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 What is Supplier Relationship Management (SRM)?

Supplier relationship management is the discipline of strategically planning for, and managing, all interactions with third party organizations that supply goods and/or services to an organization in order to maximize the value of those interactions. In practice, SRM entails creating closer, more collaborative relationships with key suppliers to uncover and realize new value and reduce risk of failure.

Getting back to the initial goal of cost savings, the question becomes ‘when cost savings is a critical driver in supplier selection, how do you balance the collaborative relationship with low cost?


The major key is internal alignment between procurement and other business units. Supply Chain leaders must be able to explain why certain vendors are selected who may not be the low-cost option for reasons like customer service, on-time deliveries, payment terms, reporting, etc. while also stating how they are managing those vendors to get the best price possible. 

Category leaders must be able to explain how new suppliers versus incumbent suppliers will impact the company. There are too many cases where the grass appears to be greener on the other side and by selecting a low cost, new supplier, operational differences get lost in the shuffle and the transition becomes a disaster.

Why is Supplier Management Important?

In plain and simple terms, it creates a competitive advantage. Whether you are the procurement or the supply chain leader for your organization, having a strong supplier management system in place allows for maximin opportunities in cost reduction, value driven services, and over all systematic efficiencies which otherwise would be achieved.  

Supplier Relationships

A critical component to any company’s success is their ability to maintain strong working relationships with their suppliers and vendors. SRMs should always look to avoid complacency. You should never be satisfied with the idea of ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’. SRMs should always be looking for opportunities to improve the relationship, streamline processes or procedures, or change costing models. Relationship Managers should always be looking to challenge the status quo.

Another key to a strong supplier relationship is to open that line of communication and don’t be afraid to ask the question, ‘what we can be doing better?’ Here are some quick ideas as to how you, as a customer to your key suppliers, can help enhance your relationship and make those suppliers want to compete for your business. 

Trust and Loyalty (treat them as more than just vendors)

Improve technology and automation

Adhere to payment terms

Develop communication plans

Differentiate between price versus value

Have a dedicated Supplier Relationship Manager (SRM)

Internal alignment between Procurement and Supply Chain Category leaders


Retailers sell trillions of dollars worth of merchandise every year. Even in 2020, a period plagued by the coronavirus crisis, industry sales topped $4 trillion, according to the National Retail Federation.

But a substantial chunk of that merchandise winds up back with retailers, whether in inventory or on store shelves. Indeed, as a percentage of total sales last year, returns represented $428 billion, the NRF found.

And with the holiday season now here, easily the biggest shopping period of the year, return activity is virtually guaranteed to be swift, which will not only adversely affect a weak-kneed supply chain but raise costs. In the third quarter, more than half of retailers said their return costs rose compared to the second quarter, according to a survey from the Reverse Logistics Association. Whether the added expenses come from lower margins, shipping and handling, processing or overhead, the costs can be considerable

While returns can't be neutralized entirely, smart strategies can curb return activity. Here are a few best practices:

1.  Avoid silly mistakes
Every now and then, items will be returned purely because the buyer changed their mind. But more often than not, returns are related to items not meeting buyers' expectations. For example, according to Chain Store Age, nearly two-thirds of returns derive from errors that were made by the retailer or associate. Common complaints include the wrong item(s) being shipped and defects.

The easiest fix is for packers to be more cognizant of what they're preparing for shipment. This requires being more diligent about each product and double checking both the item itself as well as the original invoice. 

Smart customer service is central to reducing returns.Smart customer service is central to reducing returns.

2. Simplify your return policy
While it may seem counterintuitive, streamlining your return policies can actually wind up benefiting your company in the long run. From contacting customer support to preparing a product for shipment to paying for the shipment itself to bringing an item to the location where it can actually be returned, the return process can be highly involved and a major hassle. That's the last thing you want when your customers are already frustrated at having to return the item to begin with.

But as polling from SalesCycle reveals, retailers with straightforward return processes wind up getting more business in the long run. Nearly 75% of respondents said they were either somewhat likely (37%) or very likely (35%) to shop more often with a retailer knowing the return process was hassle-free.

Whether it's through prepaid, printable packing labels, store drop-off and pickup or partnering with a shipment organization, a seamless return policy can wind up paying off.

