Fancy, luxury handbags start off looking like this:
Not exactly the image of exclusivity and sexiness that the likes of Hermes and Longchamp want to project when trying to convince customers to pony up for a bag but leather starts with hides and hides don’t start off in fancy colors.
The image comes from a Wall Street Journal article on Tanneries Haas, an old-school Alsatian tannery (French Tannery in Demand as Source of Top-Notch Leather, Nov 6). The article walks through the production process (quick: name a use for chromium!) but the interesting part of the story is how the industry of supplying high-end hides has changed. Tanneries Haas remains independent but luxury houses are buying up tanneries.
Until just a few years ago, the tanning business was the least glamorous cog in the designer-handbag industry. But recently Tanneries Haas and other French tanneries have found themselves the object of attention from famous luxury labels jockeying for secure sources of top-notch leather. “When they saw a certain number of tanneries disappear, they had to think about protecting their suppliers,” says Jean-Christophe Muller Haas, a sixth-generation French tanner. …
By acquiring suppliers, luxury goods purveyors hope to get more control over raw material costs. Prices of calf hides have soared in recent years due to Europe’s falling veal consumption. Calves are slaughtered primarily as a source of veal and skins are a byproduct. With fewer calves slaughtered to meet shrinking demand for veal, the supply of skins available for luxury leather goods is also diminished.
This move is not just limited to European calf leather. Businessweek reports that luxury firms are also buying up crocodile farms (A Crocodile’s Bumpy Road From Farm to Handbag, Oct 24).
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It is late October and on my to-do list is wading through Open Enrollment options. That inevitably brings up the question of how much money to put into our Flexible Spending Account (FSA). Given that a lot of people face that question at this time of year, I thought I would recycle a post (from Dec 2011) on how to think of funding an FSA as an inventory problem:
FSAs allow US tax payers to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for authorized expenses. One can have separate accounts for healthcare related expenses (think office-visit co-pays or dental work beyond what your insurance covers) and dependent care. Let’s focus on the medical one. Here is how a Forbes blog explained the pros and cons of the program (A Tax Break For Driving To Wal-Mart!, Dec 2).
The way you save with an FSA is this: If you divert $5,000 from taxable salary to pay for braces and your combined federal/state income tax rate is 40%, you save $2,000. You can use the money you stash in the account for medical, dental and vision expenses for yourself, your spouse or your kids. …
If you don’t spend your FSA money within the plan year (or a 2.5 month grace period in some cases), you lose it. The fear of forfeiture leads folks to underfund these accounts. Not paying attention to how expansive the list of eligible expenses is leads folks into forfeiting money. The average amount employees set aside into a healthcare flexible spending account is $1,500, and about half of participants lose an average of $75 at year-end, according to WageWorks. But even these employees who forfeit $75 are still better off with the FSA, says Dietel. Since the average election is just under $1,500, the employee has saved 25% to 40% of that, or $375 to $600, so they are still $300 to $525 ahead of where they would have been without a healthcare FSA.
So here’s the question: Do people, in fact, underfund these accounts? (more…)
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A few months ago I had a post on stair-step incentives. These are incentive schemes that car manufacturers offer dealers that essentially pay rebates on cars that have been sold once sales cross a specified threshold. In that post, I noted that these schemes had the potential to skew competition in local markets:
If you and I own competing dealerships across town, I have a serious leg up on you if I am the first to reach a threshold. I can price more competitively since I know that I am guaranteed to get a rebate while you are still striving to make the threshold. Note this makes everything all that more sensitive to how individual dealer thresholds are set. If mine were skewed low while yours were too high, it’s game over and I eat your lunch.
Obviously, from a dealer’s perspective, this is an issue. Dealers don’t necessarily know how car makers set their targets. They, for example, may be basing targets on national trends that may not apply locally. Further dealers may be facing challenges that the automakers don’t know (e.g., a top sales person just left). Even if a dealer knows how his target was set, he may not know what the target is for a neighboring dealer of the same brand or what is happening with a competing brand. Hence, he could be blind sided when a competing dealer reaches her threshold and starts pricing very aggressively. Is there an easy answer to this dealer’s conundrum?
