be at the same location at the same time, doesn't it make sense to spend a few bucks and take advantage of that opportunity to meet them face-to-face?

Based on what I've been hearing lately, the retailers get it. For the most part, the suppliers don't. And remember, I'm saying this as a guy who originally founded RVCF as a supplier organization. It's incredibly frustrating.

The whole mindset that collaboration isn't worth an organization's time and the behavior that trickles down from that mindset are misguided and shortsighted. If you want to increase sales, operate more efficiently and make more money, you need to accelerate the flow of merchandise through the supply chain with minimal errors. You need to get products into stores and into the hands of customers as quickly as possible.

The only way to figure out how to do this is by working with your trading partner to solve problems. But you can't solve problems when one of those sides won't come to the table.

Suppliers need to better understand the value of collaboration. Sure, you can play games. You can bury non-compliance costs in cost of goods. You can trade dollars back and forth in your trade spend. You can be sloppy. But you're not doing yourself, your trading partners, or the end consumer any good. On the other hand, you can improve your financial performance by becoming more aligned with your retail customer. If you reduce the number of chargebacks, you can reduce the prices of your merchandise, which will get where it needs to go more quickly and efficiently.

To be fair, retailers need to be a better job of communicating requirements to suppliers. Retailers need to show a little empathy and give suppliers enough time to implement changes and comply with new requirements. Retailers need to spend more time educating and training suppliers.

But this disturbing trend of asking for forgiveness or demanding money back on the part of suppliers has to stop. Retailers have shown a willingness to collaborate, and it's time for more suppliers to join them. When you make an investment in collaboration and developing a better trading partner relationship, it will pay you back in spades.

(646) 442-3473

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Tags:  Collaboration 

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It All Adds Up: Analytics, Assortment Data Bolster Business

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 13, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, August 12, 2015

by Peter Zaballos, SPS Commerce

Without a doubt, the holidays can – and will – provide a critical stress test and opportunity for today's leading retailers and suppliers to capture the hearts and wallets of consumers. Websites must stay up-to-date with the latest product details. Shipping needs to sail smoothly. And retailers' shelves, both in-store and online, need to stay stocked.

With consumers using multiple shopping channels 24/7, the increasingly rapid pace of consumer demand is affecting retailers across the board. Not only do consumers want more ways to shop, they want more choices, and their merchandise faster and cheaper than ever before.

As retailers and vendors prepare themselves for a profitable holiday season, they must plan now to best feature their products to engage the consumer online and monitor sales across all channels. They also need to know when products are shipped to the consumer, what items are flying off shelves and what merchandise they can do without.

Analytics Boosts Sales: Return Becomes $75,000 Opportunity
To deal with the breakneck pace of omni-channel sales, retailers are looking to advance their analytics and improve vendor collaboration by sharing sales data that can reveal insights to boost performance in time to capture sales.

One example that deftly demonstrates the importance of analytics and collaborating with suppliers – and how such insight can increase retail sales – is a recent occurrence between a retailer and sunglasses maker Oakley.1

When one of its retailers requested to return more than $100,000 worth of popular merchandise due to lagging sales, the team at Oakley knew it had a problem. The question was: What? They believed there was more to the story than what met the eye. Luckily the retailer provided Oakley with point-of-sale (POS) data, empowering this vendor to team with the retailer to discover what went wrong, and better yet, how to fix it to garner more sales.

From these insights, the Oakley team discovered two key facts: First, of the 40 items sold by the retailer, only about 10 – mostly newer apparel products that had yet to gain a following – were responsible for a dip in sales across the entire line. Second, Oakley's sunglasses sales were strong, but Oakley's distribution center had been out of stock when the retailer last reordered.

"That information becomes so vital when buyers call and say that the product isn't selling," said Michele McGriff, Oakley's director of U.S. sales and planning operations. "It shows that we understand their business and that we're looking at and leveraging their sales data in a way that will help them drive their business."

Oakley and the retailer arranged to sell the remaining apparel and accessories, while the retailer placed a $75,000 order for Oakley sunglasses. Oakley also took steps to ensure that its distribution center would have these sunglasses in stock.

