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How does lean operations interact with how workers are treated? That is the question behind an article in Stanford Business (Lean manufacturing benefits workers and the bottom line, Autumn 2016). Here’s the story in a nutshell. Nike began working with its apparel suppliers to implement lean operations at the suppliers’ factories. This entailed bringing in managers to train them and then supporting them as they began implementing lean assembly lines.

While one side of Nike is doing that, another is going out and auditing suppliers for how well they maintain labor standards. This team is monitoring compliance with local labor laws as well as Nike’s own standards. They are passing out letter grades. Suppliers that are doing well get As and Bs. Those with major violations are getting Cs and Ds.

And, of course, both Nike teams are collecting data: Who has implemented a lean line? Who has cleared up their problems with overtime pay and so on? Some academics get a hold of that data and start to look at whether lean moves the needle on labor standards. (You can find a link to the academic paper here.)

Here is what they found. Continue Reading »

It’s the end of the year so it is clearly time to see what is up with how retailers are handling holiday logistics. A useful starting point is this graphic from the Wall Street Journal (As Web Sales Spike, Retailers Scramble to Ship From Stores, Dec 1).

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This shows how Toys R Us fulfills its web orders. And, yes, that says that over 40% of the web sales were fulfilled from stores. (To put that total in perspective, the company’s revenue last year was $11.8 billion.) Continue Reading »

It’s not every day that you see a video about supply chain contracting, so I cannot resist posting about it:

The video comes from Vox and they have an article that goes with it (The hidden war over grocery shelf space, Nov 22). That article, in turn, was at least partially inspired by a report written for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Rigged: Supermarket Shelves for Sale, Sep 28, 2016).

The contract in question is a slotting allowance. Slotting allowances are paid by food manufacturers to retailers in order to get items onto shelves. The money is paid upfront and often varies with the number of stock keeping units (SKUs) introduced and the number of stores in which the products will be stocked. The term comes from the act of creating a space — i.e., a slot — for an item in a warehouse or on a store shelf. The origin story is that retailers at some point started demanding that vendors compensate them for the costs they incur in helping launch new products (which often fail). The reality is that the money involved is now significantly higher than the cost of rearranging products. In effect, retailers are selling off their real estate.

So are slotting allowances good or bad for markets and customers?

Continue Reading »

There is a good chance that the last time you bought something on Amazon’s website, it wasn’t actually sold by Amazon. It instead came from an independent merchant, and Amazon just handled the logistics of getting the item to you. That arrangement has an implication that I never considered until a recent Wall Street Journal article (Amazon Prods Its Sellers to Free Up Warehouse Space, Nov 4): By inviting in the additional sellers, Amazon is giving up control of just what is in its fulfillment centers. If a merchant wants to sell miscellaneous crap, that is their business. At the same time, however, that miscellanea potentially ties up space that Amazon needs — or at least could use more profitably on other items. This is particularly true as we head into the holiday season when Amazon should reasonably expect business to be booming.

What is a poor e-commerce giant to do?

How about a little surge pricing? Continue Reading »

We all like simple solutions. Tired after work, your teenagers have friends over, and everyone’s getting hungry? Just order pizzas and the problem is solved. But how complicated is it to get pizzas to customers? Is there much room for innovation in this market?

The answer, apparently, is yes. The NPR blog The Salt had a feature on a Silicon Valley start up Zume that aims to use robot and specialized equipment to cut the time and cost to make and deliver pizzas (Our Robot Overlords Are Now Delivering Pizza, And Cooking It On The Go, Sep 29).  This video shows how Zume (which should not be confused with a failed media player) works.

Here is the key point from The Salt article:

Here’s how it works. A customer places an order on the app. Inside the Zume factory, a team of mostly robots assembles the 14-inch pies, each of which gets loaded par-baked — or partially baked — into its own oven.

Whether the truck has five pies or 56, it needs just one human worker — to drive, slice and deliver to your doorstep.

“She doesn’t have to think about when to turn the ovens on, whether to turn the ovens off,” Collins says. “She doesn’t have to think about what route to take or [whom] to go to first. All of that is driven off of our algorithm.” …

The driver then parks, cuts the pie with a special blade and delivers it piping hot.

Continue Reading »

The World Series starts tonight. While everyone in Chicago is focused on the prospect of the Cubs winning the Series, that is not a certainty. The one thing that is certain is that someone is going to lose – and that raises the prospect of a Cub or Chief Wahoo on t-shirt proclaiming that a team won something that they didn’t.

So what happens to t-shirts and other tchotchkes celebrating events that never happened? That was the topic of a recent Chicago Tribune story (Where do losing baseball teams’ postseason T-shirts end up?, October 18). The article itself is a little confused (it very much seems that a paragraph was dropped) but it does layout some options:

Last year, VF Licensed Sports Group required customers who wanted early access to merchandise celebrating a baseball team’s postseason run agree to ship any merchandise with a losing team’s 2015 MLB postseason clinch logos, images or graphics to international nonprofit World Vision. Customers had 24 hours following a loss to get in touch with World Vision to start the donation process, according to a 2015 agreement provided by a retailer. …

Another retailer was sent a revised agreement that replaced the donation requirement with a mandate to ship any items for losing teams back for destruction. …

Retailers who violate an agreement not to sell, advertise or promote the losing team’s merchandise agree to pay $100,000 per breach, according to the 2016 World Series preprinted merchandise agreement.

Continue Reading »

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Di Fara Pizza is a small, single-location pizza place in Brooklyn. According to its Wikipedia entry (yes, it has a Wikipedia entry), it has been named to many, many lists of the best pizza in New York City. The place’s secret sauce is Dom DeMarco, the shop’s owner, who essentially makes every pie. He opened the shop in 1964 and is now 79. He doesn’t work too fast and really does everything right down to slicing basil on to each slice. Consequently, the lines can be a tad long. It is one of the principle things that on-line reviewers comment on:

It’s nice to see that the original pizza making man still has the passion to make pizza. But the wait is ridiculously long and people in there are just too pushy. “Next! What do you want?”

So how does that kind of wait affect their business and the customer experience? That was the topic of discussion of a recent episode of The Gist podcast (Your Food Will Be Ready When You Look Hungry Enough, Oct 12).

The guest of that episode is Dan Pashman, who describes his visit to Di Fara as well as the research he did to put together an episode of his own podcast, The Sporkful (Is This Pizza Worth Waiting For?, Aug 11).

Some of that reporting also ended up in an episode of Freakonomics Radio (What Are You Waiting For?, Aug 10)

That’s right: The man made one trip to Brooklyn and it resulted in three podcast episodes.

The Sporkful and Freakonomics episodes are worth a listening. Both talk about different aspects of managing queues. The former emphasizes more psychology and physiology (especially how waiting affects hunger) while the latter puts more emphasis on the economics of queue. Continue Reading »

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