This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2017 issue of PARCEL.

The 2017 PARCEL Forum in Nashville, Tennessee, was indeed “music to shippers’ ears,” as our theme suggests. The education, networking, and professional growth that occurred over these three days was gratifying to see. Logistics professionals from all different sectors converged upon the Gaylord Opryland to discuss the pressing problems they were facing in their respective operations, whether it was how to more successfully negotiate carrier contracts or understand how packaging optimization can affect multiple levels of their supply chain.

One of the most common discussions overheard as I wandered the exhibit hall floors and the hallways of the conference area was the recent announcement of the FedEx 2018 general rate increase (GRI), which was released to the public late in the evening of the first day. By the time most people were up Tuesday morning, PARCEL had released a breaking news alert to our readers, and the potential impacts of these rate increases was being discussed for the rest of the day. (I often felt as if I was experiencing déjà vu, as this same scenario happened last year!) Many speculated UPS was going to follow suit, although of course UPS’s GRI was not released until much after the forum. Still, it was interesting to hear the conjectures about what the UPS GRI would look like and how closely it would mirror FedEx’s.

Now, many of our attendees are transportation professionals, so it’s no surprise that the GRI, carrier contracts, and the like were pervasive topics of discussion. However, I would be remiss if I gave the impression that those were the only types of discussions happening at the forum. I was privileged to sit in on several different sessions, and there was truly something for everyone in the supply chain sector. One of the most interesting sessions I attended was one on motivating your workforce. While this is technically a topic that could apply to any industry, I thought it was interesting how well the speaker tailored it to the distribution center. As we all know, distribution centers often have trouble retaining workers in this sector, as the work can often be repetitive. The tips and tricks he gave for motivating your workforce (such as finding currency other than money, giving more responsibility and autonomy, etc.) could have a huge impact on supervisors’ strategies. Considering the costs that are involved with hiring and training new employees, the strategies presented within this session could save companies thousands.

It's this inter-connectedness that I love most about the PARCEL Forum. Our learning pods are specifically designed to help you easily find the sessions that are most applicable to your job description, so if an attendee wants to attend only transportation-focused sessions (or sessions focusing on the warehouse, technology, etc.), it’s so simple to plan your visit by simply attending all the sessions in one pod. Yet, it’s also easy to jump from pod to pod if you want a complete overview of the issues facing the small-package industry (which, as editor, is how I approach the forum; after all, PARCEL is dedicated to bringing you the latest industry information and updates from all supply chain viewpoints). Whichever way you decide to approach the forum, you’ll come back to the office with actionable, concrete steps you can take to save your company money and improve your operations.

And, really, isn’t that what trade shows such as these are all about? I hope to see you next year in Chicago from September 24-26!

The Top 20 Takeaways from the Forum

One of my favorite sessions the past couple of years has been at the end of the show, when we go over the top 20 tips submitted by attendees on our app. It’s a great way to catch up on what other professionals found the most helpful over the past three days. This year, Susan Rider, President of Rider & Associates, and Berkley Stafford, Vice President, Sales at Transportation Impact conducted the session, with Susan focusing on the operations side and Berkley covering the transportation issues. Enjoy!

1. Sixty percent of all middle-class consumers will reside in Asia in next five years — e-commerce will double. It’s crucial to get ready now.

2. Eighty percent of all effects come from 20% of all causes. When profiling your SKUs, look at your fast movers. Twenty percent of your product is usually responsible for 80% of your movement. If you get that 20% right, you’re golden.

3. Social media is the future of e-commerce; it’s where customers share if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with your products’ shipping speed, packaging, etc.

4. Always train a person as if they were your replacement; this really prepares and enables your team.

5. Reverse logistics will be huge as cross-border services expand; it’s time to prepare now.

6. Clearly define KPIs and influencers.

--If you don’t make your instructions clear, they don’t know what you really want.

7. UPS started “Payoneer” service to protect consumers against fraudulent transactions.

--Consumer buys product overseas; to eliminate fraud, money goes into escrow.

--When you receive that good, the money is released from escrow.

8. Dynamic inventory repositioning is important.

--Figure out where to best locate, to balance inventory, or adjust for seasonality based on location of the DC. (Think of all products as perishable; after all, even shoes go out of season or out of style.)

--Process returns and resell quickly as it impacts your customer relationship.

9. Smartphones are the norm; one day, drones will be the norm as well.

--Twenty years ago, not many people, if any, had smartphones.

--Not many people today have drones.

--In 10 years, your drone will have the ability to go and pick up your packages for you automatically based on the information they received.

10. Ensure agility and flexibility in your MHE and WMS partners.

--If your equipment can’t take you into the future, it’ll be obsolete before it pays off.

11. Always consider the “all in price.”

--Data analytics now will tell you which clients are not profitable, even if you think they are.

--The gold is in the data; you might not know how to mine the gold, though.

--For example, marketing could be sending out a ton of packages without the supply chain knowing about it, but that cost still has to be paid.

12. Get orders to the warehouse as fast as possible so they can make good decisions.

--Feed orders in real time rather than batch.

--Speed up same day shipping.

--Increase font on paper pick sheets for staff.

13. Regional parcel carriers cover 90% of the US population and can perhaps provide a more customizable solution not offered by the two major carriers.

--The more competition, the better the prices and the service are going to be.

14. Figure out your workforce’s currency; what motivates them? It’s not always more money.

15. The futuristic last mile looks like this: drones, autonomous cars, courier/crowdsourcing, robots. The realistic last mile looks like this: collection points and lockers, trunk delivery, smart-home technology.

16. When ounces matter, look at cubic and ounce weight for savings; a lot of facilities overlook this.

17. Forrester projects 11% of total US retail sales will be shipped via in store fulfillment by 2018.

--Get the inventory and product closer to market; it changes the whole dynamic.

18. Besides analyzing past performance (in/out order profile, etc.), look to analyze current processes (process maps, value stream mapping, and process improvement).

--If you want to be more efficient and effective, you need to map your processes.

19. Most companies are not prepared to use predictive analytics because they lack the necessary tools, so investment in these tools is critical.

20. Build dashboards for visibility.

--There are software systems out there unrelated to supply chain that will give you business intelligence dashboards (these are inexpensive, and you can get your data on a dashboard.)

--Then, it’s crucial you incentivize the tasks that are less desirable.