3. Provide accurate sizing charts
It may come as no surprise that clothing is the merchandise category that sees the most returns. And that's frequently due to shirts, pants, jackets and the like being too snug or roomy. Ideally, your website has a size chart that specifies the dimensions of a small, medium or large. Ensure that those dimensions are truly reflective of the products themselves. This may be difficult to do if you have more than one t-shirt supplier, as one company's medium may be another's large or vice versa. It's important to use the same measuring method for your whole line of products. For example, if online buyers are advised to measure the full circumference of their chest for t-shirt, that method should be mirrored for other shirt types (e.g. sweatshirts, sweaters, etc.) and fabricators. You may also encourage previous buyers to offer feedback on the fit in the customer review section of your website.

These and other measures can bring greater stability to your supply chain. 

You don't need to be a restaurateur to know that inflation is as hot as a pressure cooker at the moment. But since you do own a dining establishment, and food represents a substantial portion of what you spend your money on, you're keenly aware of the domino-like effect rising food costs can have on how you manage your cash flow. It leaves you with less discretionary spending and more room for error in regard to your various purchasing decisions. As it is, it's extraordinarily difficult to thrive as a restaurateur, as demonstrated by how many restaurants wind up shutting their doors shortly after opening them, often within a year or two. 

Adding insult to injury, the cost of food is expected to continue climbing into 2022, according to several economists, since inflation is poised to persist.

Bottom line: While you may be spending more, there are strategies you can implement that will help you offset rising business costs by adjusting to the current economic environment. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Streamline your menu
If you've owned a restaurant for a while, your menu has likely expanded — perhaps with each passing year. But it's highly likely that many of those dishes don't sell at quite the rate as the other more popular menu items. Take a look at your receipts to see what items sell the best month to month. In prioritizing these top sellers, you'll reduce your food costs and also diminish waste. As CNN Business has reported, several well known restaurant chains are making their menus leaner, including Dave & Buster's, McDonald's and IHOP. Not only are they spending less, they're also finding it to be a hit with customers by making it easier to decide. Mark Salebra, who chairs the McDonald's National Franchisee Leadership Alliance, noted in a statement that customer satisfaction scores have improved "significantly" since dialing back their dish offerings.

Smaller menus can yield substantial savings in terms of cost management.Smaller menus can yield substantial savings in terms of cost management.

2. Consider kiosks
For just about every business, restaurants included, the biggest ongoing cost is labor; it's the expense that takes up most of their budgets. But if you own the kind of dining establishment that's more quick-serve in nature, investing in a self-ordering kiosk can make a lot of sense. Kiosks allow customers to have more control over and customization of what they order and allow you to use staff more strategically. Subway, McDonald's and Chili's have all rolled out self-service kiosks and experienced better sales as a result, increasing figures by approximately 5% (McDonald's) and 20% among appetizers (Chili's), according to a report from Workstream.

3. Focus on retention
The restaurant sector experiences a high rate of turnover, particularly among certain segments such as fast food or fast casual. In fact, the annual turnover rate among fast-casual restaurants ranges between 130% and 150%, according to a report from CNBC. This compares to a national rate of 49% in the private sector overall. 

Having to train new employees is a major expense. Thus, retention is key. Speaking to your employees about what makes them satisfied in their jobs can help you determine what retention strategies to key in on.

With the overwhelming majority of toys purchased in the United States shipped from overseas, major retailers and manufacturers are preparing parents for an unfortunate fact this Christmas: Their intended purchases may not be available in stores. This is due to the supply chain logjams occurring at shipping ports all around the world.

But in an attempt to sidestep the port disorder and ensure children have plenty of toys waiting to be unwrapped come Christmas morning, one of the world's largest toy manufacturers has turned to nearshoring as a workaround. So far, it's proven to be a successful Plan B strategy.

In an October earnings call with reporters, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz indicated that the multinational toy manufacturer is nearshoring several of its production processes so the path to purchase is shorter and deliverables arrive on store shelves in a more timely fashion. Nearshoring is a supply chain strategy that involves transferring a particular business operation — such as packaging or parts and assembly — to a location that isn't as far away. Kreiz indicated that Mattel's early implementation of nearshoring enabled the company to reach its sales goals for the third quarter.

