Episode 30:
Why supply chain needs a new collaboration model

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“The challenges were directly linked to customers not having enough inventory in the right places at the right time, as lockdown happened. No one knew, no one could predict the behaviours that would drive a consumer”

Tune into another episode of Freight to the Point as James Fry, Director of Supply Chain Solutions at Zencargo joins Helena Wood. During their conversation they discuss how shippers should be collaborating with their freight forwarder and why the traditional, transactional relationship is no longer suitable for the current market.

Listen if you want to hear more about:

  • What you’re missing out on if you’re not working with a digital freight forwarder
  • How bespoke solutions can unlock great potential in your supply chain
  • How your freight forwarder should be marrying data and service to drive your supply chain goals

James Fry
James is Zencargo’s Director of Solutions and has worked in supply chain for over 10 years. James leads a team of experts who work with Zencargo customers to identify areas of opportunity and build bespoke solutions to deliver value. James and his team focus on optimising costs and ultimately driving supply chain performance for customers.


Helena Wood Hello and welcome to another episode of Freight to the Point, a podcast from Zencargo. I’m Helena Wood, and I’m joined by James Fry, the Director of Solutions here at Zencargo. It’s great to have James on the podcast. Frankly, I don’t know how we’ve not had you here before. Today, we’re going to be talking about how freight forwarders and shippers should work together, and the services that freight forwarders should be offering to ensure that their supply chains can be competitive and supply chain goals are met for customers. Welcome, James.
Thank you very much, Helena. It’s a pleasure to be on the podcast, and yeah, I’m looking forward to having the conversation today.
James Fry
Helena Wood Excellent. Thank you so much for joining. And for anyone who’s listening who doesn’t quite understand what a Director of Solutions maybe does, do you want to give us a quick intro to your role?
Sure, yeah, definitely. So here at Zencargo, the solutions function sits across the entire customer journey, so right from when we’re having early conversations with our customers all the way through to when we’re working and we’re in partnerships with our customers. And what we are doing is we’re trying to identify how Zencargo can help develop, and optimise, and add value to our customer’s supply chains. So right from those initial conversations, we’re understanding their challenges and pain points in their current supply chain, and then we’re helping to map that to a future world state with Zencargo where our solutions and services as a digital freight forward can help solve some of those challenges. And we are doing that, consultation services, all the way across the customer journey, so really trying to drive as much value from our customers, from their supply chain, as possible.
James Fry
Helena Wood Which is super interesting, and how did you get into that, James? What’s your background that led to you being in this position?
So, probably quite a few people in this industry fell into it at university. I came out of my aid levels, didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I always had an affinity with the water, and I thought about marine engineering or something like that. But then I got exposed a little bit to the world of shipping, found a degree course up in Liverpool which sounded really exciting. Decided that, why not? Let’s go on that course. Learned all about some parts of freight forwarding, some parts of shipping, I was learned how to captain a ship, I was on a ship simulator. It was very wide range, the skills that I learned from that. But essentially coming to the end of my degree course, a forwarder in the UK, Allport Cargo Services, or Allport at the time, reached out and said they had a graduate scheme, would I be interested in joining?

And it was 2009, so it was obviously in the economic crisis we had back then, so it was not really the best time to be trying to find an opportunity coming out of university but I was very fortunate with the graduate scheme they offered. I didn’t really know what a freight forwarder did joining that, and it took me definitely a good, dare I say, maybe 8, 10, 12 months before I really understood what a freight forwarder did. But yeah, I was really privileged, really, to have that opportunity, and I worked around all the different operating offices of Allport at the time, all across the UK.

I got to spend some time in Hong Kong learning the origin operations, which was really great. And then from that graduate scheme role, I found my niche, or the area that I really enjoyed doing, was in the supply chain management side. So working with some of the large importers in the UK trying to understand and identify where, as a forwarder, value can be added across their supply chain, so looking at initiatives from consolidation to vendor management and things like that.

