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Whether it's a fruit-flavored lollipop, old-fashioned taffy or a king-size chocolate bar, Americans love their candy. And with the average citizen indulging in a sweet treat at least two to three times per week, according to data from the National Confectioners Association, it takes a lot of work to keep their sugar fixes satisfied. Indeed, the industry employs close to 58,000 people working in various capacities to keep the candy supply chain flowing.

But as with a number of other industries, the candy sector is in the midst of labor shortage, unable to produce as much product as they have in the past and at the pace of consumer demand. Paired with other challenges — including higher operating costs and problems receiving necessary materials on time from their suppliers — candy makers are rethinking their processes and retention strategies to adapt to the realities they face in an effort to improve productivity.

Among those confectioneries that has seen better days is Atkinson Candy, a Texas-based family company specializing in caramels, peppermint sticks and peanut brittle, among other hard and chewy candies. Speaking to Food Dive, Eric Atkinson, who serves as the company's CEO, noted everything changed for the company after COVID-19, particularly in terms of manpower. Prior to the pandemic, it would take them no more than two week to deliver orders to their customers, such as retailers and wholesale distributors. Ever since, they're lucky to have the orders in buyers' hands within three months. Frustrated by the delays, many of those customers wind up going elsewhere. Referring to customer dissatisfaction and the resulting loss in sales, Atkinson noted "it's like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard."

Supply chain issues are one of several problems candy makers are battling.Supply chain issues are one of several problems candy makers are battling.

Small candy makers are struggling the most
As with much of the business world during the lockdown, it's primarily small and mid-sized organizations that have experienced the worst of the fallout; large enterprises have gotten along fine, even improving their revenues despite their supply chain challenges. Because smaller businesses have fewer resources and cash flow relative to the big players — not to mention a smaller workforce — they've borne the brunt of the pandemic's impact, said Carly Schildhaus, a spokesperson for the National Confectioners Association, in an email to Food Dive.

From raising wages to offering sign-on bonuses, small candy makers are resorting to various strategies to persuade workers into staying. Daniel McCarthy, an assistant marketing professor at Emory University, told the online publication that employers also need to be forward-looking with how they manage their expenses to ensure that they remain profitable while raising wages and adjusting to inflation. He also noted that candy makers should exploit what advantages they have relative to other industries. One of which is their costs — it's not as expensive to produce.

"The good thing that they have going for them that other larger [industries] would not is the fact that the [cost for their product] is so low," McCarthy explained. He added that since candy bars are inexpensive, a 20% increase in what's charged likely won't phase buyers to the same degree as a similar percentage increase would for other industries.

Candy makers are also lowering their costs by buying alternative ingredients when churning out candy in lieu of staples they usually use but are hard to find or are more expensive due to supply shortages. They're also snatching up ingredients more quickly than they in the past to shore up their inventory and avoid delays.

Autonomous vehicles will be part of the long-haul trucking industry's future, but a group of leading manufacturers and developers have asked Californian lawmakers to relax regulations that relate to testing self-driving trucks on public roads now. In an open letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, the companies said that their attempts to both harness innovation and provide a solution to the skills gap within the trucking industry were being "explicitly prohibited" by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

According to Fast Company, the group – which includes Waymo, Uber, Volvo and Aurora – is concerned that autonomous semi-trucks and delivery vehicles that weigh more than 10,001 pounds are unable to be effectively tested on California's roads and highways. The Golden State has a global reputation for tech innovation, the authors of the letter said, and the evolution of autonomous trucks is being impacted by an inability to prove their value on crucial transportation links within the supply chain.

"Without regulations to permit this technology, California is at risk of losing our competitive edge," the letter said. "As the industry deploys new pilot programs, builds critical infrastructure, and creates the 21st century jobs California's businesses need to grow, investment is limited to other states that allow deployment of autonomous trucks. In effect, it has been ten years since the initial 2012 enabling legislation, and over this period, there has been no movement for autonomous trucking regulation."

The future of trucking
Citing research from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation, the letter went on to point out the financial benefits of autonomous trucking technology and the growing shortage of experienced truck drivers. By addressing this regulatory stalemate, California could not only expect to see an additional $6.5 billion in economic activity but also play a significant role in reducing the number of truck-related incidents that happen on American highways.

Autonomous vehicles  are the future of truckingAutonomous vehicles are the future of trucking.

