Published on: March 10, 2015by Michael Sansolo
When examining the results of any survey it’s important to know the context of the question, the audience and the person asking the question. Consider what happened to me last week.
In a presentation to the Food Shippers of America I was allowed to engage the 500- to 700-person audience in some quick electronic response questions. The last of the three responses gave me pause.
I asked what percentage of food industry sales Amazon.com will own in five years and more than half of those responding voted for 15%. Think about that for a second: a group of industry professionals, many with decades of experience, predicted that essentially a company larger than Kroger is going to emerge in just five years.
Let’s cut the group some slack. They had no idea what I was going to ask and were given only seconds to answer a question with no context surrounding it. Among their choices: 5% to 25%, 15% probably seemed reasonable. In essence, I set them up for the choice.
And despite all that, we should still consider the answer. After all it is entirely possible that Amazon’s impact on food could be every bit as profound as its entry in books, movies and so many other categories. For all we know, 15% could be low.
Plus no matter what the percent the reality is the competitive landscape is clearly about to change again. So every operator needs to consider the challenges such a competitive force would have. It challenges all of us to consider how to we sharpen operations more than ever, with a special focus on how to make the shopping experience more special than ever.
But here’s the thing: not every statistic from the Food Shippers meeting was merely a guess-timate. In fact there was one number that the entire industry better consider with tremendous seriousness.
According to current estimates the trucking community has 25,000 fewer drivers than are actually needed and because of demographics (the average age of drivers is mid-50s) the problem is likely to get worse in the coming decade. Considering how important drivers are to the entire supply chain, that’s a terrifying statistic.
The people attending the Food Shippers conference understand the impact of this number, telling stories about postponing truck purchases simply because there is no one to drive the rigs. As a group they discussed some real challenges facing them including the need to better compensate drivers, better recruit women and minorities, and better use technology to improve travel times.
But it isn’t just their problem. It’s also yours.
Among drivers, the food industry has what could best be described as a terrible reputation. Drivers complain about poorly scheduled drop and pick up times, which result in long delays and waits. Worse yet is a contentious environment that at times results in cash fines for the drivers.
As a result the best and most experienced drivers frequently request food industry-free routes, while some companies promise food industry-free routes as an incentive for new drivers. In other words, this critical part of the industry is under tremendous stress. Forget Amazon, this problem is here already.
Fortunately, some of the discussions of the FSA meeting pointed up easy solutions many of which simply begin with cooperative discussions between supply chain partners to address these problems. And drivers say simply treating them better and offering benefits such as break rooms, showers and simple respect, can drastically improve the situation.
Obviously it takes some effort and possibly some cost, but the result could be a better supply chain. On the flip side, doing nothing could create overwhelming handicaps for an industry so reliant on trucks.
Especially if Amazon is on the way.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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