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Logistics

Retail supply chain needs vision, investment, diverse collaboration

Effective retail supply chains require a forceful vision, appropriate investment and commitment of a diverse workforce, according to presenters at a late February industry conference.

Executives of The Home Depot Inc., Neiman Marcus Group, Walgreen Co. and Target Corp. were among those delivering such messages at the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s 2018 Retail Supply Chain Conference, held Feb. 25-28 in Phoenix.

Supply chain transformation depends upon a compelling and communicable vision, passionate confidence and a great team, said Mark Holifield, executive vice president of supply chain and product development at The Home Depot.

Those three attributes, Holifield said, are essential to the 2,284-store, suburban Atlanta-based mega-retailer’s objective of providing “the fastest and most-efficient delivery in home improvement,” furnishing product availability within one day or less nationwide.

The Home Depot, which reported $100.9 billion in fiscal 2017 sales, is investing $1.2 billion over the next five years in a plan that entails opening 165 new distribution facilities, relying heavily upon automation, and more than doubling the company’s number of supply chain workers from its current 5,000-associate contingent, Holifield said.

Neiman Marcus Group’s senior vice president of supply chain and operations, Willis Weirich, told RILA conference attendees in a separate presentation that it is imperative that dedication to excellence in logistics is shared by a company’s entire leadership team.

Willis Weirich, senior vice president of supply chain and operations at Neiman Marcus Group, sees boardroom buy-in as imperative for supply chain investments. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Willis Weirich, senior vice president of supply chain and operations at Neiman Marcus Group, sees boardroom buy-in as imperative for supply chain investments. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)

“You’ve got to make sure the other folks in the room are championing your ideas,” said Weirich, whose Dallas-based company operates 86 stores under six brands focused on the luxury market, last year generating $4.71 billion in revenue, including growing online sales. “The risk of doing nothing is increasing.”

Walgreens senior vice president of supply chain and logistics, Reuben Slone, said it has been his “lifelong ambition to get the supply chain viewed as a strategic competitive advantage” rather than as a cost to be minimized.

“It’s all about people, process and technology,” said Slone, whose Deerfield, Illinois-based chain operates 8,100 drugstores and had $118.2 billion in fiscal 2017 sales.

Slone said every successful supply chain delivers four outcomes: safety, product availability, inventory productivity and cost productivity.

Reuben Slone, senior vice president of supply chain and logistics at drugstore operator Walgreen Co., views an efficient supply chain as a strategic competitive advantage. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Reuben Slone, senior vice president of supply chain and logistics at drugstore operator Walgreen Co., views an efficient supply chain as a strategic competitive advantage. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)

“Collaboration is essential,” Slone said, citing as an example a program begun last fall that now allows FedEx package dropoffs and pickups at 7,500 Walgreens locations.

Slone also noted a Walgreens initiative to hire people with cognitive and/or physical disabilities for supply chain jobs. Since begun a decade ago, the program has increased the company’s share of supply chain workers who have disabilities to 12 percent, moving toward a goal of 20 percent. He volunteered to share knowledge and assist counterparts at other retail firms in advancing their own similar initiatives.

The significance of workforce diversity was further expounded upon in a presentation by Caroline A. Wanga, chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources for Minneapolis-based, 1,822-store Target, who encouraged hiring for logistics jobs and other positions of workers representative of the full spectrum of customer demographics.

“If you don’t do it, prepare to be irrelevant and close your doors,” said Wanga, a self-described “supply chain girl” who began her Target career in 2005 as a warehouse operations intern at the company’s regional distribution center in Tyler, Texas.

Caroline A. Wanga, chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources at Target Corp., embodies the spirit of gender and ethnic parity. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT) Caroline A. Wanga, chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources at Target Corp., embodies the spirit of gender and ethnic parity. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Caroline A. Wanga, chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources at Target Corp., embodies the spirit of gender and ethnic parity. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)

Saying between 70 percent and 80 percent of supply chain jobs are held by men, while males hold 95 percent of top-level supply chain positions at Fortune 500 companies, Wanga said retailers must agree to commit to gender parity in the supply chain.

Wanga said Target, which last year reported nearly $69.5 billion in sales, is proud that females make up 40 percent of its supply chain leadership team, but it is not yet satisfied with such progress and is engaged in numerous efforts to increase inclusion, including through individual sponsorships, peer learning and collective learning.

RILA’s president, Sandy Kennedy, said the association is committed to diversity in gender, ethnicity, race and culture among the nation’s 42 million supply chain jobholders.

Lisa LaBruno, RILA’s senior vice president for retail operations, said that “innovation is a common thread” not just in the supply chain but in all the association and its members do.

While much of the four-day program was off the record for journalists, the media agenda featured a diverse array of speakers, from Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard’s presentation on how accelerated application of technology is disrupting the retail supply chain to a message of encouragement from child safety activist Elizabeth Smart, who first entered the national spotlight at age 14 following her 2002 abduction from her Salt Lake City home.

Paul Scott Abbott
Paul Scott Abbott

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist.
A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists.
Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.
A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.

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