Enter the New Hampshire state legislature. (more…)
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This blog entry is a direct continuation of Marty’s post on Textiles in America and part of our ongoing posts on reshoring of work. The New York Times Replica Edition is an exact electronic version of the in-print newspaper where I first saw these two nice pieces of data. (I LOVE data. Recall: “In God we trust, all others bring data”–according to quality guru Edward Demming.)
Jobs evolution since 1990.
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported in New York Times of Sep 20, 2013)
This chart provides hard data of the stories often told about job losses. The huge transformation of textiles and apparel is striking–mind you, the data spans the relative recent 18 years! I can only imagine the devastating impact to families working in that sector… From an economic perspective, two key explanatory changes are: 1) offshoring to low cost countries after deregulation and 2) innovation leading to increased automation, and the substitution of capital for labor. (I purposely use the “big” innovation word; later I shall also write about recent data linking innovation to offshoring.)
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About a year ago, we had a post on Amazon Lockers — the Seattle firm’s attempt to solve recurring last mile problems. Customers could have their purchases delivered to a secure, nearby location. No need to sign for a package; no need to worry about someone walking off with your box. You just need to enter a code to pop open the locker that has your stuff.
But there is an obvious complication here: Those lockers have to go somewhere. Amazon’s plan was not to buy real estate but to plant them in existing retail locations. But which stores would benefit from hosting Amazon lockers? That is the question that a recent Businessweek article examines (Do Amazon’s Lockers Help Retailers? Depends on What They Sell, Sep 20).
The incentive for any business hosting an Amazon locker isn’t the monthly stipend the online retailer pays—”not even worth it,” says the manager of a Manhattan copy shop—but the lure of higher store traffic given the online retailer’s enormous sales volume and the gazillions of brown boxes sent across the nation each day.
Amazon has the lockers in nine large metro areas and touts the delivery option as a customer convenience for the many people who can’t reliably get their online purchases at work or at home. For a bricks-and-mortar business, the idea is that people coming to collect their Amazon purchases will buy other stuff on their way out the door.
So do people buy other stuff? (more…)
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A Slate article asks a very simple question: “Ikea is so good at so many things. Why is it so bad at delivery?”
The author tells the story of an item that was purchased from Ikea and was supposed to be delivered by a third party. While Ikea claimed to ship the item, the third party claimed to never receive it. Since Ikea claimed the item was shipped, the order could not be cancelled without incurring a hefty cost. Apparently, this is not a unique experience:
The nightmare of Ikea delivery is a truth so universally acknowledged that even the company cops to it. Chief marketing officer Leontyne Green talked about her own “very frustrating” Ikea delivery experience in a December 2011 Ad Age profile, which stressed the firm’s ongoing efforts to improve delivery and overall customer service.
In trying to explain the above conundrum, the author recruits several of our colleagues from Dartmouth and Harvard:
“With sporadic orders over a wide geographic area, Ikea would need a fleet of trucks that might be idle one day and not able to handle the load the next,” says Robert Shumsky, a professor of operations management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
We have discussed several times, albeit in the context of grocery delivery, the fact that one of the main cost drivers of delivery services is density. Since Ikea tends to be quite far from urban and dense areas, it is usually difficult to build density and thus difficult to offer a cost efficient services. One may charge a high price for such a service, but given their target market, this may not be ideal. (more…)
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The early years of my research career were largely focused on supply chain contracting with some focus on the auto industry. I am consequently a sucker for any good story about how automakers use their terms of trade to bend dealers to their will. Thus I read a recent Automotive News article on stair-step incentives with interest (GM stair-step aims to juice Chevy sales, Aug 19). Stair-step programs are dealer-based incentives based around quotas. A car manufacturer may offer a dealer three targets, say, 50, 100 and 125 units. If the dealer sells 50 cars in a specified time period (often a month), he will get, say, $500 per car rebated back to him. If he gets to 100 units, he would get something like $1,000 back per unit and then a bigger number if he goes over 125. So stair-step schemes offer bigger and bigger rewards as sales go up. The actual mechanics of plans can differ. For example, the increased rebate from crossing higher and higher levels may go back to early sales. For example, crossing from 124 to 125 in my example, may mean getting the top reward on every car sold that month. The other complication is what actually counts toward the target. Stair-steps may apply only to some models or to a wide set of models. The article notes that Chevy’s current program is exceptionally broad.