James Fry
Helena Wood That’s super interesting. I hadn’t realised your university course was so broad. I want go and have a drink and learn about captaining a ship and all those things that you learned about.
It was very exciting. Yeah, it was very broad. I picked a degree course which was very broad, and it was good in a way because then that helped me actually figure out what I wanted to do. But yeah, it was an excitement for years for sure.
James Fry
Helena Wood Nice. And then obviously through your Allport experience, you’ve really seen the full breadth of freight forwarding from the ground up, which means that you’re in such a great position to then be consulting and giving advice to customers on how to structure things today. But also, I would imagine, James, that you’ve probably seen that full development of the emergence of digital freight forwarders as a concept and an entity, the growing division between the more traditional world of freight forwarding versus this more modern digital world. What has that felt like, as you watched things develop and change while you’ve been in the industry?
Yeah, it’s been refreshing, it’s been really rewarding as an individual working in that sector and seeing those benefits. Allport, at the time, were very pioneers in the element of supply chain management and technology which drives better supply chain management, and their product was helping a lot of the large importers into the UK, and the super markets to really start understanding the benefits of being able to get visibility off a purchase order, or off a SKU, and how that impacts not just the import or supply chain part of the business, how that really drives success across the entire business. So I was very fortunate to have exposure to that, really pioneered that. And then it was quite interesting then to see some of the stark contrasts between other more traditional players, maybe smaller, more national to more multinational players as well.

But I think having being exposed to that, that really got my thirst then, for the technology side of supply chain, because that’s really where I saw a huge amount of value. And it’s probably one of the main core reasons why I jumped at the opportunity to move across to Zencargo, because Zencargo obviously being a digitally native freight forwarder is, some think that more traditional forwarders can never really do. They can never go back and be native. They’ve built solutions on, they’ve bolted on solutions to try and be more digital but never going to have the benefits of Zencargo being a native digital freight forwarder.

And just really, I love it. I’m exposed to customers on a day to day basis, I’m working with them, I’m understanding what their challenges are, and we’re fortunate here at Zencargo to work with customers who may be shipping a few containers a month, up to hundreds of containers a month, and it’s really nice to understand. What’s really interesting when you start understanding their levels of digitisation, their capabilities, or I suppose their expectations from forwarders, because there is still quite a difference. You can’t necessarily see a direct correlation between age of your supply chain, or volume in your supply chain, and the levels of digitisation, it’s not direct like that. So I just love having that exposure and being able to understand that, okay, well, actually you’re moving quite a significant amount of volume, you’re still managing a lot of the operations on spreadsheets.

So, I suppose, yeah, going back to the question, I’ve actually loved, right from day one to where I am now, seeing this journey digitization. I feel like I’ve been on the forefront of that within freight forwarding, which is super exciting. But it still surprises me conversations I have on a day to day basis with customers who are not really fully utilising those benefits that they can have from their relationships with a freight forwarder.

James Fry
Helena Wood

Yeah, I think there’s maybe a bit of a, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. A moral or parable in there of just because the supply chain is large or feels significant doesn’t mean that it’s run in the most digital or modern way. You mentioned a few things that I want to break out in there, but let’s talk first of all about customer challenges, because you’ve been speaking to customers over the course of a very, very rocky few years, and I’m sure you’ve seen the full range of challenges and pushback that come from customers. What are you hearing right now? What are people struggling with in today’s environment?

So it’s really interesting right now, so obviously we’re seeing, in some regards, a consequence or the reverse or the flip side of what we saw in the past couple of years really. I first joined Zencargo two and a half, two and three quarter years ago now, so that was right at the very first lockdown, which is really quite embracing really for me to be joining a digital freight forwarder at the start of something that was so significant to the industry. I never really thought that it would be that significant. I remember hearing about the pandemic, when it was first making an impact in China, and no one really thought it was going to move across into Europe or America, and how much an impact it would have.

Right from those points, the challenges were directly linked to customers not having enough inventory in the right places at the right time, because obviously then people went into lockdown. No one knew, no one could predict the behaviours that would drive a consumer, but obviously people had more time at home, they had more disposable income because they weren’t traveling, commuting, or having lunches at work and things like that.