Irrespective of the fact that this letter to Governor Newsom could be seen as self-serving, there is a defined need for the trucking industry to take advantage of the latest tech innovations. Back in October 2021, the American Trucking Associations predicted that there would be a shortfall of around 160,000 drivers by 2030, with the pool of available and experienced truckers shrinking dramatically in recent years.

And while autonomous trucks have long been seen as the answer to the stresses that humans endure behind the wheel, there are some well-publicized concerns that using artificial intelligence in an operational domain such as a highway or urban environment could be a danger to public safety. There is also the question of job displacement within the supply chain itself, but drivers would still be involved in the process. However, their role would likely to be more supervisory and related to taking over when the truck reached, for example, a transfer hub or distribution facility.

In fact, a recently released study cited by Axios said that up to 90% of highway trucking could be done by autonomous vehicles in the not-so-distant future. As an added bonus, the physical strain that long-haul truck driving has on the human body would be alleviated, with the expectation being that the industry would be become more attractive to people who prefer not to drive hundreds of thousands of miles a year.

During the pandemic, when buying activity was frenzied and personal savings were substantial, the modus operandi for retailers was pretty straightforward: If you have it in stock, customers will purchase it — whether in store or online. Product shortages were a common sight throughout much of the country, due in part to supply chain bottlenecks, so stocking up wherever possible made sense.

But with the COVID-19 lockdowns lifted and life largely back to normal, retailers appear to have overestimated consumer demand, with their inventories far exceeding the once torrid pace of sales.

From big-box retailers like Target and Walmart to consumer product parent companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, several household-name businesses are pulling back on their purchase orders in light of how much inventory they already have that hasn't yet sold. Helen of Troy, whose brands include Vicks, Braun, Honeywell and Drybar, intends to focus its efforts on reducing what inventory exists through discounts while adjusting earnings expectations.

Julien Mininburg, who serves as the CEO of Helen of Troy noted on a recent earnings call that market realities will force the company to re-examine its outlook for 2022, and perhaps beyond.

"Now that we ourselves are reducing [inventory] and they're reducing theirs, it'll lead for an opportunity to re-normalize for both and it'll be for the benefit of all over time," Mininburg noted, referring to several of Helen of Troy's largest buyers, like Walmart, Amazon and Target. "It's just painful on the path from here to there."

Retailers aim to reduce their inventory that is piling up due to slower sales.Retailers aim to reduce their inventory that is piling up due to slower sales.

Inflation eating into household budgets
The uptick in inventory is largely due to the surge in prices charged by businesses in just about every industry. With inflation raging now at more than 9%, according to the Consumer Price Index estimate from the Labor Department for June, retailers are charging more to offset the higher costs they've incurred. This has led to many Americans pulling back on some of their discretionary purchases, opting to buy more for their needs rather than wants.

Although the pullback has been slow, it's starting to be borne out in the data. In June, for example, retail sales nationwide rose from May but slowed considerably compared to previous months, up just 0.6%, according to the National Retail Federation's estimates. Unadjusted on a year-over-year basis, sales rose 5.8% on a three-month moving average. That's down from 7% year over year through the first half of 2022.

Sales have also tempered for big box giants like Target and Walmart. In response, their respective inventories have swelled. In a press release, the Target Corporation announced its plan to focus on "inventory optimization," including markdowns, canceling orders and eliminating excess inventory by various means.

Walmart, meanwhile, is working through inventory issues of its own. Speaking to Fortune, Walmart COO John Furner said that around a fifth of the 32% spike in the company's inventories stems from poor inventory management — and it will take time for conditions to normalize.

"It's probably another couple quarters until we manage the inventory down to where we want it," Furner said during Walmart's annual employee meeting held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the company is headquartered.

One way the organization intends to winnow its inventory is by minimizing price increases as much as possible, particularly on household staples like canned tuna and boxed pasta.

With the price of gasoline still uncomfortably high for most people, more Americans aren't just seriously considering hybrid and all-electric vehicles as their next cars; they're actually buying them. Indeed, during the second quarter, nearly 196,800 electric vehicles were sold nationwide, according to Cox Automotive. That's a 66% increase from the same three-month period in 2021. Most electric vehicles cost substantially more than traditional automobiles, but the ability to avoid the pump has been a worthwhile incentive.

