‘Tis the season … to bring an end to seasonality! (And JIT!)

Consumer shopping may be seasonal, but supply chains no longer support seasonality. The pandemic finally broke over-stretched supply chains, they haven’t fully recovered, and, as per this recent article over on Capgemini, we are still in a situation where 42% of CPR [Consumer Products and Retail] (also known as CPG, Consumer Purchased Goods) organizations expect stockouts or product shortages, 38% expect late deliveries, and 35% foresee labour shortages.

Marketers might like seasonality, as it makes them absolutely necessary, and sales people might like seasonality, because it gives them a reason to push sales (and possibly close a sale in a given time period), but human seasonality is limited to SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Just because consumers want to buy 5 times as many units of a product in December as they do the rest of the year doesn’t mean that humans in September can make 5 times as many units. If a plant normally runs 8 hours a day, the most a plant can theoretically run is 24 hours a day and the most it can do is triple its output. But that assumes it has enough, trained, seasonal, workforce. That’s not likely. Maybe it can split the skilled workforce in half, force half to take the second shift, and have each regular worker supervise one seasonal worker in an effort to double output. But a seasonal worker is not going to be as efficient as a regular worker, and, in the end, maybe output will increase by two thirds. Not much better than if they could just convince their entire workforce to work 12 hour shifts for the month and increase output by about 40% (you’re not getting the theoretical 50% as the workforce will be tired somewhere beyond the 8 to 10 hour mark).

Furthermore, you not only need to have five times the amount of product produced, you also need it transported to you — from half a world away. Seasonal capacity, especially in the late summer/early fall (to get goods to North America in time for the holiday season), has always been limited and with the scuttling of many cargo ships during the pandemic (including some ships that never made a single voyage) due to lack of cargo (because China shut a [port] city down), seasonal capacity is even less than it was. So how do you get the goods during the season, which is what you have been doing/attempting to do since the 80s thanks to the Big X advising you to switch to just in time (and push the inventory cost onto the manufacturer/supplier)? The short answer is, you roll the bones and hope for the best (because JIT now stands for just in trouble). And that’s not a good answer.

If you have “seasonal” demand because either

  • your business model is selling seasonal items or
  • you allowed marketing and sales to take what should be a product always in demand and make it seasonal

Then you have to start managing your own inventory close to the point of sale/last-mile distribution (if you do a lot of on-line business) and start building it up months in advance, based upon normal (non-OT production) and optimal distribution volumes. Yes, inventory is expensive, but what you don’t get is that

  • you’re paying for it anyway (because the supplier is charging you their overhead)
  • you’re losing a lot of sales, and profit, when you stock out
  • a few months of inventory is not that expensive and it’s only expensive if you overstock and then have to discount/fire sale

In other words, do proper data driven forecasting, ensure marketing and sales manage demand by driving people to the products that you have enough of that optimize your profit, right size your “local” warehouses, pick the cheapest locales for a region (your main warehouse doesn’t have to be in the city or even the primary business park, can be in a tier 3 business park a half hour out – that’s not going to add much to delivery cost), and start integrating core product management functions back into your business. Even if you sell seasonal, eliminating seasonality from your management model will decrease overall cost (no more shipping at peak rates in peak seasons or paying overtime overhead), decrease stock outs, and increase profit. Just do it.