So then obviously that created this real struggle for customer offer, our customers and shippers to have inventory available to sell to those customers. Coupled then with everything else that happened within the past 12 months with disruptions that’s happened within the supply chain, the ever given, the significant lockdowns that happened in China when there’s COVID cases, it created this perfect storm really. Supply chains, I think we didn’t really appreciate how well oiled supply chains were, and that previously our little disruptions here and there were fine, they would flatten themselves out over a course of a couple of weeks. But we never really appreciated that if you start stacking these up that it’s going to actually be quite significant.

So at that time, when I first joined and was speaking to those customers, it was more about going through it with them at the same time. It was like, yeah, this is actually new for everyone, let’s understand how we can help you figure out these challenges as they come along. We know what we know right now. We didn’t know that this was going to be that significant six months ago, and probably on that basis, they’re not going to know how significant it’s going to be in the next six months. So it was all about then being really open and transparent, and I think that’s one of the most striking things as well. One of the biggest things I think that has come out of the past couple of years is there’s just a requirement now to have really transparent open conversations and partnerships between shippers and freight forwarders to help overcome these challenges.

So back then it was all about how do we overcome the unknowns? How do we help you capitalise on the opportunity that this has arisen, for a lot of econ businesses? And then now, we’ve kind of seen the reverse of that now, unfortunately. We’re seeing that boom, now obviously significantly dropped, and then obviously that has the wider implications now in regards to wanting to de-stock that’s reduced the demand with the shipping lines. We’ve seen significant fall in the rates now.

So we’re a little bit where we were before, it’s like, well actually, it’s all a little bit unknown now. What’s going to happen? Obviously, unfortunately, for a lot of countries, especially in the UK, the economic situations they’re going through the moment adds on to the uncertainty. So it’s all about being open and honest to customers, understanding how we can help them navigate through these challenges together. But it’s also around trying to still find where the areas of value are, the value generation with their supply chain. When the freight rates were as significant as they were, it was, of course, super imperative as a shipper, as an importer, to make sure that they’re getting the best and most competitive rates from their forwarders.

And it kind of took away, maybe, some of the areas where shippers could be focusing on to actually further capitalise on freight spend reductions. We made better consolidation or better routes to market and things like that. Whereas now, the rates are where they are, from a procurement perspective for our customers it’s very challenging, because it’s trying to figure out what the best option is for them, short, midterm and long term. So that’s very challenging and something that when solutions we do support with as well, but now definitely we’re getting to a point where it’s, where is all the other areas of value that we can start to really dial in for our customers across their supply chain? And we, in solutions, look at broad areas across their supply chain for a freight spend. So things like consolidation, better services, better mode to transport, all the way through some of the benefits from digitisation, some of the productivity benefits, all the way through some of the other areas in regards to working capital revenue optimisation, but also from a sustainability perspective as well.

So right now, we’re trying to really now dial, with our customers, where we can start what we call pulling on those value levers for them. But we are still similar in the way we were a few years back, but now it’s the flip side to it, if that makes sense.

James Fry
Helena Wood

It’s really interesting as well because in what you are saying, you’re talking a lot about value, you’re talking a great depth actually about the way in which you’re working with customer accounts and I’m imagining there might be people who think about the freight forwarder/customer relationship as something much more simplistic, high level transactional, almost like the travel agent analogy.


James Fry
Helena Wood But actually listening to the way that you’re talking about the engagement you have with customers, it’s totally different and much more, yes, transparent, to the point that you’re making, but much more value focused, much more long term-ist. Do you think that’s a, I won’t say a symptom, but it’s not the right word, but do you think that is related to this old versus new world way of freight forwarders maybe versus digital freight forwarders interacting with their customers?

Yeah, I would. Yeah, definitely a hundred percent agree with that. I think, traditionally, the relationship has been fairly, I would say, transactional. It’s been based on really three things. It’s been on service, so a forwarder’s ability to be able to move cargo from A to B, and deliver that within the required transit and lead times. It’s been about cost. Cost is always there, it’s never going to go away, but the relationship is largely been focused on, are you competitive? And then thirdly, it’s been the value add, but very minimalistic value add. It’s generally things like shipment reporting, basic levels of visibility.