But if the breakneck pace of people buying EVs continues, there is the looming threat of a shortage of a rare earth mineral needed to manufacture batteries, further stressing an already strained supply chain.

That mineral is graphite. Primarily consisting of carbon and used for lubricants, brake linings and steel, graphite is also needed for the anodes that enable a lithium battery to operate and store energy. But as Supply Chain Dive recently reported, there are a small handful of graphite mines around the world, and the uptick in demand is beginning to create a severe imbalance.

Gregory Bowles, executive chairman for Ottawa Canada-based producer Northern Graphite Corporation, told the online publication that lithium, nickel and manganese are typically the rare earth minerals people think of when it comes to those that are needed to make batteries. But graphite is every bit as essential.

"Graphite has kind of been the poor cousin of the battery minerals and doesn't get the attention of the other commodities," Bowles explained. "But we're getting very close to an inflection point where demand overtakes supply and this is going to be first-page news."

Graphite is one of several rare earth minerals used to manufacture ion batteries.Graphite is one of several rare earth minerals used to manufacture ion batteries.

China produces most of the world's graphite
While the United States is rich in natural resources, particularly energy-related commodities like natural gas and crude oil, it has next to nothing in the way of graphite. In fact, according to data from the United States Geological Survey, barely 1% of the world's graphite produced in 2021 originated from North America. And the graphite that did derive from this part of the world was primarily manufactured in Canada and Mexico. The vast majority comes from China, accounting for almost 80% of global output last year. The centralized nature of where graphite mines are located has the potential to compromise the graphite supply chain for automakers.

Daisy Jennings-Gray, a senior price analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, noted that another complication is the fact so few parts of the world have the equipment needed to make graphite usable. China is where most of the downstream processing of graphite takes place.

"The supply is getting tighter and tighter and the downstream demand for graphite is accelerating really, really rapidly," Jennings-Gray told Supply Chain Dive.

Lawmakers and the White House are aware of this issue and are taking measures that can shore up graphite production. This includes a $3 billion proposal that the Department of Energy announced in February that is designed to bolster domestic battery manufacturing.

Additionally, Alabama is poised to become the first state in the country to host a graphite manufacturing plant. Construction of the $202 million graphite processing plant is underway and the facility is slated to open for business in 2023, according to AL.com.

We're all aware of the situation in ports around the world – major backups, sometimes up to hundreds of ships long, and the kind of general congestion that would make a person with a bad head cold seem fine in comparison. That situation might just get worse before it gets better. On the West Coast of the United States, there is a potential strike brewing which could severely damage logistics, especially for goods coming in from Asia. It isn't just the ports – railway workers are threatening to strike as well, which could also exacerbate supply chain issues across the country.

While there have been promising signs that some of the threatened strikes may not happen, the possibility is still casting a shadow over the entire supply chain profession. Two ports on the West Coast alone bring in over 40% of the United States' shipping container trade with Asia. This may have some precarious results for organizations that depend on resources or finished goods from the continent, as they could deal with shortages as their goods stay sitting portside. With the world still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, and dealing with current supply chain issues such as a global labor shortage and the war in Ukraine, labor unrest may tip the scales toward further global supply imbalance.

The news also spells potential disaster as 75% of all the cargo that comes into West Coast ports is meant for retail sales. With the high demand of the holiday season approaching, organizations may not have the goods to fill it. This could lead to a further explosion of inflation in the U.S. economy as companies raise their prices to suit their short supply.

The rail union strike also provides a significant risk to companies looking to ship goods across the country. Union disagreements with ownership have led to the possibility of 115,000 railway workers going on strike – threatening a crisis affecting not just raw material transport, but also crops and imported goods.

There may be a chance for resolution
This threat of a strike has not gone unnoticed – to quote a representative of the American Petrochemical Manufacturers group about the potential strike, "We want to avoid that at all costs especially when we are in a precarious situation like our nation is now in kind of our current supply chain crisis." While there is a possibility of governmental intervention in case of a strike, the potential for slowdowns still exists, threatening companies that may have stock piling up in warehouses.

During the period where there may be a strike, organizations should start taking steps to mitigate risk in their supply chains and look for alternatives for transporting their goods internationally or domestically. It is safe to say, however, that the woes of the supply chain profession are never over – once one emergency is looking like it's finished, another starts to rear its head.

