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Supply Chain CEO Interview: Our Team Talks to Martin Harshberger

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If you're anything like us, podcasts are an increasingly attractive source of entertainment and education. These are qualities that resonate any time we hear a supply chain CEO interview with Martin Harshberger, host of the Manufacturing Supply Chain CEOs (MSCC) show.

Martin is a two-time founder and CEO with more than four decades of experience under his belt. That time spans everything from ambitious young businesses to Fortune 500 companies, during which his understanding of logistics and operations has been key. He has also written two books, entitled “Bottom Line Focus" and “Conscious Business Development".

In other words, he's a great person to talk to if you have an interest in navigating operational challenges and driving robust, reliable growth in the years to come! That's exactly what this supply chain CEO interview does, as Capacity's venerable co-founder and CSO Thom Campbell and our multi-talented marketing analyst Gabriela Abarquez sit down for a wide-ranging chat with Martin on the MSCC podcast.

Listen above.

Supply Chain CEO Interview: The Challenges of 2021

After providing a little background around the life and times of Capacity, Thom and Gabriela reflect on the supply chain challenges of the past year, as well as the industry changes wrought by the fluctuations of living through a global pandemic.

Needless to say, things look a lot different to the landscape that retailers and 3PL companies looked out on entering 2020.

Some of the observations around these changes include:

  • "Business changed dramatically. eCommerce flipped B2B retail orders on its head during the pandemic year, with huge implications in terms of how much space and labor you need."
  • "Fulfilling eCommerce orders is more expensive than filling B2B orders. More orders with fewer units per order simply requires greater coordination and more labor."
  • "Real estate and labor costs have escalated massively. Even if some of the supply chain constraints and inflationary pressures are transitory, some of the high watermarks we're seeing will remain."

How these fluctuations impact the future of retail and supply chain proves to be fertile ground for further discussion, as you'll hear. A potential anchor with which to weather this storm is identified in the form of a focus on customer experience.

Brands and Customer Experience

As we've heard so frequently on the topic of retail in a pandemic, accelerated eCommerce has proved to be both a blessing and a curse.

For some businesses it has been a lifeline, opening up a channel to customers existing and new, who could not otherwise access the products they need. For others, the sudden shift to online shopping has been impossible to manage, cutting off physical retail and reducing communication with customers to a digital transaction.

Meanwhile, the supply chain challenges of 2021 laid bare the limitations of online shopping. As we covered in our item on stats that define the 2021 peak season for eCommerce, out of stock messages surged 256% during the last holiday season, while fewer back in stock notifications could be sent before Christmas arrived. In some cases, this sent shoppers hurrying back to brick and mortar stores in the hope of finding items that digital channels could not deliver. Some were successful, others found inventory tracking information to be outdated and left empty-handed.

As this conversation highlights, brands and retailers who focus on a consistent customer experience across all channels are in a much better position to come through supply chain storms like this unscathed.

As Gabriela notes, from a consumer experience standpoint her generation is looking for something distinctive from the brands they buy. "What turns our head is uniqueness," she says of the next generation, asking "what is different about this company? What do they do or share that others won't?"

Interestingly, this provides an intersection between old and new for the conversation, aligning young brands that aren't afraid to say and do things purely for their fans with the tradition of smaller, more personal retailers who understand their customers and go the extra mile to help them out.

The unifying theme is a commitment to throw off the impersonal practices of the big box era, be it Amazon or Walmart, to forge a brand experience that is personalized and tough to replicate for competitors. "It's pretty hard to beat that," says Thom as a summary. "Many of the businesses that understand this have fiercely loyal customers who are more intentional and thoughtful about how they deploy their dollars."

People and Passion

No supply chain CEO interview would be complete without a nod to leadership traits or career development and our participants don't leave us hanging on this topic!

"If you want to employ high quality people - and you want them engaged - you have to value every role," says Thom. At every level of the business, you have to make those positions the best they can be and give passionate people a clear path to develop their talents.

MSCC Podcast - supply chain ceo interview

Martin echoes this, highlighting the cost of businesses that are reluctant to develop and confirming "nobody wants to go work for somebody who's going to stay on the same path for 15 years. In manufacturing, that's an issue. They don't know how to grow and employee turnover is one of the biggest issues."

"You hear the horror stories of some warehouse workers," says Gabriela, "people who haven't had a good experience and companies that only provide for their corporate employees."

There is so much more crammed into this half-hour conversation but we prefer not to spoil it for those of who you will enjoy the listen. From the pros and cons of leadership lessons to the importance of checking out the warehouse restroom, we promise you'll be glad you did!

Hit play above and don't forget to share the podcast on your preferred social networks if you like what you hear and thank you to Martin for hosting us.

You can connect with Martin Harshberger on Linkedin and find his supply chain CEO interview archive for the MSCC podcast here: https://www.martinharshberger.com/podcast.