That’s really been the three foundations of a more traditional transactional forwarder relationship, and that works to a certain degree. If I’m a shipper, and I care about rates and service, then that’s fine, I can work on that perspective. I’m a forwarder, I don’t need to generally invest in any other areas of my business to drive further value, and if the customer’s happy, I’m going to have volume commitment from them, and that’s going to be a nice general working relationship.

But, like it was mentioned, everything that’s happened within the pandemic has changed that significantly. Like I said, it’s the first time businesses and leaders have gone through that together, and they started asking questions from their forwarders, which maybe the forwarders never been asked before or never had expected that from a transactional relationship. So it’s put a lot more pressure on those forwarders to actually think about the partnership perspective with those customers as well.

But what’s really important, as well, and I want to get across, is that Zencargo is a digital freight forwarder and the digital aspect of what we provide, yes, drives a huge amount of value. But, Zencargo is also providing this level of partnership with our customers. And the significant thing is we provide the service, so what solutions provides to our customers, regardless of the size of those customers. They could be shipping one container a month, or like I said, up to a few hundred containers a month. There’s no levels or bars to entry to what the service or solutions that you get.

And then traditionally, traditional forwarders could offer that, there’s no reason why they couldn’t offer that, but there’s a level to entry where you can actually get that service, or you can get some of the benefits from some of the technology which they provide. And typically that’s your very large importers, your strategic accounts for the forwarders, your large retailers, supermarkets, department stores and things like that.

But now, this is what the digital forwarders are breaking down, lowering that level now, and we’re able to provide that same level of expertise, consultation, the personal touch, the relationship, to all of those importers. And they’ve never needed that more because of the pandemic, and we are able to deliver that more easily because we can deliver value right from the start of the relationship with our customers through our technology. So right from day one, all of our customers are benefiting from our software and our platform, from really great visibility, really great insights into their supply chain, and that just makes that relationship a lot more easier when you can leverage the benefits of the technology from the beginning.

And I think digitisation, as well, obviously doesn’t just impact freight forwarding, it’s been around for a long time and lots of other sectors as well. And a lot of businesses, what I see, I speak to, is the bar has been raised, if you are speaking to maybe a finance department, or someone that’s cares about insurance, or anybody who’s experiencing those other sectors, they’ll be aware that, hang on a minute, are these service providers in these sectors that are providing this level of digitisation or this level of automation, I therefore expect this as well from my other areas of my business, IE. my supply chain. And that’s putting then that pressure onto the leaders in that department and setting that expectation that I expect this now from my freight forwarder.

James Fry
Helena Wood Which is super interesting. Again, you’ve said so many things, I want to unpack. One which is your point around the fact that this access to improved data, better visibility of the overall movement of the supply chain, and then this change in the nature of the relationship between the freight forwarder and the business. There’s a kind of leveling of that access to information and to support, which means that SMEs are much more supported, which is obviously incredibly important in economies like this, even more than it might have been in a very stable bind economy. But also the point that you’re making around the expectation on supply chain leaders and the expectation within businesses that everything runs efficiently and that digitisation prevails across all sectors.

And of course, again, many, many people, I think, from the outside looking in, make assumptions around the levels of digitisation that may already exist in supply chain, or the level of visibility that may already exist, or as consumers we’re used to being able to track last mile delivery, or we’re used to being able to make a delivery order and watch a man on a bicycle move across our phone screen. Whereas, of course actually, the grand scale movements of goods around the world is much more opaque, unfortunately, for many, many people.

I’d love to hear, from a shipper’s perspective, because obviously you’re working with shippers day to day, they’re under a lot of pressure, nevermind because they need to digitise, nevermind because the economy’s in turmoil and they’re dealing with constant firefighting, but when it comes to working with a digital freight forwarder, or working on overall supply chain management, what’s in it for them? What are the benefits that we’ve seen? And do you have any tangible examples you can share?

