- What's it all about?
The purpose of logistics is to manage the flow of goods from supplier to shelf, ensuring that the customer has the right product in the right place at the right time. In this sense it seems very similar to the merchandising function although the term "logistics" tends to be used in a non-fashion environment - for example, food, DIY or consumer durables.
Whilst there is an extremely high focus on the availability of products for the customer, the other aim of the logistics department is to minimise stock holding throughout the various stages of the supply chain. Imagine the value of stock held at the supplier's warehouse, the retailers' warehouse, in the store's stockroom and stock sitting on the shelf. Many retailers have greatly reduced the size of the stores' stockrooms ensuring shorter lead times from warehouse to store so that products can be displayed directly onto the shop floor. Obviously therefore there is a need for highly sophisticated accurate ordering systems.
Although different companies obviously have different structures, there is a trend for one team to be responsible for physically dealing with suppliers and managing the movement of products whilst another team analyses the activity.
An important distinction must be made between "logistics" and "supply chain".
Logistics - tends to relate to the physical movement of commodities.
Supply Chain - the broader picture, the journey from production to shelf.
Where do I start?
As a Supply Chain or Logistics Analyst or Supply Co-coordinator, different companies use different job titles, for what is effectively the same job.
What will I be doing?
There are four main areas essential to logistics:
Planning and Forecasting
Accurately estimating how many of each product will be needed for a specific time period.
Operations and Systems
Day-to-day liaison with the trading department, suppliers and branches to solve problems such as late deliveries and updating of information on the computer system.
The physical movement of products using internal or external hauliers from supplier to depot and depot to store.
NB. For some products it may be convenient to have direct deliveries from supplier to store, e.g. short life commodities or non-perishable durables such as stationery.
Looking at historical information to analyse seasonal trends, promotional activity etc. to aid in future planning and forecasting. Also, how problems were solved e.g. late deliveries or contingency plans for production problems.
Have I got what it takes?
It is essential that you have the following:
- A numerate degree i.e. Maths, Statistics, Finance, Business Studies, Geography, etc.
- Some solid retail experience
In order for you to perform well in a logistics department, you will need to possess the following skills:
When dealing with suppliers, branches and other departments. It is necessary to build and maintain good supplier relationships to ensure their most efficient performance - this will usually be on the telephone although if there is an ongoing issue/new system it may be beneficial to meet face-to-face or even visit the supplier's site. Internal departments must be informed of issues that will affect them and branches need problems solving quickly and to the best advantage of the customer, e.g. transfer of stock between stores.
Within logistics and other internal departments as necessary. You need to be supportive to colleagues and work for the best of the business rather than having a blinkered, individual approach.
Prioritising / Organisation
It may sometimes be necessary for you to prioritise commodities when solutions cannot be found to all issues. This will become easier with experience and knowledge of different products' and suppliers' attributes. You will also need to be able to prioritise your workload when a number of tasks need to be completed. You must be organised in your approach to work so that deadlines are always met.
You will need to make decisions relative to your position, these should be for the benefit of the business as a whole and you should be confident and able to back up your actions. For example how many days stock cover is appropriate for a particular line without being under or over stocked?
Although the computer system will help you, you will need to have a strong sense of numeracy and an analytical approach when looking at stock cover, forecasting and orders.
Companies will all have an in-house ordering system where you will receive training during your induction. You will not be expected to be a computer "whizz-kid" but you will need to have some experience, maybe with spreadsheets or databases. Systems will vary in their level of sophistication but you will be able to access information such as:
- Stock holding of a particular line by store/depot
- Supplier of the line
- Past sales of the line in a particular period
- How many and which stores stock the line
- Past promotional activity etc. etc.
Where can I go from here?
Most large retail organizations have a clearly defined career path within the logistics function, so progression to management levels is certainly possible. There are often opportunities to move sideways in to other sectors with the supply chain or complete project work.
If you would like to speak to someone about applying for a supply chain job or for a complete list of our nationwide supply chain jobs, please get in contact!
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