"We anticipated short supply and longer lead times, and factored that into our planning with mitigating actions," Kreiz explained. "For example, we expedited procurement of raw materials, pulled forward finished goods production to increase capacity, invested in additional tooling to dual source manufacturing of critical product lines, leveraged our diverse manufacturing footprint to optimize nearshoring of production, contracted ocean freight capacity and rates in advance and secured access to additional ports and shipping lanes."

Mattel says nearshoring will  help ensure more of its products will be available for purchase during the holidays.Mattel says nearshoring will help ensure more of its products will be available for purchase during the holidays.

Delivery times have risen more than 80%
This past September, The Toy Association issued a warning to retailers, informing them that ongoing supply chain disruptions would likely result in more empty shelves as buyer volume intensifies. That's because 85% of the toys bought in the United States are manufactured in Asia, according to the Toy Association. In that month, it was taking approximately 73 days for products shipped from China to arrive in the United States, according to estimates from the Port of Los Angeles. That's an increase of 83% compared to September 2019, Supply Chain Dive reported from Freightos figures.

Kreiz said that Mattel's early implementation of nearshoring will enable the company to be more nimble and respond to consumer demand as it intensifies. "We are ready for a strong holiday season," Kreiz added during the earnings call.

Meanwhile, other toy manufacturers haven't been as successful with their supply chain challenges. For instance, Hasbro CEO Rich Stoddart said that approximately $100 million worth of orders in the third quarter went unfilled because of supply chain bottlenecks and port congestion. However, Hasbro Chief Financial Officer Deborah Thomas said  the products which were in limbo have since arrived to their intended destinations, as Hasbro has "delivered much of what was delayed in the third quarter despite continued supply chain challenges."

Notwithstanding these troubles, revenues for Hasbro rose 11% in the third quarter, according to the press release.

While much has been said about the truck driver shortage, the industry doesn't lack for participation or size. In addition to employing nearly 2 million people (according to the Department of Labor), three of the 50 most common jobs in America are all related to trucking (i.e. industrial truck and tractor operators, light truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer drivers), as a report from Stacker found after reviewing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nevertheless, the American Trucking Associations says that if hiring doesn't pick up the pace, motor carriers and the industry as a whole could be at least 160,000 drivers shy of the number necessary to meet demand as soon as 2028.

But as Freight Waves recently reported, it isn't young people or those who are middle-aged who are seeking their commercial drivers licenses of late; it's seniors — or those who are on the cusp of senior citizen status. They may hold the key to resolving some of the supply chain issues affecting the nation's ports. 

'It was just time for me to do something else'
One of those people who may have a role to play is Ed Falls, a retired school band director. Speaking to Freight Waves, the 57-year-old noted that with his teaching days behind him, he was ready to pursue a different line of work, and the trucking lifestyle just so happened to be in line with his likes and interests.

"It was just time for me to do something else and I always like driving," Falls explained. "I like over-the-road stuff. I like the freedom."

Freedom — or more precisely, more free time — is part of what has inspired more seniors to pursue trucking as a post-retirement career. Being freed from traditional job responsibilities — as well as family responsibilities since their kids have left home — has made the transition to trucking fairly seamless.

John Albert, who has been driving a truck professionally for 14 years now after obtaining his CDL at 55, noted that he likely couldn't have gotten into trucking were it not for the fact that he had more free time in his mid-50s.

"If I was younger and I still had children at home, I would not do it," Albert told Freight Waves.

Seniors are increasingly taking up truck driving as a post-retirement career path.Seniors are increasingly taking up truck driving as a post-retirement career path.

Retirements a major contributor to driver shortage
That more seniors are becoming truck drivers is, in some ways, out of step with current employment trends in the trucking industry. In fact, as the American Trucking Associations has detailed, a big reason why the shortage of drivers is as large as it is is due to so many truckers exiting the workforce. Between 2021 and 2030, an estimated 400,000 drivers will be retiring, according to the trade association's estimates.

But now, it seems, many of the people who are replacing the more seasoned truck drivers are their senior contemporaries, just those who are brand new to the job.

That said, industry experts stress that more young people are needed in order for the sector to grow and develop. Since seniors are already in the latter half of their working years, they don't have as much time to extend their careers as those who are in their twenties and thirties. Currently, the median age for over-the-road drivers is 46 and for private fleet drivers, it's 57, based on a 2019 report from the American Trucking Associations. To grow the business, that median age will need to go down.