Yeah, absolutely. I think the benefits of the ROI’s are really huge and they can be as big, really, as you want to make them and they can be really as small as they can be, and a lot of the solution work that we do is identifying them, and then it’s prioritising them. Because, right now, service, freight, having stock available to the customers, more so now having the right stock in the right quantity available for customers, that is super, super important. It is such wide ranging now, the KPIs, the goals that the leaders in the supply chain now are striving towards, they’re at board level now. If you read any annual statements or investor reports, a lot of shippers, page one is all about how they’re coping with the supply chain, how they’re managing the rate, how they’re managing the service, about how they’re driving further value within their supply chain.

And the value that we look at, right from a very first basis, is working with Zencargo, we will ensure that you are getting the service, you’re getting the competitive freight rates, we know that that’s table stakes. But right from day one, you’re going to be able to realise the benefit of us being a digitally enabled freight forwarder, so you’re going to have really good visibility of your shipments, of your orders if you want that, of your products. You’re going to have reliable data, you’re going to have consistent data, and that’s going to enable you to drive productivity benefits or drive better automation.

So we look at, if we take that spreadsheet away and now you’re using our platform, what does that enable for you now? What does that enable that individual who is producing that report to do now? What can they now focus on? So we look at those things because they’re really quick wins, right from day one. And then we start building the value picture, we start understanding, over time, we’re doing purchase order management, if we’re doing skew visibility, how can we look at some of the benefits, maybe from systems integration? How can we get some of the data out of our platform back into your tech stack to help the wider business make decisions? We look at the value from that, but then we look at much bigger initiatives as well. Much more, what I say, more of the operational, physical initiatives within the supply chain. How can we help our customers drive freight spend reduction through things like consolidation? And we’re always tying it into how the data, how our technology, is enabling that to be done better.

So we look at, if we take that spreadsheet away and now you’re using our platform, what does that enable for you now? What does that enable that individual who is producing that report to do now? What can they now focus on? So we look at those things because they’re really quick wins, right from day one. And then we start building the value picture, we start understanding, over time, we’re doing purchase order management, if we’re doing skew visibility, how can we look at some of the benefits, maybe from systems integration? How can we get some of the data out of our platform back into your tech stack to help the wider business make decisions? We look at the value from that, but then we look at much bigger initiatives as well. Much more, what I say, more of the operational, physical initiatives within the supply chain. How can we help our customers drive freight spend reduction through things like consolidation? And we’re always tying it into how the data, how our technology, is enabling that to be done better.

With really great visibility in the supply chain, a lot of the areas of optimisation can be drastically improved simply around consolidation, being able to understand the status of an order, it’s cargo ready date. You can start to build container plans well in advance of when the cargo is actually ready, and it’s being packaged, and it’s ready to be loaded into a container.

But I suppose to bring that to life a little bit in regards to a few really good examples. So, starting probably from, to provide some examples across that the journey that we take from solutions of our customers. So a good one would be, a large online beauty retailer in the UK, where previously Feelunique have been acquired by Sephora. I’m sure people are aware of Sephora and Feelunique in the UK, and globally.

So with Feelunique, at the time, solutions, myself actually, we supported right from those initial conversations, we did what we call as-is process mapping for them. So we walked through the process of purchase order being raised, all the way through to when that’s delivered into their fulfillment center. We understood what are the steps being taken, we understood what’s the stakeholder undertaking those steps, and then we mapped what the challenge or the pain point was against that. We took that away. We then came back and we presented to them what we call our 2B solution, so where some of those challenges and pain points are now being resolved.

Some of the main pain points that they had, from memory, was a common one was just a lack of visibility. They just didn’t know when inventory was arriving into their warehouse, and it would typically arrive on any day and it’d be a bit of a surprise, but they’ll be happy that they’ve received the order that they’d placed on their supplier. So no visibility, and because it’s cosmetics, it’s generally quite small in terms of the dimensions even though the quantity can be quite large, typically cost effective mode to transport, things like courier, et cetera, but that can lead to a lot of complications in regards to visibility and things like that.

So they wanted more visibility, they wanted more control, and they wanted to protect or prevent margin erosion from the fact that they’d had no visibility, no control of the mode or service which the audience went down. So we captured those pain points and we presented back to them a faith solution where Zencargo would immediately take responsibility as a freight forwarder and provide visibility over the freight shipments.

