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Using Supply Chains to Create Value for Customers

15 January, 2016 - 09:18

Suppose you have developed a great new product like Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Not only is the game terrific, but you’ve managed to maximize to get it sold in every marketing channel you can. The product is selling at GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon, and it’s slated to come out on Sony’s PlayStation Portable console. That’s the end of the story, right? Not quite. Sooner rather than later, in addition to focusing on the firms “downstream” that sell your product, you will also look “upstream” at your suppliers and “sideways” at potential firms to partner with. It’s only natural. (Or in the case of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, should we say supernatural?)

As we explained in Chapter 8 "Using Marketing Channels to Create Value for Customers", your product’s supply chain includes not only the downstream companies that actively sell the product but also all the other organizations that have an impact on it before, during, and after it’s produced. Those companies include the providers of the raw materials your firm uses to produce it, the transportation company that physically moves it, and the firm that helped build the Web pages to promote it. If you hired a programmer in India to help write computer code for the game, the Indian programmer is also part of the product’s supply chain. If you hired a company to process copies of the game returned by customers, that company is part of the supply chain as well. Large organizations with many products can have literally thousands of supply chain partners. Service organizations also need supplies to operate, so they have supply chains, too.

As you learned at the end of the last chapter, the process of designing, monitoring, and altering supply chains to make them as efficient as possible is called supply chain management. The term supply chain management was first coined by an American industry consultant in the early 1980s, but it’s an old idea. Part of Henry Ford’s strategy in the early 1900s was to extract as much efficiency (and money) as he could by taking ownership of the supply chains for his automobiles. Ford owned the foundries that converted raw iron ore to steel for his cars. He also owned the plantations from which rubber was extracted to produce his automobiles’ tires, and the ships on which the materials and finished products were transported. 1

Today, many companies still take a narrow view of their supply chains; they look at supply chains mainly in terms of the costs they can save. Cost reduction is definitely an important part of supply chain management. After all, if your competitors can produce their products at a lower cost, they could put you out of business.

Keep in mind, however, that a firm can produce a product so cheaply that no one will buy it because it’s shoddy. That’s why smart companies view their supply chains as an integral part of their marketing plans. In other words, these companies also look at the ways their supply chains can create value for customers so as to give their firms a competitive edge.

Today, the term value chain is sometimes used interchangeably with the term supply chain. The idea behind the value chain is that your supply chain partners should do more for you than perform just basic functions; each one should help you create more value for customers as the product travels along the chain—preferably more value than your competitors’ supply chain partners can add to their products.

Zara, a trendy but inexpensive clothing chain in Europe, is a good example of a company that has managed to create value for its customers with smart supply chain design and execution. Originally, it took six months for Zara to design a garment and get it delivered to stores. To get the hottest fashions in the hands of customers as sooner, Zara began working more closely with its supply chain partners and internal design teams. It also automated its inventory systems so it could quickly figure out what was selling and what was not. As a result, it’s now able to deliver its customers the most cutting-edge fashion in just two weeks. Not only that, but the company set a new standard for the clothing industry in the process. 2