In the meantime, the supply chain stands to benefit from unclogging the existing bottlenecks. 

What kind of relationship do you have with your suppliers? Do you maintain an ongoing correspondence, or is it more or less a relationship that is exclusively transactional in nature?

In a post-COVID world, supplier relationships are more important than ever. While hundreds of thousands of businesses did not make it through the pandemic, forced to close due to mounting costs and a lack of cash flow, others survived, often through a combination of good fortune and strategic cost-cutting.

Still, many can't help but wonder: What if? What if the materials I need from my supplier were to suddenly not be available? What what would my company do if my supplier went out of business?

The key to ensuring ongoing supply — and being cognizant of supply chain bottlenecks — is by maintaining a relationship with your supplier(s).

Here are a few tips that supply chain management experts put together for Harvard Business Review. While the piece was written back in 2004, the tips they offer are every bit as applicable today as they were then:

1. Become more well acquainted with your suppliers' processes
Understanding the ins and outs of what goes into creating a microchip or crop cultivation gives you a better appreciation for the work that goes into it and why delivery takes the amount of time it does.

As Harvard Business Review contributors Jeffrey Liker and Thomas Choi point out, supplier relationships are founded on mutual understanding and becoming as intimately familiar with your suppliers' processes as they are. This entails research, study and being on site — on the factory floor — when production processes are underway.

Do you know how your suppliers create what they do?Do you know how your suppliers create what they do?

2. Diversify your suppliers
Among the biggest mistakes retailers, restaurans and other businesses that rely on suppliers made during the COVID-19 pandemic was putting all their supply eggs in one basket. So when their suppliers had to shut down, it compromised sales.

Supplier diversification not only lowers risk, but it also encourages competition. As Liker and Choi noted, supplier competition incentivizes producers to perform in a way that will result in a new contract or extend an existing one.

3. Supervise suppliers if you can
Being on the scene when producers are engaged in their work not only gives you a bird's eye view of their processes, it also allows for supervision. This supervision isn't necessarily done to ensure that they're doing their job but to offer feedback, advice or support. According to Choi and Liker, automakers are known to send report cards to their suppliers to communicate problems with delivery, performance history and words of encouragement or gratitude.  

4. Know the lingo or develop your own
Depending on your business, some of your suppliers may be overseas, and your points of contact may speak an entirely different language. Conversations that are lost in translation can lead to unnecessary confusion and unfulfilled orders. Liker and Choi recommend establishing a common lexicon or relying on verbiage that everyone understands, which allows key stakeholders to stay on the same page.

By implementing these suggestions in tandem with strategic information sharing and joint improvement activities, you can maintain a more reliable supply that is grounded in better communication.




The United States auto industry has been producing and creating more cost-efficient electric cars since the 1970’s. Companies such as Tesla and Nissan are the pioneers in this type of technology and now have competition from other world automakers. The demand continues to increase for more sustainable consumer products. However, one sector that is often overlooked is the electric truck freight automotive. Despite the lack of popularity and visibility compared to consumer automobiles, the fright and semi-truck business is quite crucial for the logistics of goods both in the U.S. and abroad. As governments and corporations find new ways to reduce carbon emissions, the supply chain infrastructure offers a perfect opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. 

Freight truck emissions are one of the more substantial carbon emitters in the world with an estimated 1.8 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere in 2019* (62% of all cargo freight emissions). One of the easier ways that business could decarbonize their supply network distribution is to invest in electric trucks and freights.

The cost-effectiveness of Electric freight trucks.

One of the important aspects in the push for a greener supply chain is making ensure “greener” provides a cost-effective solution. The cost analysis of operating a transport truck is based on several factors: 

Electric Freight trucks are still more expensive to purchase upfront than their diesel counterparts due to the high battery costs. 

According to Forbes, A 375-mile range truck with the current battery price of $135/kWh is expected to cost as much as 75% more than a diesel counterpart. 

In terms of cost per mile efficiency the electric trucks already seem to be a substantial cost-effective option.