Sales of 2014 and 2013 Impalas, Camaros, Cruzes and Sonics are eligible under a GM stair-step program for August. The program pays dealers escalating bonuses as they hit factory-set sales thresholds. Sales of 2013 Malibus also are included; the 2014 model of the mid-sized sedan goes on sale this fall. …
Dealers say it’s unusual for GM to include so many nameplates in one stair-step program. Some also were surprised that the incentive includes the redesigned 2014 Impala, which has won critical praise since its May debut, including being rated the top sedan by Consumer Reports.
So why are stair-step programs interesting?
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If you look at what it costs an automaker to build a vehicle, purchased components are going to represent a big, big chunk. How an automaker deals with its suppliers and how it chooses just who is going to make what is then critical to its overall success. Automotive News has a pair of stories that highlight how two carmakers are taking somewhat different approaches to managing purchasing.
First up is Chrysler which is opting for a kinder, gentler approach to sourcing. Specifically, it is floating the idea of assigning some parts without putting them out to bid (Chrysler pilots no-bid contracts on new minivan, Aug 5). Essentially, Chrysler is willing to guarantee that a supplier gets the work if it is willing to share a significant amount of financial data.
Chrysler Group is using its next minivan to pilot a collaborative, no-bid purchasing system that guarantees favored suppliers a profit but requires them to open up their financial books. …
The presourcing arrangements between an automaker and supplier are designed to allow both to cut engineering costs, build trust and improve long-term planning. They are common among suppliers at Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., but haven’t caught on among domestic suppliers. …
Long-term, no-bid agreements give suppliers more predictable revenue, allowing them to invest with reduced risk. And suppliers say they provide their best technology to automakers that are loyal to them and offer the best profit opportunities.
For automakers, the no-bid agreements help ensure an uninterrupted flow of parts and access to a supplier’s best technology.
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A few months ago we had a post about how shipping containers have impacted supply chains and global trade. Today we have a longer piece from Nautilus on the history of shipping containers as well as some current trends in global shipping (The Box That Built the Modern World, Jul 25). I have three take aways from reading the article. First, everyone should read The Box by Marc Levinson because (a) it’s a good book and (b) it seems that no one can write about containerized shipping without more-or-less admitting that Mr. Levinson saved them a lot of effort in researching the topic.
The second point is that the article provides a nice illustration of how slapping stuff in containers can dramatically drive down shipping costs.
To get a sense of how the system works, imagine one of the containers aboard the Hong Kong Express, which is owned by German shipping giant Hapag-Lloyd. Asked to trace a product through a typical container voyage, Hapag-Lloyd spokesman Rainer Horn suggests a T-shirt sewn at a factory near Beijing, the kind you might buy at H&M.
Tagged, folded, and boxed, the T-shirt would be “stuffed” into a container with 33,999 identical shirts at the factory. Once sealed with a plastic tag and listed on a computerized manifest, the merchandise could pass through nearly three dozen steps before arriving at a discount clothing retailer’s distribution center near Munich. There’s the trucker who moves the box to a waiting ship in Xinjiang, the feeder ship that moves it to Singapore to be loaded onto a bigger Europe-bound freighter, the crane operator in Hamburg, customs officials, train engineers, and more.
Yet the container’s uniformity smooths each step of the way. Trucks and trains are fitted to haul the identical boxes; cranes are designed to lift the same thing over and over. The total time in transit for a typical box from a Chinese factory to a customer in Europe might be as little as 35 days. Cost per shirt? “Less than one U.S. cent,” Horn says. “It doesn’t matter anymore where you produce something now, because transport costs aren’t important.”
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