Increased levels of inflation might be a global concern, but a slowdown in consumer spending is forcing retailers to make significant price reductions on existing inventory. And while this is good news for the average consumer, there is little doubt that unplanned price reductions will adversely impact the bottom line. 

CNN reported that Walmart told investors in its latest earnings call that there was a need to apply significant cost reductions to general merchandise such as clothing and big-ticket items, with the company citing food inflation as one of the reasons why existing inventory was unsold. Walmart is well known for its competitive grocery prices and the shift in consumer spending is, the news source said, likely to reflect customer priorities.

The key thing to remember is that Walmart is certainly not alone in having to make some tough pricing choices. And there is a consensus amongst analysts that over-optimistic procurement strategies across the retail sector have led to a predictable level of overstocking. In addition, the continuing disruption to certain parts of the supply chain has meant that the physical products in store are arguably not what the customer wants to buy.

Unwanted inventory = price discounts
According to Yahoo Finance, Target is also looking to reduce what a recent Bank of America analyst note called "bloated inventories."

Total retail inventories in May were worth $705 billion, the analyst note said, with an acknowledgement that certain retailers procured too much product during the post-pandemic spending boom. Add supply chain delays and seasonal purchasing habits into the mix, and retailers have been left with a double hit of unwanted inventory and limited consumer demand. 

"Big box retailers stocked a large amount of items such as home goods, electronics and big ticket items expecting continued resilience in demand," the BOA analysts said. "However, consumers quickly rotated to services spending this year and high inflation is also keeping some consumers at bay."

Unsold inventory is giving retailers a procurement headacheUnsold inventory is giving retailers a procurement headache.

This unsold inventory could also have an impact on the manufacturing industry. And while the overstocking problem across the retail industry could be a short-term issue, there is the potential for a downturn in orders. With that in mind, Reuters cited the concerns of Wall Street analysts who believe that Q2 2022 would be "the last three months of a good spell that began during the pandemic as consumers used stimulus checks to buy products." In fact, manufacturing activity slowed to a two-year low in June, the news source said.

Simply put, higher prices for physical products has been part of the reasons why inflation continues to rise, while the discretionary nature of consumer spending means that retailers need to rethink their priorities. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told investors in the earnings call that the company expected customer spending on general merchandise to slow down for the rest of the year, an admission that gels perfectly with how BOA's analysts view the current state of play in retail.

"There is a mismatch between supply and demand in inventories," they concluded. "In other words, the inventory in stock isn't what consumers are trying to buy."

The start of a new soccer season in England is always a big deal for clubs and fans alike, but there are concerns that a lack of replica shirts will have an impact on kit-generated revenue. And while the players are unlikely to take to the pitch in last season's shirts, some fans are still waiting for their teams to give them access to branded products.

According to the BBC, less than 50% of teams in the top four tiers of English soccer have both home and away shirts available for fans to purchase. Supply chain disruption is being cited as one of the reasons why clubs are struggling to maintain or even stock inventory at physical stores, but (at time of writing) only 44 out of the 92 clubs had replica kits available on their websites.

However, the global appeal of not only the English Premier League (EPL) but also the lower leagues – which fall under the umbrella of the English Football League (EFL) – means that fans might be waiting months for a replica shirt.

For example, an unnamed EFL executive told the news source that his club had given the green light for 2022/23 designs in October 2021, but production facilities in Asia were still being affected by the ongoing pandemic. The problem, he said, was that predicted cash flow from the sale of shirts was hard to manage when you don't know when inventory will be available.

Soccer clubs rely on effective supply chains
If this seems like a first-world problem, then you need to take into account the level of revenue that replica kits generate for soccer teams.

A recent research report by Technavio predicted that the global football apparel market would grow by $2.62 billion between 2022 and 2025, with 55% of demand coming from Europe. Wearing your team's shirt – either at a game or while watching on TV – is part of the fan experience and every club will be reluctant to tell supporters that they can't buy a new shirt until midway through the season.

In addition, there is a consensus among shirt manufacturers that the start of a season is when most fans want to buy a new kit, with major brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma all keen to ensure that their designs are visible both before and during a campaign. And while the supply chain disruption is unlikely to adversely impact EPL clubs in the short term (with the exception of Crystal Palace and Leeds United, who reportedly have neither home or away available), it is the teams in the lower leagues who will suffer the most from a lack of inventory.