“A Class 8 electric truck—the heaviest long-haul trucks, weighing more than 33,000 pounds -traveling an average of 300 miles a day would cost 13% less to own per mile than a conventional diesel truck” (Forbes). 

Electric costs are based upon electricity demand; the cost of fueling can be substantially cheaper by charging during off demand hours. 

There is a lower maintenance cost because the electric engines have fewer moving parts and thus receive less wear and tear than a normal diesel engine. 

A study of the Argonne National Laboratory shows that maintenance costs are 40% cheaper for Electric Vehicles (EV’s) than Internal engine combustion (ICE) vehicles.  

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – some additional factors:

Depreciation

Tax benefits

Insurance 

The bottom line –This elevated initial investment makes most companies unwilling to switch their fleet, when considering that electric trucks do not have an efficient driving range compared to a diesel truck. For reference a normal diesel semi-truck can drive 2,100 miles before having to refuel the tank**, compare this to an electric truck that at 375-miles needs to recharge. 

How Sustainable are Electric Vehicles?

The three main factors to consider: 

Electricity power matrix

Freight production emissions 

Battery waste management

One big caveat in the sustainable potential of this technology is the electric grid of the country where the freight trucks is being used. If the local energy matrix used to charge truck relies mostly from fossil fuels, then the carbon emission reduction becomes less expressive. 

The EPA points out Electric Vehicles (EV’s) are comparably better than fossil fuel engines since they have a 100% rate of carbon emission compared to the more reliant fossil fuel matrixes that use a high percentage but generally not 100% carbon emitting sources. The energy matrix across every country in the world is decarbonizing which makes EV’s a better sustainable solution in the long run. 

In addition, there is the issue of production; electric freight trucks can produce more carbon emissions in its production than normal trucks due to the energy intensive process require to produce the batteries in the first place. Overall, the total Green House Gas (GHG) emissions per lifetime for electric vehicles is lower than fossil fuel engines so it is a better option in the long run despite the short-term trade-off in increased carbon emissions. 

An outlying issue, yet to be addressed is the recycling of the EV batteries and the fossil fuel cars that are going to be replaced. For the solution to work diesel and gas automobiles will have to be reused or recycled. The solution for lower carbon emissions should not come at the trade-off creating another negative environmental externality.

Conclusion

In 2021, electric trucks are still in proof of concept, that has yet to be fully implemented. Additional research is needed to reduce electric battery cost and increase the mileage range per electric charge. There is potential for success in this environmentally friendly solution but it’s yet to prove to be economically feasible.

Companies should be on the lookout for improved electric truck technology, which will down the road create a greener supply chain.

If you have any questions about this blog post please email me at ppeebles@corcentric.com for information about our fleet procurement, fleet financing  and the GPO please click https://www.corcentric.com/fleet-solutions/.

Sources:

*According to our world in data

**According to Schneider National

 


TEAMS is chocked full of functionality, in fact so much so that it would take quite a bit of time to learn it all.  The pandemic sped up the use of TEAMS and Microsoft increased the functionality by leaps and bounds to keep pace.

Very few people use all the features.

I was introduced to TEAMS in January 2020.  I had no previous experience; the system, for the most part, is extremely user friendly and intuitive.  

The functions highlighted below are nifty ones used by many on a daily basis:

TEAMS communication options fall into 1 of 4 types

(no difference if scheduled or impromptu)

  • Chat only functionality - text conversation. 
  • An audio only call (all parties picture or initials appear) with or without screen sharing.  
  • Full video meeting (live faces) with or without screen sharing. 
  • Audio call with people outside of the company - a traditional phone call.

I recommend considering  the "traffic light” approach prior to reaching out to someone internal for any type of communication (this is the availability status circle by the internal employee’s name or initials in TEAMS:

  • Available - for calls and screen chat. 
  • Busy - will receive chat messages and will have functionality to answer back. 
  • Do Not Disturb with horizontal slash – no outside screen chat will appear until the has concluded. 
  • Be right back with a clock sign - The person is temporarily unavailable or is finishing a task. (Be right back can only be set manually if your computer is idle/ screen lock or “asleep”)  
  • Offline - It means the person is currently not using TEAMS, connected to the company, and until they log back into Corcentric they are not receiving messages. 