We then worked to a second phase of the plan where we looked at a consolidation service, so by bringing in all those small, traditionally courier shipments into single consignments and moving them over from the US east and west coasts into the UK. So that was providing better visibility, better control, but also protecting their spend as well, so providing some cost efficiencies from that.

As a phase three to that, we built a cost calculator. So using the data in our platform, we built a cost calculator for their buying teams to help them calculate the margin on product based on the different mode and service options that they had. So previously they didn’t have any forms of doing that, they knew the cost price and their supplier, and they set the sell price without any understanding of what actually the landed cost is, the cost to actually land that product to the destination, pay for the shipping cost duties and things like that. So using all the data collecting on our platform, we built a calculator to enable their buying teams to then make the right decisions.

So we kind of started from minimal change to their supply chain, what can we do now to provide you immediate visibility of your freight shipments, to then a small change management part of driving to better consolidation, making some changes to their process. Moving upstream at their supply chain really to then how can we actually drive the right behaviors and decisions of their buying team right in before it actually is a parcel that we need to figure out what cart and figure out what the best way is to handle that shipment.

So that’d be a good example of a little bit of combining the power of the data and the platform with driving value through operational improvements and things like that.

And for example, from probably a data, I say data only, a data only perspective would be, for a footwear brand, large footwear brand in the UK, which is Vivo Barefoot. Vivo Barefoot are a certified B corp company, so that’s a benefits corporation, so people be more familiar, maybe they haven’t heard of Vivo, with Patagonia, they’re a B corp company, so probably expect the level or standards of environmental impact that they have to manage and have strategies and solutions around. So in that regard, we built with Vivo Barefoot some customised emissions reporting for them, and we built some reporting to provide them with really great actionable insights in regards to their emissions and any offsetting strategies that they put in place.

It was really important for them to make sure that the data and the calculations are recognised to industry standards, so that’s the GSG protocol and ISO 14000. And we also made sure that they were applying with what they required in regards to scope free emissions as well, so we covered 90% of their scope free emissions through that reporting as well. And that’s really a step change for them, obviously being a B corp, like I mentioned, the really high standards that they had, by creating that capability for them is really helping them to continue on their strategy to be more environmentally conscious. And that’s the first version of that, and we’re working very closely with them in regards to strategies to help them reduce their emissions, but also any future requirements that may come from better data and visibility. Which is really important to mention as well, that they’re going to generate that level of reporting confidence that they can present and get their B certification because of the data that we’re having within our platform to generate those calculations and the output.

James Fry
Helena Wood I want to bring everything that we’ve spoken about right back because we’ve got to the point of really understanding the Nirvana, you’re working with the digital freight forwarder, your metrics are improving you, we know what the end point looks like. But, let’s remind ourselves why that’s so important. So in the world of working, and it’s not just about working with traditional versus new freight forwarders, of course there’s difference, but in stark contrast to this evolved value driven outcomes focused world of working in partnership with a freight forwarder to hit your metrics and to grow your business and to understand what success looks like, we may well have listeners to this podcast who are kind of thinking, “Gosh, that’s not what I do with my freight forwarder.”

Help us understand what the template relationship might look like today. So, for lots of other people who are listening, normal might be something quite different. And I’m guessing, but you’ll know more than I will, it’s probably quite transactional, it’s probably conversations that center around bookings and operation. What does that look like? Because then what I want to hear is, how to change, and how to be able to start moving from that type of relationship to this more evolved and more value driven partnership that we’ve been talking about.

Yeah, okay. I suppose it’s little bit easy for me to say, but it is really easy. There is no significant barrier to entry, and this is quite common when we’re doing the process mapping workshops with our customers and we’re spending all this time to understand their supply chains, and quite often we get the remarks around, “Oh, is there going to be significant cost to my business to go through and have your capabilities and the services that you provide?” And obviously, there’s some surprises when we say with digital freight forwarder, this is native to what we provide to you as your freight forwarder. But I think now is the time to not, you don’t need to put up with now, what the relationship you already have. There’s these opportunities now, there’s these options now, to expect so much more.