Such strong collaboration shows the power of analytics, which led to a solid win for both the supplier and the retailer – and ultimately the consumer.

Assortment Garners Sales: Collaboration Grows Online Revenue to 40%

And it's not just analytics offering a boost. Enhancing how products look online and in-store, including comprehensive product details and availability can be tremendously beneficial for companies looking to make a marked improvement in their omni-channel presence.

Today's leading retailers and distributors are looking to suppliers to easily share their latest product attributes, including detailed item information, pricing, images and video, and marketing content. Consumers are looking for an increasing amount of information before purchasing an item, and they'll shop whichever retailer provides it.

One North American retail organization automated their assortment and item management to become a leader in their market.

Over the past decade, the company gradually transitioned from relying on its old school print catalog to becoming a robust e-commerce retailer with rich, dynamic item data and search capabilities. The overhaul in its strategy has made the experience much easier for its shoppers, and today web sales account for about 40 percent of the company's sales, which continues to grow thanks to efforts to re-engineer its web presence through an assortment strategy fueled by shared product information from its vendors.

Bottom line: Retailers, distributors, and suppliers can benefit handsomely by deploying assortment and analytic strategies, especially with the holiday season almost upon us along with increasing demands from consumers. Employing assortment and analytic initiatives will not only help suppliers and retailers stay relevant, but ahead of the pack.


Peter Zaballos is Vice President of Marketing and Product at SPS Commerce, which perfects the power of trading partner relationships with the industry's most broadly adopted, retail cloud services platform. Share your omni-channel insight with Peter at @peterzaballos.

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Tags:  Analytics  Collaboration 

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From the Desk of Kim Zablocky: Retailer-Supplier Collaboration – The Journey

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 11, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, June 9, 2015

We typically hear two uniquely framed sets of feedback from both retailers and their merchandise suppliers regarding scorecards. From the retailers' perspective, we hear that the purpose is to improve shipment accuracy by communicating with their suppliers what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong. Retailers' strive to accomplish this with KPI's usually comprised of 5 or 6 metrics for on-time delivery, completeness, damage free, fill rate, expectations to physical order received, and the like. In turn, suppliers would argue that shipment accuracy must also reflect what is happening between retailers' buyers and the suppliers' sales departments. Supplier are also quick to point out that many scorecards fail to take into account what may be happening to their orders while in-transit and at the time of receipt, prior to inbound scanning against their ASN's.

So, let's take a look at a number of issues that need to be explored, before we can improve those scorecards:

PO Changes
Purchase orders, on average, change 4.4 times before an ASN is sent. Often times, PO changes are blocked by the retailers' merchandising systems after an ASN is sent. The five top reasons for PO changes:

  • Volume
  • Price
  • Late delivery
  • Buyer request to change month of receipt
  • Retail change

PO changes negative can negatively impact both sides of the aisle. If the supplier doesn't the part or all of the changes prior to shipment, the order is already out of compliance; as such, delays are created as the retailer must correct the inaccurate shipment or refuse receipt. Retail supply chain teams should understand the dynamic of how these changes affect supplier performance. In turn, suppliers should not accept these changes if the requests cannot be met with accuracy and in a timely manner.

Fill Rates
A common complaint from suppliers is fill rate requirements. Suppliers hate to cancel the order because they can't ship complete. Many times a supplier's sales department will push for shipping what is currently in stock – the old "fill and kill." But, suppliers need to address these issues with great care. PO's should not be accepted if fill rate requirements cannot be met. Instead of shipping partial orders, the PO should be cancelled and rewritten/resent to reflect what can actually be shipped (or what is on hand). More importantly, suppliers should not substitute or "smart pick" as this practice only leads to more financial loss. Conversely, retailers need to partner with their suppliers to review inventory levels and sell-through.

Common Vocabulary
Here's another challenge that affects both sides of the trading partner relationship – at all levels of the respective enterprises – common vocabulary. I can't stress enough that all of this "order management lingo" emerged from different ivory towers. Years back at one of our first round table discussions with a group of retailers, we asked what they call certain processes, definitions and terms. We found one's lexicon can mean something very different in comparison to that of their peers. One example is the definition of "on-time" – I'll leave it at that. In any event, the confusion created for suppliers due to lack of common vocabulary can create chaos.