How to take and share notes in a team’s meeting

  • Selecting the “More Actions” icon
  • Select the “show meeting notes” option
  • A side pane will pop up select the “take notes”

I need all the organization help I can get; with the elimination of paper files and the growth of a “cloud filing system” I can easily loose items. TEAMS provides the ability to “Pin” – think of a bulletin board.

Pinning/organizing your teams

  • Open Microsoft Teams. 
  • Go to the team and channel you want to pin.
  • Find the post and click the more options button at top right.
  • Select Pin.
  • The post will be pinned to the top. The post is pinned for everyone, if part of a channel.

Edit in DESKTOP APP 

While in the document others that have access to the same document will be able to edit simultaneously and EVERYONE’s collaborative changes/updates will be AUTOSAVED!

FYI - changes can be made in the channel/non-desktop environment, however this is where (in my opinion) TEAMS is flawed; when multiple parties making changes, alignment and structure can become skewed.

 How to save a message/chat/or link to files

  • Find the message you want to save.
  • Hover over the message and click the bookmark icon to save the message.
  • Once the message is saved, the bookmark icon will appear red, and a message will pop up indicating that the message was saved.

How to find saved items

  • Just to the right of the text.
  • To see a list of your saved messages, select your profile picture at the top of the app and choose Saved.

How to copy and send a link

  • Select Format beneath the message box.
  • Select Insert link.
  • Add display text and the address.
  • Select Insert or copy and paste the link into the message box.
  • Select Send.

Emojis and Gif’s in Teams – Why & When 

According to the company hibox - (Paraphrased) "There are real, measurable benefits to the increasingly casual form of communication that has become the norm of the most innovative businesses. Without in-person interaction, there’s little emotional dimension to our messages at work which can tax employee engagement and relationships. Formal communication is being factored out in favor of informal methods which include emojis and GIFS because we simply work better this way. Using Emojis and Gif's in appropriate business communication produces better results!" 

TEAMS has over 800 Emojis, stickers and Gif’s incorporated into the platform.  On my team,  if a message is received with no action or reply required, the “thumbs up” is posted as a confirmation of being received/read by the recipient.  

Please know your audience prior to adding emojis, GIF or Stickers to group reads, channels – especially if clients are part of the communication/information stream. 

How to access the “Secret” Emoticons in TEAMS 

  • Open Microsoft Teams. Go to either a teams' channel or a chat thread. 
  • Click inside the text input field and enter the colon character: 
    • Follow this character up with a letter for example a and emoticons that start with the letter will appear in the list.  🚲🍱🧐

These quick how-to tips are are used frequently and offer effective interactions both internally to an organization and when engaging external resources. TEAMS offers extensive robust features and functionality; continuously helping to bridge the gap of face-to-face interactions that are still impacted by Covid. 

Corcentric is currently looking for qualified staff... www.corcentric.com/company/careers/

If an opening is of interest or if you have questions about the company please email me at twankoff@corcentric.com.

Maintaining a healthy level of cash flow is central to financial success as a business owner. When your customers purchase a good or service, whether by cash or credit, you use those funds to keep your company running by addressing your own expenses, such as labor, utilities, repairs, you name it. But with the consumer price index soaring to a 30-year high in October — a 6.2% increase from a year earlier, according to data from the Department of Labor — your cash flow may be adversely affected if soaring prices result in a sales slowdown.

Consequently, in such cases it becomes that much more important to keep tabs on your cash flow so inflation doesn't take a toll on your business's finances. Here are a few tips on how to more effectively manage the money coming into and out of your business:

1. Consider selling products or services on a subscription basis
As seasonal businesses can attest, purchase activity can wax and wane depending on the time of year. A great way to get more sales consistency is by offering customers what you sell through a subscription. As recommended by Forbes, a subscription model can be a great deal both for you and your customers: They get more of what they need or want throughout the year — typically at a lower per-unit price than they would if they made a single purchase — while your company generates more cash flow on a month-to-month basis. This model also can help your business be more competitive by matching what your customers are used to, in terms of selling price or merchandise selection, from rival organizations.

2. Evaluate what you spend on a yearly basis
It's fairly commonplace to think about what you spend to keep your business operating on a monthly basis, or even weekly. Instead, calculate what your costs are over an entire year, Forbes advised. This way, you'll have a better understanding of how much money you need on hand over the long term so you can make the necessary accounting, spending or operational adjustments when the flow of revenue isn't as consistent as it is in other times of the year.

