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This past week, the Midwest United States was swept by a deadly winter storm. With wind chills, some areas' temperature reached a staggering negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme weather, like this storm, impedes many industries and processes, creating inconveniences and delays. In response to weather, many factors change including demand, production, and delivery. As a result, the supply chains of numerous companies have been impacted in a negative way.

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By some accounts, moving is ranked as the third-most stressful event a person can experience, after death of a relative and divorce. Two Men and a Truck started as an after-school business (Video: The Story of the Stickmen) for two high school boys in Lansing, Michigan. As a small business focused on local moving services, the company began in 1985 with $350, a hand-drawn logo, and an advertisement in a local community newspaper.

In 1989, Melanie Bergeron, the daughter of founder Mary Ellen Sheets, opened the first franchised office of Two Men and a Truck in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Melanie is now board chair, with Brig Sorber as the chief executive officer and Jon Sorber as executive vice president. Randy Shacka, who joined the company as an intern in 2001, was promoted in 2012 to president, and Brant Hartle is the Chief Financial Officer. Shacka is the first president of the company who did not come from the family.

Two Men and a Truck is no longer “two men and a truck.” The company has grown both domestically and internationally to most of the United States and some 380 locations worldwide.

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Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, released 30 brand new Model 3 electric vehicles to Tesla employees in Fremont, California on July 28. Tesla advertises the Model 3 as one of the most affordable electric vehicles on the market, competing with fuel-efficient cars like the Hyundai Ioniq EV, Chevrolet Volt, BMW i3, and Nissan Leaf. While demand for the Model 3 is high—it has already gathered 50,000 advanced deposits—the vehicle’s mass-market accessibility is not as apparent. In comparison to Tesla’s Model S, which can be prepared for delivery in seven days, current customer orders for the Model 3 are expected to be ready within the next 12-18 months. What is the underlying cause of such a large disconnect between consumers and the product? The reason boils down to an exponential increase in production that connects directly to a supply chain that has “about 30 percent of its components coming from abroad.”

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Since implementing market reforms in 1978, China has recognized the fastest sustained economic expansion in history, with GDP growth averaging almost 10%. Much of China’s assent to the second largest economy in the world can be attributed to the growth and development of their manufacturing industry. In 1990, China accounted for less than 3% of the global manufacturing output by value; today they account for nearly 25%. However, the economic and demographic trends that stimulated China’s meteoric rise are shifting and China is being forced to shift their manufacturing strategies to remain on top of global manufacturing.

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[This blog post is based on a presentation I gave in a business-academic panel “jam session” at the American Marketing Association Summer Educators’ Conference, August 6, 2016. The slides with charts and data can be downloaded here].

The strategic importance placed on leveraging global supply chains has seen an exponential increase in the last decade. The world is now connected in a cogwheel fashion, where all 195 countries leverage inbound and outbound elements of global supply chains, and what happens in one part of the world – seemingly far away from where you are – oftentimes has an effect on what you do, perhaps even as a bullwhip effect; that is, small changes in some parts of the world has large cause-effect relationships with other parts.

Tremendous inbound and outbound growth in supply chain traffic has been seen in Asia, with lots more inbound in the last decade than ever before. But, the idea of “supply chain management” is still driven by the U.S. and to some degree Europe. These global supply chains are important given that customers expect the world to become more globalized than the companies expect to have to deliver in the next 20 years. This mismatch needs to be solved.

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Companies’ supply chains should be strategic, analytical, total value systems that are focused on bottom-line profit. The days when supply chains were an operational activity to get a truck from point A to point B are long gone. The leverage that supply chains need to give companies and, by extension, customers is telling.

Nowadays, depending on where you live, some 70 to 90 percent of what we buy for regular consumption and use are not made in our local area. And supply chains are increasingly becoming more strategic; companies leveraged supply chains for 17 percent of their strategy in 2005 and now that number is 21 percent.

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Warehouses are becoming increasingly more complex according to a report by Zebra Technologies, a company which sells bar code scanners and other technologies. These products allow companies to track and manage their business operations in an efficient manner. In its most simple terms, warehousing is the process of storing materials and filling orders from one end of the supply chain to the other.  In response to the growing needs of e-commerce, major changes in labor and technology will be occurring within these warehouses. According to the report, in 2015, it took 60.4 hours to train new staff to “full productivity”, up 26% from 2013. This figure just further demonstrates that companies are already adjusting their supply chains to meet demand for faster delivery by consumers.

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In 2014, 75 ships were lost at sea around the world, which is the lowest number in the last ten years. According to insurer Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty, sinking and submerging was the most common cause of ship loss, with 49 of the 75 losses resulting from this. Despite a downward trend in ships lost per year over the last decade, it is feared that the increasing size of container ships will make losses much more costly.

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When out shopping and buying clothes and other apparel merchandise, a lot of people forget how far a product has come.  The supply chains of the apparel and textile industry have been under a lot of scrutiny and are in need of change.  Whether this change is for the rights and conditions of workers or to accommodate the ever changing online market, current conditions will not last much longer.

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The resurging automotive manufacturer, Ford Motor Company, has made a big splash on the international automotive and commodity industries with their revolutionary light-weight body design. Thanks to Ford securing a hefty amount of aluminum for their flagship product, automakers are scrambling to prepare their supply chains to handle the next big metal demand. This comes at a critical time when the international aluminum market is suffering. Though the metal is in healthy supply, stockpiles are entangled in financial transactions making it hard to get aluminum at all. 

