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Traverse Systems Corner: Supply Chain Magic - Lessons from Popeye's and Santa

By: Greg Holder, CEO, Traverse Systems

Dec. 18, 2020

Anyone who's worked in supply chain is used to a lack of recognition. When a customer takes a product off the shelf, they're not thinking, "Wow, this store is amazing for having my favorite deodorant every time I need it."

They don't sit there, in aisle 5, awestruck at the abundance of tee shirts, thinking "I can't believe they pulled it off yet again." You'll never see a fellow shopper, with a tear welling in one eye in line for checkout, wondering, "How do they do it?"

On-time and in-full seems like a non-feat to the end user. And it's not always just the end user. When Santa gets in his sleigh at 11:45 PM on December 24th to see if the blinkers are working properly, he takes it for granted that there is an impossibly full sack of toys in the back seat, not thinking about the hard working supply chain elves that got them there.

Even old Saint Nick is guilty of overlooking supply chain. The building of expectations creates new norms. Santa hitting every house in the world in one night isn't exceptional, it's the expectation. Having almost everything in stock is fine, until a customer needing that product visits your store.

Traverse Systems Says...

Whether it's chicken sandwiches or managing drop shipments, supply chain faux pas are affecting the end customer experience more than ever.

That's supply chain life. We don't bat an eye. It's the type of service we provide and is something to be proud of. However, all it takes is one mistake, and we're all reminded again of how important a strong supply chain and the people that operate it are.

A (Crispy) Reminder about Supply Chain and Customer Experience

The range of experiences and options that modern businesses offer aren't nice-to-haves, they're must-haves. Customers have an expectation of "now," not in a few days,' which means that small, run-of-the-mill supply chain inefficiencies can profoundly affect the customer. This is magnified to almost unbelievable proportions when brands launch special releases and exclusive products, and especially when the marketing team does a great job of engaging would-be customers. Take Popeye's, for example.

If you somehow missed the great Chicken Sandwich War of 2019, let me fill you in. Popeye's created a new chicken sandwich, and a strong social media campaign that began to take root on Twitter. Clever marketers generated a dialogue about chicken sandwiches, taking a shot at industry-leader Chick-fil-a. The result? A 66-100% increase in foot traffic to Popeye's locations and a massive run on chicken sandwiches that caused the restaurant to sell out in two weeks, when the product was meant to last for nine.

After all the work that they did to get this chicken sandwich out, drum up interest, and create a go-to-market plan, it all came down to Popeye's' supply chain. It wasn't ready for success. A short-term sellout might be good to drum up interest, but 68 days of customer interest with no product is nothing more than lost sales.

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How much money has Popeye's lost since they sold out of the chicken sandwich? At the height of the buzz Popeye's was selling 1000 sandwiches a day per store. At $3.99 per sandwich, we're talking about lost revenue in excess of a quarter of a million dollars at every Popeye's location. How much could they have recovered if they had a more flexible, prepared supply chain?

The fact is, modern businesses compete on their supply chains. Whether it's chicken sandwiches or managing drop shipments, supply chain faux pas are affecting the end customer experience more than ever. And continuing to build out your customer-experience team won't do anything if you can't pinpoint what's going on with your supply chain.

Your greatest marketing or merchandising win could be your greatest loss without a supply chain that's dynamic and able to respond. Supply chain and the professionals who work in it are unsung heroes, doing a great job means keeping things that way. Many of us work in industries without predictable ebbs and flows. Having high visibility and knowledge of supply chain is the best means of protecting your customer experience. In Popeye's case, it wouldn't have been easy but based on the initial market interest, but with the right data, the right forecasting, and the right tools, they could've mitigated their losses and taken advantage of their marketing team's success.

Whether you're trying to create a distribution plan worthy of Santa Claus or launch a chicken sandwich worthy of a social media war, the supply chain dictates the customer experience. Is yours set up for success?

Here's hoping the gifts of the season are all delivered on time and in full.

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