Training and Collaboration
If, you're a retailer, how do you improve your processes that drive your scorecard? If, you don't share data and collaborate with your suppliers, so much information can be lost. Your suppliers can sometimes determine from their side if your scorecard is accurate; if it's not, you lose credibility. And if they don't understand your scorecard, it becomes useless. We suggest that you pilot a "scorecard accuracy test" with 5-10 diverse suppliers. Run your scorecard through the vigors and share results with those participating suppliers. Understand the business processes outside of the key metrics of your scorecard. Cancelled orders, PO changes, and special deals can wreak havoc on how a supplier is measured – and unfairly we might add.

Metrics and Reversals
We have listened for years that merchandise suppliers feel it's unfair that one UPC or one missing ASN can mean disaster to their scorecard. There's a valid argument that metrics should be "weighted" to reflect statistically a Six Sigma failure rate. I was once told that the on-time percentage best practice was (whether true or not) 64%. Another argument from suppliers is simply that metrics included on certain scorecards simply don't make sense. Retailer should certainly be looking at the potential missing pieces of the scorecard puzzle that could give their suppliers more insight into their needs. As for scorecard reversals (for errors made on behalf of a retailer's personnel or systems), there should be a time limit for when reversals should appear and a way to reflect them on future scorecards. I'm told many reasons why retailers can't, which I get, but there should be an ongoing effort to find a way to improve this process.

Call to Action
In our 15 years, we have seen great gains. The retail industry is continuing to build the tools, processes and systems necessary to weed out the error-prone supply chain. We want to not only keep the conversation going, but start making strides toward the end goal – accurate scorecards that suppliers understand and can act upon.

The point is, we still have a long way to go. Let RVCF join you on the journey.

(646) 442-3473

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Tags:  Collaboration  KPI's  Metrics  Scorecarding 

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EDI on the Edge: MTO Collaborations May Be the "Next Big Thing"

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 11, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, June 9, 2015

by Carol Weidner, eZCom Software

People like it how they like it. And although this truth rings especially true with consumers, bespoke and customized items have traditionally remained the domain of the privileged few. The recent increase in both technological possibilities and consumer expectations, however, has led to the mainstreaming of "mass customization" – the making-to-order of everything from shoes and bicycles, to DVD's and dolls.

Mass customization differs from high street hand-tailoring or made-to-order fine jewelry in that it is personalization, scaled up – making customized items affordable for consumers to buy and manufacturers to produce. Recent advances in 3-D scanning, modeling and printing; more flexible production systems; advances in enterprise and production software and sizing algorithms; and innovation in social technologies and platforms have all converged to make this improbable scenario possible. And the ever-growing consumer expectation to having demands met quickly, conveniently and inexpensively, have made it – one could argue – inevitable.

How Does MTO Work?
Made-to-order (MTO) manufacturing diverges from a traditional made-to-stock (MTS) model in that it uses a "pull" supply chain model, rather than a "push" paradigm. In MTO, the manufacturing (or assembling) process begins only after a customer places a confirmed order. The quantity to produce per product specification is one, or only a few (as opposed to traditional MTS, where manufacture of multiple items per product specification would precede defined demand). The challenge of MTO, of course, is to deliver items that fulfill production guidelines efficiently, cost-effectively, and within promised time frames. Mastery of such "lean" manufacturing techniques, however, can add up to dramatic savings through elimination of physical inventory, plus significant market opportunities and competitive advantage.

Early adopters of MTO (also referred to as "Manufacture on Demand" or MOD) have included the book publishing and DVD industries as well as Dell computers and the National Bicycle Industrial Company of Japan. Levi's and Nike also numbered among the first to join the growing personalized market, offering customized and style-your-own options online and in their flagship stores. In the shoe industry, some innovators include Ferragamo with online customization options for their Vara ballet flats and men's Driver moccasins, Jimmy Choo with "design online, pick up in store" possibilities, Converse offering customized graphics and colors, as well as others. Some notable apparel adopters include online made-to-measure suit manufacturers Black Lapel and Indochino as well as technology licensers and developers AM4U (Apparel Made for You) – a group of apparel industry luminaries providing cutting edge body scanning technology integrated with adjustable pattern software, color changes on the fly, waterless textile dying, and other novel resources. Standouts in the toy sector include AvaStars' unique flagship stores, which deliver a 3-D "selfie" experience that results in both a customized short film and a fully posable doppelganger action figure; and UK firm Makies, which recently hit the news for their 3-D printed look-alike dolls for children with disabilities.

