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In the Industry: Logistical Capabilities with Sabrina Merriman

When it comes to distributing and managing products around the world, logistics is everything. Last week we sat down with Sabrina Merriman, the Global Logistics Manager at BSG. She has over 15 years’ experience in Logistics and Transportation, with her journey into Logistics starting with a company that imported and exported meat products. Starting out, she believed that Logistics was just transactional, but she quickly learned there was so much more to it. She decided to go back to school and earn her Master’s Degree in Supply Chain Management. After that, she worked at Kemps, a full line dairy company. Sabrina oversaw various parts within their distribution chain, from their cold storage warehouse facilities to their third party transportation carriers. Eventually she missed the international element, and found BSG to be the perfect fit. Today, Sabrina’s team handles BSG’s customs compliance, imports, exports, customer shipments and much more.

-What is the most important aspect of a company’s logistics? 

Having a good understanding of the customers’ wants and needs is by far the most important aspect. I quickly realized after I started at BSG that our customers are unique and needed a more diverse logistics approach. For us, it is about asking ourselves “what does the customer need?” Is it a better price, higher quality deliveries, or increased consistency within in their delivery schedules? My team keeps the customers’ needs at the forefront of their thinking and planning. In addition, we are constantly leveraging our partner networks and working on innovative solutions that will drive value for our customers. We want to encourage active engagement and really help design a logistics solution that works best for them. We firmly believe that collaborating with customers is mutually beneficial and we find value is driven from co-creating solutions rather than being embedded in the output. We understand that value is not created through the basics of our services. We have to develop a meaningful understanding of our customers’ needs and support those through flexible processes that enable us to create superior customer solutions.

-Where do you find that balance between quality and bottom dollar? 

We stand firm in our resolution that we provide quality service. Although costs are standard criteria when we search for new routing options, it does not trump quality or reliability. We hold very high quality standards, not only for our ingredient suppliers but for our carrier partners as well. We understand that our freight rates should reflect the best possible price, but we refuse to sacrifice superior service and delivery for a cheap rate. We choose carriers to partner with that provide exceptional service at fair market value.

-What is the hardest part of your job? 

Conveying industry norms and expectations across our organization and throughout our customer base can be challenging. E-commerce has really disrupted the transportation industry, and is changing not only consumer habits, but business purchasing expectations as well. Most common carriers are not set up to handle the speed and reliability that is needed to serve the e-commerce market let alone large volume shipments. I see this changing in the future as technology is leveraged to a higher degree, but today we are constantly running into constraints that occasionally hinder our ability to serve our customers as efficiently as we would like.

-Where do you see shipping and delivery procedures shifting in the current market compared to past processes? 

Logistics technology that is being pioneered today is actually very impressive. Most people know about automated trucks and everything Tesla is doing, but there is so much more to it. A major gap the industry is trying to solve for is the lack of visibility or tracking of shipments. UPS and FedEx have done a decent job giving customers parcel tracking visibility, but now we need other carriers and modes of delivery to join in. We know that customers want to know where their order is, when it shipped, and when it will arrive. This can be challenging today as not all carriers have eyes on their trailers/containers 24 hours a day. They use various checkpoints to track equipment. That means if a shipment is held up along the way it becomes difficult to track down and could take multiple touchpoints to get the information needed for an update. BSG is looking at technology now that would provide more real time visibility to our customers by having accurate ETA’s and proactively alerting them to delay’s. Our vision is to be able to give customers real time status updates with just a click of a button.

-What are some common problems you encounter with deliveries? 

The Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) distribution environment exerts unique forces on freight, which results in various points along our supply chain that potentially could cause damage to our products. In an LTL environment, a pallet can be touched 3, 4, or even 5 times before reaching its final delivery destination. Every new touch creates a potential for damages to occur. There are multitudes of common or “normal” hazards that are present in every freight shipment. The most common hazards are punctures and abrasions, which occur when packages shift or encounter other products during transportation and environmental exposures such as high and low humidity or extreme temperatures. Temperature extremes can range from subzero to temps in excess of 150F and can have a dramatic effect on the performance characteristics of packaging material. Other factors we must consider are the vertical and horizontal forces being placed on our freight. Normal road hazards create short term vertical forces that are up to 5 times the weight of the upper shipment and the sideways dynamic forces experienced from normal traffic and road hazards can cause significant horizontal forces that can exceed 0.8 times the force of gravity. In addition to the harsher conditions, we must also take into consideration delivery delay events. For example, a snowstorm might have happened four days ago, but we will see that our carriers are struggling to get freight loaded and delivered. During a weather event or a terminal closing freight can back up quickly and affect other terminals across the country.  It generally takes a few days for it to start flowing smoothly again. This can place increased strains on our customer’s production schedules and is challenging for not only my team, but our warehouses as well.

-How has automation augmented the shipping and delivery process?

Automation within the industry has helped companies be able to better plan their freight and offer more innovative solutions to their customers unique problems. Here at BSG we have begun implanting a Transportation Management System (TMS). This new technology will completely change the way BSG handles freight. It will give our customers better visibility into their orders and help my team to source carriers more strategically.

-What do you want our customers to know about our process? 

I would like them to know that BSG take’s great pride in how we source our carrier partners.  We are methodical in our selection and work very hard to make sure that the carriers we are choosing will provide the best service possible. We thoroughly vet each one to ensure compliance with all state and federal regulations and we work to help them understand that when a driver shows up at our customer’s door they no longer represent the trucking company, they now represent BSG. We want to ensure they are as invested in our customers as we are. Ultimately, we know that if our customers trust who is delivering their product they will have a deeper trust in BSG and that is something we strive to grow each day.

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