Ron's Thoughts: High Point Market and Furniture Continue to Evolve
It’s been over a month since High Point Market’s October show closed, and there’s more to do now than ever. With 75,000 attendees from around the world, ideas, trends, wants, and needs range from traditional to the completely unexpected. For retailers and suppliers, it’s easy to decide what catches their eye; the difficulty resides in managing the items within a supply chain.
Thinking back to the origin of High Point Market, paper order slips were the norm in 1921. Now, orders are managed and tracked electronically. Of course, this is only step one in the buying-and-selling integration process. Retailers expect orders to be in electronic data interchange (EDI) format and capable of integrating with a variety of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. If a supplier is unable to comply, retailers will not hesitate to find a one that can. And, losing a partnership because of non-EDI compliance, can devastate a small- to mid-size furniture supplier.
Although a supplier is expected to be EDI compliant for its retail partners, the number of requirements can be overwhelming. To streamline the compliance process, suppliers subscribe to cost-effective web portals that track these requirements. The secure portals are supplier specific and are managed by a third-party. The result is a fast and easy method of complying with a multitude of requirements while achieving visibility into every piece of the supply chain puzzle. Imagine trying to do all this on paper!
But it’s not just retailers’ demands that have changed since the early 20th century. Today’s consumers want and expect more color, size, and fabric options, but stocking every combination is an impossible feat for even the largest retailers and suppliers. That’s why more retailers are relying on suppliers to ship directly to consumers. However, it is not just about shipping the item. Retailers require their branded materials to accompany the shipment to make it appear as a seamless experience. To achieve this objective, suppliers utilize third-parties for a direct-ship solution that automatically creates purchase orders and integrates with existing e-commerce and back office systems.
Although shipping directly to the consumer increases overall sales, it presents a challenge suppliers: controlling shipment costs. The old way of finding the best rate was calling each transport company and comparing quotes, but this was a time-consuming and inefficient process. Now, suppliers use automated load tendering and tracking solutions to compare multiple rates simultaneously and select the most appropriate service. Not only does this reduce supplier legwork, but also saves on shipping costs, enabling suppliers to retain margins while meeting the demands of today’s consumer.
Years ago, customers understood and accepted a wide window of estimated delivery. Today, they want to know when their item is going to arrive and they expect the promise-date to be what was quoted. But the world is not perfect. Weather, accidents, driver shortages, and a million reasons under the sun can delay a shipment. Suppliers and retailers have turned to dock scheduling and yard management services to meet customer expectations. In addition to better customer service, dock scheduling for suppliers and retailers can eliminate unnecessary fees as well as increase yard capacity and improve space utilization.
Closely related to the direct shipping solution is parts order management. Like direct shipping, retailers want to utilize suppliers as much as possible to reduce shipping times and retain customer goodwill. However, coordinating these efforts can be difficult as the procedures for creating part orders vary among suppliers. Further complicating parts order management is the retailer is responsible for communicating ship dates to the customer. That’s more work than a retailer can cost-effectively provide even though today’s consumer expects that level of service. To meet this need, suppliers and retailers often employ a parts order management solution from a third-party as it offers the ability to ship branded labels and packing slips as well as full visibility in the supply chain. These features enable retailers to quickly and economically satisfy customer requests through nominal effort.
The High Point Market has seen a lot of changes during the last 100 years, but it has always survived by adapting. And, it will continue to do so as long as retailers and suppliers incorporate technological advancements in the supply chain to better manage items - faster, more informed, and more visible.
About the Author:
Ron Sellers, co-founder and chief revenue officer of TrueCommerce ecUtopia, is a technology advocate and leader for the home furnishings industry. With more than 25 years of industry-related experience, he offers significant expertise as a committee member of the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) and sits on the Executive Advisory Council for WithIt, a women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries. When Ron is outside of the office, he can be found on his Harley Davidson cruising the streets.