On the plus side, the English soccer season does run from late July until the middle of May, so there is plenty of time for fans to purchase shirts. Christmas is also a peak time for replica kit sales, and manufacturers will be hoping that the delays in production and shipping will be under control by then. If not, then the dedicated fan may have to watch games in last season's (or older) kit. As long as their team is winning, then the shirt they wear is probably less important.

The ripple effects of the ongoing pandemic are still having an impact on global society, but there are signs that the disruption inflicted on the supply chain could be alleviated in the not-so-distant future.

Bloomberg reported that "modest improvements are showing up" in a number of industry forecasts, with the consensus among economists that the so-called supply strain is close to being under control. In addition, the shortages experienced within the supply chain in the last two years are likely to be dealt with in the near future, albeit that consumer demand for certain goods and services has also slowed, the news source said.

"Pressures in the global goods sectors, which have been a central driver of inflation, may finally be easing," Citi's Global Chief Economist Nathan Sheets wrote in a cited research note. "The bad news is that this looks to be occurring on the back of a slowing in the global consumer's demand for goods, especially discretionary goods, and thus may also signal rising recession risks."

Modest improvements are better than none at all
Despite Sheets' glass-half-full assessment of the supply chain, it is fair to say that companies will be keen to get back to normal sooner rather than later. Bloomberg cited several reports that give a good overview of where the distribution and logistics sector sits in terms of economic activity, and there is little doubt that the average consumer is more than aware of the challenges that the industry has faced in recent months.

The caveat is that the black swan event of 2020 was not only a catalyst for disruption but also an indication of future pain points within the supply chain itself. The U.S. Federal Reserve, for example, refers to these gaps as "shortages," with its latest Beige Book (aka the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions) noting that the labor market, materials or other essential elements for production are likely to be defining factors in determining a return to normalcy.

Companies should already be acutely aware that the pandemic is no longer the only disruptive game in town. According to Bloomberg's reading of the various reports, the war in Ukraine and China's "ability to remain a trade powerhouse" will have a significant bearing on how quickly the global supply chain will adapt to the new normal. In addition, the traditional markers for consumer confidence and spending – holiday shopping, for instance – may have to rely on the reduction of reported container congestion at major ports and other distribution centers.

"We'll be seeing back-to-school, fall fashion, Halloween and the all-important year-end holiday goods coming across the Pacific in the weeks and months ahead," said Gene Seroka, Port of Los Angeles Executive during a press briefing on July 13. "Even though some retailers have high inventories and may look to discount goods, I expect imports to remain strong — though tapered — versus last year."

Time will tell if the world is back on track but, for the moment, the signs are encouraging. And that is what really matters.

With GPS now a ubiquitous part of the digital society, the act of navigation or tracking has never been easier. Location-based apps know where you are and (inevitably) what you are doing, but a widely-available vehicle tracker that retails for $20 could cause significant disruption to the supply chain.

A recent report by cybersecurity firm BitSight found at least six severe vulnerabilities in the MiCODUS MV720 tracker, with the analyst identifying a number of organizations that utilize the device as part of their ongoing business operations. According to the authors of the report, the tracker can be hacked with relative ease and could result in "loss of life, supply chain disruption, unlawful data tracking, data breach, and more."

BitSight's research uncovered a variety of potential access points in the MV720, all of which had the potential to allow man-in-the-middle attacks, authentication bypass and persistent (or invisible) monitoring. Exploitation of any identified vulnerabilities would allow, the report said, a malicious actor to carry out a range of activities, including but not limited to vehicle disablement, deployment of ransomware and disruption to movement within a commercial infrastructure. 

Identify risk, limit exposure
There are reportedly 1.5 million devices currently in use, and the tracker Is used by both the private and public sector. Cyberattacks are an accepted part of the digital ecosystem, but there has been an increased focus on infrastructure by the black hat community in recent years.

Commenting on BitSight's findings, Richard Clarke (a national security expert and former presidential advisor on cybersecurity) said:

"With the fast growth in adoption of mobile devices and the desire for our society to be more connected, it is easy to overlook the fact that GPS tracking devices such as these can greatly increase cyber risk if they are not built with security in mind. BitSight's research findings highlight how having secure IOT infrastructure is even more critical when these vulnerabilities can easily be exploited to impact our personal safety and national security, and lead to extreme outcomes such as large-scale fleet management interruption and even loss of life."

