Exporta: operating a lean and efficient business model
Could you tell me a little bit about...
We speak with Don Marshall, Head of e-commerce and Marketing at Exporta, about what makes his company different.
Could you tell me a little bit about your company and your role at the company?
Exporta is the UK’s product handling experts. We provide plastic packaging solutions and transportable pallets for some of the world's largest blue-chip companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, DHL and Selfridges. We aim to help our customers become more efficient, compliant and competitive through the product handling solutions we provide.
I am responsible for eCommerce and Marketing at Exporta, which is both an interesting and challenging role. I joined the business in 2018 intending to bring my professional experience gained from roles previously held at household-name businesses, such as B&Q, IKEA and Dunelm Mill, to Exporta to help boost business to the next level. Our first task was to create a new transactional website, which we launched a year ago and recently won an eCommerce Award for.
What are the current trends within your industry?
There are a few specific trends in our industry, but on the whole 2019 has been a tough year, with many companies delaying larger projects and further spending until they are clear on the outcome of Brexit. We have continued to grow in terms of sales, profitability and number of customer year on year, which is great news.
A lot of the products we sell are made from plastic, such as our plastic pallets and plastic storage containers. There has been a lot of negative press involving single-use plastics and plastic pollution, despite this we have noticed a distinct trend of clients switching from the use of wooden products to sustainable plastic alternatives.
The switch from wood to plastic pallets has been growing. Although wood is a natural product, it involves deforestation in the production of pallets. Whereas, 98% of the pallets we sell are made from recycled material. Thus, taking the plastic waste and turning it into something useful. Plastic Pallets last 25 times longer than those made of wood, so in the majority of cases, the payback is very short.
We are also embracing recycled products, and have partnered with a specialist recycling firm earlier this year, to offer a free recycling service for all our plastic products at the end of their life span.
What makes your company competitive?
We are a competitive company for several reasons. We are a medium-sized independent business and so have a lean and efficient business model, without big overheads. We can adapt quickly to market conditions and support our customer’s needs and requirements.
We buy in bulk and have a large storage facility, so we are can offer next day delivery on orders placed before 4pm anywhere in the UK. The advantage of buying in bulk is that we can then sell at competitive rates without ever compromising on quality.
Finally, our team makes a massive difference. We have a small, tight-knit team who always support each other and provide the best customer service they can. We can turn around quotes, answer calls and pick up online chats within minutes. This is backed up by our excellent 5-star rating submitted by our customers on Trustpilot.
What innovations has your company been developing in 2019?
We are always adding to our range and bringing new and innovative products to fill specific needs and gaps in the market such as spindle pallets, food-grade pallet box covers, and new collapsible pallet boxes, but our biggest innovation and success in 2019 was RFID.
We recently worked with Reach PLC, the largest third-party contract print provider in the UK, who had a costly problem before working with Exporta: they were losing their pallets. We worked with them to find a suitable pallet which was branded with their company details and a very distinct colour. To help eliminate this asset loss, Exporta introduced barcoding labels with integrated RFID so that each pallet could be tracked and traced at any point in the network.
This involved radio frequency tags and barcode labels being attached to the pallets, those with a unique code that can be read via an RFID scanner. Once these were input into the warehouse and transport management systems, Reach were able to see where any pallet should be at any point in time. This solved the second issue fully and after the initial trial, the customer has placed a second order for more.
What are your predictions for the industry in 2020?
I think 2020 could see our industry stabilising and growing if Brexit negotiations are resolved early. Until Brexit is underway, this level of uncertainty will continue, and confidence will remain low. Once we are clear, investment in equipment and improving efficiency will begin again in earnest.
The impact of Brexit should lead to new opportunities and markets opening with trade agreements for export, and that will lead to increased demand for our products. On that basis, we are expecting good growth and a buoyant market in 2020.
From a product point of view, sustainability and recycling will continue to be a very big focus for us. The use of plastic and creation of plastic waste will influence decision-making, and so we will promote the fact that our plastic products are fully recyclable and that a very high proportion are already made from recycled plastic. We will continue to offer a free plastic recycling scheme open to all.
Is there any exciting news you’d like to share with our readers at Supply Chain Digital?
Yes, we have just introduced an exciting new product specifically for exporting goods via air freight. It’s a lightweight but incredibly strong cardboard crate, which, when combined with our ultralight plastic nestable pallet, will save companies around 50% of the volumetric weight cost of using a wooden pallet and wooden crate combination.
When you export via air freight the charges are based on a calculation on the volume of the container and the overall weight. Using a wooden pallet and/or wooden crate adds extra weight and therefore increases shipping costs. By using a lighter crate this will reduce costs significantly.
Each cardboard crate can hold up to 500kg stacked on top and they are also collapsible. Their durability makes them fully reusable time and time again, and as they are made from recycled cardboard, they are very good for the environment and come in various pallet size options (Standard, Euro and Half Euro) and two thicknesses (15mm and 25mm).
You can see a full range of these products on our website here.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”