Central to business success is cash flow management.Central to business success is cash flow management.

3. Evaluate your wiggle room
When it comes to payments, creditors and vendors typically fall into one of two categories: those that have a hard deadline on when a debt is due and those that offer some leeway. When cash is tight, it doesn't hurt to ask creditors if it's OK to pay them later, the Baltimore Business Journal advised. Even when you're in good shape cash flow wise, it's worth asking this question so you can better prioritize your various bill payments and invoices.

4. Offer discounts to customers that pay right away
There are a variety of advantages for when customers pay up front, the most obvious one being that it enables you to take care of your cost concerns right away. As such, make it worth your customers' while to pay at the point of purchase, as the Baltimore Business Journal further suggested. You can do so by offering a percentage discount or if they buy items in bulk.

If turning back time was an option and COVID-19 could be erased from history, most business owners would likely take advantage of such an opportunity. But at the same time, the coronavirus provided a number of invaluable lessons that might never have been learned otherwise. For example, the pandemic demonstrated the importance of alternative sourcing and why diversifying suppliers can ensure continuity when disaster strikes.

However, if you're in a niche industry, sole source suppliers may be your only viable option. Thus, it's important to mitigate the risks that are endemic to having just one supplier (in total or for certain components) wherever you can. Here are a few tips that can help you do just that:

1. Be ever mindful of changing business conditions
One of the many reasons COVID-19 was as devastating as it was for the economy was due to the fact that no one saw it coming. Yet in hindsight — which is always 20/20 — there were some clues about the impact any airborne disease would have on supply chains. That's why it's important to pay attention to your business environment, advised Supply Chain Dive. From labor issues to logistical constraints to inventory shortages, being cognizant of production trends and how they're affecting your business can help you make the proper adjustments to reverse those trends.

Problem identification is central to supply chain management.Problem identification is central to supply chain management.

2. Identify the source of the issue
If the products you sell require multiple sole sources, then you may not know which sole source lies at the root of the problems you're experiencing. You can make the identification process easier by creating a database that keeps track of all your sole-source suppliers, Supply Chain Dive further recommended. Doing so will not only help you establish the extent of the problem you're experiencing, but whether it originates with a sole source or a single source supplier. If the latter is true, it may be worthwhile to seek out a new partner.

3. Incentivize performance by communicating your expectations
Mutual interest is the key to any business-sole source relationship. But when it comes to delivering on your high expectations, you may need to make productivity more of a priority for the supplier. If you can, find out what motivates your vendor. Discovering their goals and what inspires them to perform can inspire teamwork, planning and implementation of the strategies that ensure execution.

4. Move away from sole sourcing
Depending on your industry, it may be impossible to entire avoid sole sourcing, but if you're interested in selling or making new products for purchase, avoid those that are sole source dependent. Given the all or nothing nature of sole sourcing, the risks may outweigh the benefits.

5. Reconsider just-in-time inventory
As many manufacturers can attest, just-in-time inventory has been touted in recent years as a preferable — and more profitable — supply chain management option. But it proved to be a mistake in the wake of COVID-19, of which the global supply chain continues to feel the consequences. Shoring up your inventory — buying more than you need — can give you sufficient cover if your sole source supplier goes offline.

In mid-October, President Joe Biden stated from the White House the Port of Los Angeles would become a 24/7 operation until further notice, remaining open at all hours of the day and night. This decision — which the president called a "game changer" — was aimed at reducing the volume of containers and ships seeking to offload cargo at one of the nation's busiest ports.

Close to a month after making that announcement, the backlog there seems to be dwindling, but perhaps not at the speed the administration — nor anyone else, for that matter — would like. As a result, the Port of Los Angeles is slated to hand out fines to shipping companies that are dragging their feet. So far, that policy seems to be having its intended effect.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, ocean carrier companies whose containers are taking too long to be removed from terminals will be hit with a fine. Set to go into effect on Nov. 15, the cost of these fines will depend on how long containers have been there. Currently, businesses have six days to clear the area, but if it goes beyond that, the charge will be doubled for every additional day that it takes. For example, one day will cost them $100, two days is $200, three days is $400, and on from there. The Port of Long Beach will be adopting this same rule.