Hackers might be after more than your locationHackers might be after more than your location

It is also worth noting that the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) also flagged up the vulnerabilities in the MV720, with the agency recommending a number of strategies to mitigate the potential for exposure.

The full findings of the report can be found here, but (at the time of writing) the manufacturer – China-based MiCODUS - has not released any patches or updates to fix the identified vulnerabilities. In the meantime, BitSight and CISA recommend that concerned users protect themselves (and their data) by taking defensive measures such as device disablement or discontinuation.

"The MiCODUS MV720 will not be the final device discovered to have critical vulnerabilities capable of threatening business operations, human safety, national security, and more" BitSight said. "The next critical vulnerability could be discovered in another GPS tracker, medical sensor, smart fire alarm, or other IOT device. [We] urge organizations to make every effort to preempt the next critical vulnerability by managing their adoption, and third party adoption, of IOT devices."

The current high cost of filling a car with fuel has generated headlines all over the world, and the knock-on effect to the commercial shipping and logistics industry has arguably highlighted the need for cheaper and more environmentally friendly vehicles. As more people shop digitally as opposed to at a brick-and-mortar location, last-mile delivery providers are increasing investment in electric alternatives across the supply chain.

Digital purchases are completed with the click of a button, but the physical product often has to be delivered by a commercial vehicle. More often than not, that delivery service is not using an electric option. However, business leaders should focus their spend analysis on vehicles that draw power from the grid and not the pump.

According to a recent report by Research and Markets, the global market for electric commercial vehicles is going to increase from 353,000 units in 2022 to 3,144,000 units by 2030 – a CAGR of 31.4%. From a consumer standpoint, it is the last-mile delivery sector that, the report said, will benefit most by switching to electric vehicles. In fact, providers that focus on a delivery range of less than 150 miles are expected to take advantage of next-generation commercial vans and trucks.

The green future is now
CNN reported that the U.S. Postal Service has confirmed that at least 40% of its new delivery vehicles will be electric, with the agency committing to purchasing 33,800 vans by the end of the year. Around 25,000 of these delivery vehicles will be designed specifically for the Postal Service's very specific needs, with the rest being "off the shelf" versions from automakers such as Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Rivian.

The latter has already received the thumbs up from Amazon, which has started to roll out custom-built electric delivery vans across the country. The eCommerce behemoth has been extremely vocal about its commitment to the environment and plans, according to a press release, to have 100,000 Rivian vehicles on the road by 2030. Amazon has been testing the performance capabilities of these trucks since 2021, racking up over 90,000 miles and delivering more than 430.000 packages, the company said.

Last-mile delivery is going greenLast-mile delivery is going green

Not to be outdone, Walmart is also getting into the sustainable last-mile delivery game. The retailer has announced that it will be purchasing 4,500 electric delivery vehicles from Canoo, all of which will be integrated into Walmart's existing commercial fleet. Around 90% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store, so the chance for the company to offer an environment-friendly and same-day delivery service for its eCommerce customers is a strategic advantage, the company said.

The shift from gas-powered to electric cars is nothing new – Tesla released its first production model back in 2008, for example – but the increased adoption of commercial vehicles that deliver not only packages but environmental benefits could be a game changer in the supply chain. The cost savings that come with a rechargeable battery as opposed to a fuel tank are just one part of the equation, as is the fact that electric vehicles are eligible for federal and state tax incentives. And while there will always be people who are wary of going green, the simple truth is that last-mile delivery options will benefit from being sustainable.

You'd be hard-pressed to find an industry where a well-oiled supply chain is more central to success than in warehousing. Whether it's for e-commerce conglomerates, brick and mortar grocery stores or big box merchandisers, warehouses contain enormous volumes of goods of every which kind. Through a  combination of automated technology, enterprise resource planning software, a well-defined mission statement and an actively engaged staff, a warehouse can put itself in a position to thrive and keep the supply chain moving.

But with an increasing number of warehouses missing some of these critical pieces, warehouses are struggling to put the supply chain puzzle — broken by the pandemic — back together.

One of the pieces that warehouses are missing is people, namely labor. When applicants are hired, it isn't long before they're on to another opportunity, or out of the industry entirely. Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the turnover rate in 2017 for the warehousing sector was approximately 41%. It has since jumped to nearly 50% in 2021, which is down from just over 59% in 2020.