And that’s not necessarily that you need to break the relationship with your existing forwarder, move away. There’s just now a lot more expectations that you can put on the relationship with your forwarder, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be huge change management. It doesn’t necessarily need to be immediate full visibility of every SKU that you have within the supply chain, because we know that there’s challenges with a lot of our customers in regards to maybe the confidence of their own data quality and maybe their ERP or MRP systems. It doesn’t mean it has to be this huge leap, I suppose that I’m trying to explain this. It’s having conversations with your forwarders to let them know that these are your goals that you have within your organisation, within your supply chain. As an individual, what your goal is to get that promotion, get that next pay rise, have those conversations with your forwarder, and just start to put in the steps to move in the right direction against that.

And like I said, these don’t need to be significant things. Better access to reporting, better access to shipment data, and better confidence in ETA information. These are all things that can really be significant. And like I mentioned earlier, some of the significant areas of value, I find, is in automation of connecting systems together. We live in a super modern world now, if we forget maybe some of the old fashioned-ness that’s in the supply chain, but systems can talk to each other now, really simply, and I always find a lot of manual data entry happening when I’m in conversations. Things like that can easily be fixed.

So, it’s expect a lot more from you forwarders, have those conversations so you’re aligned on, these are the things I really care about right now, this is what my VP supply chain, this is what the C-suite team are asking off me, I need you to support me in this journey. How can we make some measurable steps in regards to getting there?

And what I find as well is that some customers have obviously different ways in regards to which they procure their freight, or they benchmark, or they find the right forwarder. Quite common, the shipper’s work, very long time, long term relationships with the forwarders, which is really great and that’s exactly kind of what we want to build of our customers here. But customers should be, if they think that they’re not getting all the value, shippers are not getting all of the value from their supply chain, have those conversations. If you want to explore the other capabilities of working with other freight forwarders, put a little bit of a structure around how you’re going to procure that. It doesn’t need to be a full blown tender proposal and process that you have to go through. It can be simple RFIs, so Request For Information, and an RFQ that follows from that. Select some forwarders that you’ve worked with, some forwarders you haven’t worked with, some digital forwarders that you potentially haven’t worked with as well. Get that array off different forwarders that suit your needs and capabilities as a shipper.

And if I was in that position, I was looking at potentially just seeing what else is out there to drive more value for me, I would think of six, I think half a dozen or so, key things that I’d be asking within any RFI approach. The first one is obviously technology capabilities. I’d be asking what technology do you have to help me understand the status of my shipments? Where are you getting that data from? Because I want to be confident in that status, that ETA information. So I’d be asking those questions. So technology, tell me about your technology.

Tied to that, I would be asking them the second point around, tell me about your innovation, what is your roadmap? Because you really want to understand how invested a potential partner is in going on that journey and building and growing the capabilities. Linked to innovation, or the second one, would probably be more than six at the moment, but second one would be around continuous improvement. So what is your approach to continuous improvement? How are you going to continually work with me to drive improvements in my supply chain? How are you going to be able to help me achieve my goals? So, that’s super important. So technology, innovation, continuous improvement. So that’ll be two. Things that obviously service, and cost is super important to make sure that they have the service expertise and they can meet your commercial terms that you need.

Another one would be around corporate social responsibility and sustainability. What can they offer you to help with any corporate strategies that you have as a business to drive more sustainable strategies? Also, what are they doing for themselves in that regard as well? And lastly would be, don’t know if I’m on six, but, lastly would be around relationships. What’s their approach to relationship management with their current customers? And the biggest most important part of relationship management is, how do they manage escalations and issue resolution? We work in supply chain, there’s always going to be challenges, there’s always going to be escalations, unfortunately it’s the world that we live in, and therefore is super important as a freight forwarder they have a very pragmatic way to solving challenges for you.

So those are the things I’d be, that’s the thing, going down an RFI approach, structure these things, these questions for those forwarders, and then it’s up to that shipper to be able to weight what is most important on each of those, I’d say.