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As the world continues to integrate the globe becomes more interconnected with complex supply chain systems. This becomes even more important now that countries are becoming evermore specialized in one industry or another. An interesting development where countries are specializing is in the arena of patents.

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Earlier this week, my colleague Kyle Brown asked the question “Isolated Issue or Global Supply Chain Problem?”  This question was addressing the recent uncovering that many of the products we believe to be 100% beef, actually contain a fair amount of horse meat.  It would seem that this question has been answered relatively quickly with a new Oceana report released yesterday. Oceana is an advocacy group for the world’s oceans that has sampled over 600 outlets in 20 states over a two year period in one of the most comprehensive food and health studies done in recent years.

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There is currently an ongoing investigation into a food scandal in Europe involving horsemeat found in beef products. Because of the bond that horses have shared with humans as companions throughout history, eating horsemeat is considered taboo in many cultures. The issue came to light when meat that was listed as beef in supermarkets in Ireland and the U.K. was found to contain horsemeat. This scandal poses a threat to international supply chains and brings up a very important topic: how safe is the global food supply chain?

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Back in 1965, Fred Smith wrote a paper for his Yale undergraduate economics class that proposed an overnight package delivery service in which one carrier would be responsible for a piece of cargo from pick-up to delivery. This idea was unorthodox in the delivery of packaged materials at the time, as cargo shipment in the supply chain was handled by a multitude of companies. Smith received a grade of “C” on the assignment, because the professor told him that the idea was “not feasible”. Fast forward nearly 50 years, and Fred Smith is the founder/CEO of FedEx, a $28 billion company that transformed the way packages are delivered. His idea would revolutionize the package transportation industry, but this was not an overnight success story; at one point the company was kept alive by Smith turning the company’s last $5,000 into $27,000 with a gambling trip to Las Vegas. The packaging industry as a whole has changed a lot in the past few decades, thanks in part to massive innovation brought on by people like Fred Smith.

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In an era where globalization perpetually extends the frontiers of international business, a company's ability to have their products reach markets in developing, or even remote, locations has become an increasingly important factor for success in global markets. Statistics support this claim, seeing as the share of gross domestic product as a percentage of the international market in 2012 has clearly shifted from developed countries to nations just emerging in the global economy. This trend has resulted from the growing middle classes of third-world economies having the ability to purchase goods for a higher quality of life, such as safe food, clean water, and secure pharmaceuticals. The astounding international demand for consumer goods has elevated the packaging industry to deliver these goods in frontier markets, while simultaneously trying to reduce their environmental impact during this time of expansion.

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Since the mid-1980s, emerging markets have grown faster than advanced economies. When you think of how hard it once was for smaller economies to grow and globalize, this is an amazing feat. Looking at the current situation can give many aspiring economies hope to grow successfully.

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Excessive flooding in Thailand has not only made life a challenge for locals, but global businesses are experiencing hardships due to the harsh monsoon season as well. Many technology suppliers are located in Thailand and have suffered because of the massive flooding and have caused a significant supply chain back up. Several have lost large amounts of inventory and suffered excessive property damage. Some say it could take up to a year for these plants to begin operating at normal capacity again.

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Supply chains have received a lot of attention lately including being featured in globalEDGE’s April Newsletter on the emerging industry of Reverse Supply Chains. However, another important part of a product’s life cycle is end-of-life management. Historically consumers’ only choice was to throw unwanted products away and manufacturers could help the environment by reducing packaging or making it biodegradable. Many consumers are now being offered the opportunity to recycle and companies around the world have sprung up to offer products and services that create profit while helping municipalities and citizens "Go Green!"

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As we are wrapping up this globalEDGE blog series of “top trends,” we thought there’d be no better way to finish then with a custom-made list talking about top global business trends as seen by us here at globalEDGE. The list is in no particular order (i.e. trend number 1 is no more prevalent then trend number 5), but we feel that all of these trends are making themselves known in the international marketplace now. Here’s the list!

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One of the fundamental rules of logistics is to avoid shipping air and water whenever possible. Packages and vehicles are optimized to reduce the amount of wasted space that could be used to ship additional products. The weight of water is so expensive to transport that many industries design an entire supply chain around reducing the distance that liquid goods must travel from the point of production to the point of sale. For the flower industry, in which the quality and lifespan of goods are often dependent on the presence of air and water, logistical challenges of doing business on a global scale are of high importance.

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Continuous innovation is essential for companies to remain competitive in any industry. Businesses refusing to adapt to product and process improvements have quickly been left in the dust by competitors. Stability in business is based on the ability of management to consistently and effectively adapt to changes in the external business environment.

In collaborative partnerships, suppliers and customers work jointly to develop products that will be popular on the open market. A recent article published by Michael Schrage in the Harvard Business Review shed some light on how to develop partnerships that are conducive to effective collaboration.

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Nine trillion dollars are spent annually on worldwide logistics costs. When most people look at this figure their heads spins thinking about the number of zeros in that number and the scope of activities that it represents. Corporate leaders have also started to look at this number as a huge opportunity to streamline processes and reduce expenses. Everything from agriculture to manufacturing is being analyzed in a whole new light and directors have been pleasantly surprised by the possibilities.

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In light of the ballooning global cost of providing healthcare to patients, there has been much discussion as to how operations in the healthcare industry can be implemented in a smoother and more cost-efficient manner. One major solution could lie in the efforts of various supply-chain management firms and programs to help hospitals and health care systems reduce their supply chain costs. In addition to supply chain revamps, technological revisions of documentation in the health care industry should have a significant impact in cost-cutting and time-saving.