Numerous organizations are encountering the same challenge with labor, and as a result, are sweetening their compensation packages to encourage hires to stay aboard or to pick them over competitors. Abe Eshkenazi, CEO for the Association for Supply Chain Management, told Supply Chain Dive that it's a game of one-upmanship for many employers.

"Competition for talent at the entry-level is significant right now," Eshkenazi explained.

Because they're effective, wage increases have been the fallback option for many employers, which include organizations such as Walmart and Amazon. Walmart, which is the world's single largest employer, announced last year that it was raising wages for over 425,000 of its employees, including those who work in the supply chain. As The Wall Street Journal reported at the time, warehouse workers at Walmart earn an average of $20.37 an hour, substantially more than what the typical employee makes who works in store as a sales associate. Amazon, meanwhile, recently raised starting salary to $15 per hour.

But Eshkenazi says employers will have to go to greater lengths to be successful and get their turnover rates to a sustainable level.

"I'm not sure there's one silver bullet," he said. "You've got to give [workers] something more than just pay."

Perception plaguing warehousing
Providing that "something more" workers want — but don't think they have — may require changes of approach within the industry itself. Many believe that the sector lacks for opportunity, with little room for growth or ways to advance. Illustrating their point, consumer goods supplier Gopuff recently announced that instead of placing employees in alternative roles, it would lay off 10% of its global workforce due to the closure of several of its warehouses, Supply Chain Dive reported separately.

Susan Boylan, a senior director analyst for the market research firm Gartner, told Supply Chain Dive that warehouses must get ahead of the perception issue if they're to be successful with hiring and retention. Key to that is showcasing the career path that is possible in this line of work and what makes the profession fulfilling and fun.

"They have very smart infrastructure that rely on a lot of technology, but the prevailing image is a dusty old warehouse," Boylan said.

With the cost of gasoline still flirting with all-time highs, The White House has tapped into the nation's strategic oil reserve in an attempt to drive prices down by bolstering supply. But the strategic petroleum reserve, to many, is somewhat mysterious. Where is it located? When was it established? Who has the authority to draw from it? How much can it hold at once? Here, we'll provide some clarity on what it's all about.

What is the strategic petroleum reserve?
Created in the early to mid 1970s, the strategic petroleum reserve is a massive complex that houses crude oil, which is petroleum that has yet to go through the refining process. Installed following the oil embargo that created shortages for much of the world, which OPEC put in place during the Arab-Israeli War, the strategic oil reserve's purpose is to bring balance to the market when market forces — supply and demand — create instability.

Where is the strategic petroleum reserve located?
Controlled by the federal government, the strategic petroleum reserve isn't located in the Washington, D.C. area, but rather the Gulf area. The complex is lies just off the coast of Texas and Louisiana and the oil is kept in storage caverns that are buried in the ground. The Gulf of Mexico is a major production area for the United States' domestic oil flows. According to the Energy Information Administration, roughly 15% of crude oil and federal offshore natural gas production derives from the Gulf. The federal government decided to make the Gulf the destination for the reserve because of its salt dome storage and nearness to marine terminals, making it ideal for fast refining and delivery.

The strategic oil reserve is located along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.The strategic oil reserve is located along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.

How much does the strategic petroleum reserve hold?
At any given time, the strategic petroleum is capable of holding as much as 714 million barrels of crude oil, according to the Department of Energy. The most it's ever contained at once is 726.6 million barrels, but 714 million is the current authorized storage capacity. A standard barrel of crude oil is the equivalent of approximately 44 gallons of petroleum products. Generally speaking, 43% of the products derived from a barrel of crude oil are gasoline and 22% are diesel.

Who has the authority to draw from it?
Since the strategic petroleum reserve is controlled by the Department of Energy, which is part of executive branch of government, the president of the United States can tap into it when the commander-in-chief sees fit to do so. The circumstances that might lead to a full or limited drawdown are enumerated in the Energy Policy Conservation Act. The main one is in the event of a "severe energy disruption," which may have an adverse impact on the economy or the nation's safety. A sudden spike in the price of petroleum may also be sufficient cause for drawing from the reserve, if the president deems it appropriate.  

How much can be drawn from the strategic oil reserve at once?
The maximum rate at which oil can be pumped from the reserve is 4.4 million barrels per day for up to 90 days. At present, President Joe Biden has authorized releasing 1 million barrels of oil per day from the reserve.