James Fry
Helena Wood Excellent. Thank you for that. And I mean, it’s so great to be able to give shippers some tangible help and some structured support. So hopefully anyone that’s listening now has a sense of what to look for, how to assess, going down that RFI, then that RFQ route obviously gives you a bit of structure to do that within, so you’ve got a proper clear assessment, which is great. And you touched on something which leads onto our very last question of today’s podcast, which is, we’re in supply chain, stuff goes wrong. You gave the example of the fact that escalation management is incredibly important, but you well know because you are in Zencargo, that we talk a lot about the fact that “Ship happens.” And every time that we record a podcast episode, we ask our guests to share with us a ship happens moment in their own career, a time when it’s felt like the world is collapsing around you, things have all gone wrong, but you’ve been able to pull it back and to overcome. I’d love to hear if you’ve got a ship happens moment that you could share.
Okay, so two spring to mind. And the first one, I’ll summarise, but lots of detail to it, but essentially, when I was working at Allport, we were launching a new brand for Acadia at the time. The orders were going to be fulfilled from the US. We had found the right partner in Los Angeles to provide the pick pack fulfillment services. As the first container arrived into Long Beach, that provider, unfortunately at the time, decided that they weren’t going to continue with that relationship at the time.

I was early twenties and looking back, I’d been given such a great opportunity to actually lead and deliver on that project and so many learnings from that. But at that time, when I was in the thick of it, I was in Los Angeles at the time, which I thought was really great because I was in LA, but I wasn’t enjoying any of the benefits of that. And then finding out that I had to find a new service provider right the last minute, and this was a really big launch for this brand. Ultimately, long story short, we found the right partner. We were able to successfully deliver on that project, but it was a very, very stressful couple of weeks trying to find the right partner.

I do have a second one, actually, and I want to say this one as well, I’d love to because this one is a little bit funny really, and it haunts me to this day, and now it’s embedded in my brain every time I do some analysis. I was doing some analysis for a large UK supermarket, under something, the benefit of consolidation, just reducing the number of 20 foots and shipping more 40 foots, a lot of the charges to calculate the ROI were in US dollars. At the time the exchange rates, GDP was probably a lot better than what it is today. I made a very schoolboy error of not doing any currency conversion when the value was presented back, the ROI was presented back to very senior members at the supermarket at the time, and very quickly got pointed out that I hadn’t done any conversion. I was presenting value as GDP, which is in US dollars.

And with the first container shipped in the last month, we now have a decent database, so we also have been able to start working on the financial insights and that’s been a tough one, because we didn’t have a detailed financial insight. And with the platform we are able to have the financial insight on secure level and I really had to talk to my finance colleagues, hey I’ve got something for you and this is good, this is really what you want. And they were like, Oh really? Are you sure? And it was that advanced that initially they didn’t really get it, so I really had to take them by the hand and we had some sessions with them as well just give them a show around the platform and see what was feasible to get the data for them. So they know now we have the cost on trade lane, the supplier, the skew. It’s just given us so much information that we can then take back to our management decisions.

James Fry
Helena Wood How did you pull it back?

I pulled it back, yeah, it was simple to pull it back, and I don’t know what excuse I made at the time. It was a good mistake to learn because now every time it’s ingrained in me. Have I done the conversion of the ROI?

James Fry
Helena Wood I think we’ve all had a moment a bit like that when we realised we’ve made what seems like a silly mistake and it’s got quite significant consequences.

James Fry
Helena Wood But a good lesson that we can always pull it back. Well, look, James, it’s been so fantastic to hear so many great stories and useful advice, and to hear that picture from you around when partnership has done well between a customer and a freight forwarder, and data is used and relationships are built, what that can mean for a business, because we know it can be transformational and hopefully our listeners are getting more of a sense of that. So, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for sharing so much insight.

No problem. It’s been a pleasure.

James Fry
Helena Wood It’s been great to have you and a huge thank you also, obviously, to our listeners. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe to the podcast, and to wait for some other fantastic guests coming up in the future, just like James. And if you’ve got any questions, do get in touch on LinkedIn. We’d love to hear from you. And until next time, goodbye.