The Next Wave: Retailer/MTO Manufacturer Partnerships
Initially, most MTO manufacturers have offered their products through a proprietary online presence and/or through their own brick-and-mortar locations. However, the MTO trend does not need to disrupt retailer-manufacturer partnerships. In fact, forward-thinking retailers and MTO manufacturers have recently created highly successful partnerships that have expanded the reach, cache, and bottom lines of both companies. Standout examples include the Manolo Blahnik design-your-own boutique for Neiman Marcus online and the in-store/online partnership between maverick MTO shoe brand Shoes of Prey and Nordstrom. In the latter, customers may shop for Shoes of Prey remotely on and enjoy interactive virtual shoe design experiences within exclusive in-store boutiques.

Such groundbreaking retailer/MTO manufacturer partnerships require EDI and since such partnerships are new and, to some degree, uncharted territory, not just any EDI will do. Some key functionalities to look for in an EDI provider facilitating an MTO collaboration include:

Drop ship performance – Since neither the manufacturer nor the retailer have physical inventory on hand, all MTO partnerships will follow a drop ship-to-consumer fulfillment model. And since profit hinges even more tightly on scalability, every opportunity for streamlining and efficiency becomes essential in the order management and fulfillment processes. Look for an EDI provider that offers the following drop ship capabilities:

  • Custom branded packing slip – To create a seamless customer experience, most retailers require that their supplier partners create a custom packing slip that includes the retailer's name, logo, address, website, and any additional required information.
  • Integrated shipping – If possible, it's best to work with a platform that can integrate with FedEx and UPS, which saves time and resources while decreasing the margin of error.
  • Extremely efficient EDI – Drop ship providers – especially those operating on an MTO business model – must be able to process many documents quickly in order to save time and money. Batch processing of ASN's, invoices and other documents is crucial. Auto-creation of invoices and other timesaving features can also preserve resources.
  • Special drop ship pricing – EDI services must be priced to ensure the high volume, low quantity model remains profitable.
  • Exceptional customer support – To successfully handle high volume, suppliers need EDI customer service teams who provide education and support whenever needed, for as long as needed, until any problems are resolved.

Integration capabilities – Successful MTO manufacturing usually necessitates close connection of multiple novel applications in the areas of production, ordering, fulfillment and back-end. Most often, the more automated and interconnected the MTO supply chain, the better. For this reason, choose an EDI application and provider with a strong facility for customized integrations and a record of on-time delivery.

Flexibility and quick rate of response to customer needs – An MTO partnership will rely on many aspects of a "typical" order management process. However, it will also require breaking new ground. Your EDI provider's customer service and implementation teams must respond quickly to requests, think out of the box, and have a strong relationship with your retailer(s).

Carol Weidner, CEO of eZCom Software, is living proof of the adage "If you want something done right, ask a busy person." Soon after graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in Mathematics, she opened her own successful business – wholesaling home wares and accessories in the New York/New Jersey area. Carol continued in her entrepreneurial endeavors while she returned to Rutgers full time and completed a second degree in Biology. Following her (second) graduation, Carol learned computer programming and focused on EDI – working for companies serving the retail industry and consulting for major retailers like Toys "R" Us. When an opportunity arose to take over a small many-to-many retail portal in 2000, Carol grabbed the reins. She directed the finance and sales side of the burgeoning company, while working together with a team of colleagues who redesigned one of its key products to serve as a web-based EDI application. The result was the B2B supply chain software provider eZCom Software – and the cloud-based EDI solution, Lingo. Carol can be reached at or 201-731-1800. Learn more about eZCom Software at

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Tags:  Collaboration  EDI 

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