Shipping containers are slowly but surely dwindling at California's main ports.Shipping containers are slowly but surely dwindling at California's main ports.

Congestion is easing
The intent behind the fine is to provide a greater sense of urgency to the issue. So far, even though the fees are not in force as of this writing, containers are moving at a faster clip, according to Noel Hacegaba, who serves as deputy executive director at the Port of Long Beach.

"This fee is already meeting its objective," Hacegaba said in a prepared statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, since shipping companies were made aware of this new fee, container volume has slid by 26% at the Port of Long Beach and by 14% at the Port of Los Angeles, the paper reported. That translates to 10,000 fewer containers.

'Not like flipping a light switch'
While this is a notable improvement, it didn't start out that way. Approximately 24 hours after Biden's speech, there were five dozen container ships anchored in San Pedro Bay waiting to offload, according to the Wall Street Journal. Slated to arrive within days were an additional 25 ships, said Gene Seroka, executive director at the Port of Los Angeles.

John Porcari, a port envoy who was named to the Biden administration's Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force in August, told the WSJ at the time it would take the 24/7 port policy a while to bear fruit.

"This is not like flipping a light switch," Porcari said.

Today, however, those who frequent these ports say congestion conditions have definitely improved — albeit incrementally. Harbor Trucking Association Chief Executive Matt Schrap said this is particularly true of new boxes, as previously, the dwell time for new containers was significant; that's not the case anymore. Schrap told the Los Angeles Times he believes the fee has been the catalyst.

When it comes to products, components and materials that are hard to find, some seem to be more highly publicized than others. This is partially a function of how widely they're relied upon and utilized. For instance, since microchips are required in the manufacture of automobiles, gaming consoles, smartphones, tablets and many other kinds of merchandise sold on showroom floors or big box stores, it's no surprise that chips are well known to be in short supply. The same can be said for aluminum, a shortage that has driven up the cost of production, a cost passed on to consumers.

But there are a variety of other shortages that aren't as widely discussed, some of which are on the cusp of — or have already reached —scarce stage. Understanding what those are can help business owners establish expectations for customers and develop strategies to mitigate the resulting effects on productivity. 

Resin
Whether it's used for walls, exteriors, fences or concrete, paint is a staple of home improvement and specialty stores. But paint suppliers like Benjamin Moore, Behr and BASF Coatings have less of it than normal. This includes Sherwin-Williams, the largest painting company in the world in terms of annual revenues.

The reason is resin: There isn't enough of it. Resin is a polymer used in the manufacturing of plastics, varnishes, adhesives and industrial pipes. It's also a key ingredient in paint, but due to severe weather disruptions that have impacted states where resin is heavily produced — like Texas — resin factories remain in catch-up mode.

Heightened demand has compounded the problem, according to Rajeev Prabhakar, who specializes in chemicals, industrials and energy at the consulting firm Kearney.

"The demand grew, but we were also starting a supply from low inventory levels across the supply chain," Prabhakar told Supply Chain Dive. "Everybody had depleted their inventory when demand collapsed last year so there's not much buffer."

Prabhakar added, however, that in a few months' time, resin supply should be back to normal, assuming there aren't any significant storms that can affect the electrical grid and water supply, which are needed to make resin.

Resin shortages are leading to paint blackouts.Resin shortages are leading to paint blackouts.

Magnesium
Found in cements, glass, iron and steel, magnesium is another widely used raw material, but due to government crackdowns on carbon emissions in China, where most of the world's magnesium originates, a magnesium shortage could compromise those other product lines. During an earnings call, Alcoa Chief Financial Officer William Oplinger warned about this potential. 

"[Magnesium] shortages are a concern and our procurement team is actively working on trying to make sure that we have enough material to be able to supply our customers," Oplinger said, according to Seeking Alpha. "But shortages are our concern."

Approximately 80% of the world's magnesium supply comes from China, according to the CME Group.

Maltaco, a major aluminum producer for forging and extrusion manufacturing, told customers that the company may need to ration supplies heading into 2022 if the scarcity continues, as reported by S&P Global Platts.

Business owners who rely on these raw materials may want to take measures now to optimize their manufacturing processes or diversify their suppliers so production is as minimally affected as possible.