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Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

January 14, 2015

Logistics News: Continuous Improvement Planning Drives Growth

If You’re Not Planning for Growth in 2015 then Don’t Expect Any!

Holste Says:

Without contemplating the next new thing(s), there is some considerable risk that distributors can be caught off-guard, unprepared for growth opportunities.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

Sorting It Out: For Shippers - Benefits Of Real-Time Control In The DC Are Huge!

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking to Improve Operations Choose Customer Centric Approach

Sorting It Out: Productivity is a Crucial Factor in Measuring Production Performance

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations



As 2015 kicks-off most economist are optimistic that the current moderate business expansion will continue. Logistics professionals concerned about capitalizing on growth opportunities are thinking about the year ahead and asking themselves – ‘What’s the game plan?’

NOTE: To get started - think about how the next new thing may impact your business.

           For example:

The fictitious Nike shoes that Marty McFly rocked in Back to the Future II, the self-lacing ones that a young guy would describe as “totally sweet,” are going to be real.

Yes, it looks like the reports that Nike had patented self-lacing shoes (pictured below) weren’t just something made up on the internet.

Nike has apparently built said shoes, and plans on releasing them in 2015. The news came from Nike designed Tinker Hatfield, who said there is no official release date yet.

Without contemplating the next new thing(s), there is some considerable risk that distributors can be caught off-guard, unprepared for growth opportunities.

For the past few years market uncertainty fostered a sit-on-your-hands posture. However, sitting back and waiting for conditions to improve won’t grow the business. As business consultants point out, the key to growth can be found in pro-active strategic planning coupled with vision and innovation. This approach is similar to the Quarterback who must be able to “read” the defense and call for appropriate plays from the team playbook. But, what do you do if there is no playbook…

The point is that a company that has a forward looking strategy, one that anticipates new business and marketing trends as they are developing, is going to be better prepared to implement appropriate changes, thereby taking full advantage of new opportunities as they unfold.

Within the DC, everyday there are critical on-going operational issues. Busy DC executives and managers are often so involved in these tactical issues (getting things done) that it becomes easy to overlook the need for planning at the strategic level. Take e-commerce and multi-channel marketing for example; there will be changes in customer order profiles and shipping operations that must be incorporated into DC operations. Therefore, personnel recruitment, training, development and retention, are all strategies requiring anticipatory planning.

Growth oriented companies are the ones that are committed to continuous improvement strategies, accompanied by superb plans. In those companies strategic planning is closely related to operations.

The following is a list of critical planning questions (provided by The Progress Group ) all with operational implications that should be addressed in a comprehensive continuous improvement plan.

  • What changes are contemplated by and for existing customers?
  • How will these changes influence marketing plans and day-to-day operating relationships?
  • What changes are required to successfully approach new customers and markets?
  • What changes are underway or being considered by the competition?
  • What are the most likely industry trends and how will they affect current practices
  • What are the company’s internal and external vulnerabilities relative to new demands
  • What are the most critical immediate issues facing the company?
  • What changes (economic and regulatory) will most influence the company’s profitability?

Final Thoughts

Most industry consultants agree that unless strategic planning drives continuous improvement, it may have only marginal value. In fact, if the plan does not drive continuous improvement it can be counterproductive. There is at best no point, and at worse negative value, in having a plan just so you can say you have one.

A great place to begin your strategic planning process is in Chicago at ProMat 2015 (March 23 thru 26). You can quickly check it out and pre-register at

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