Article > Opinion

It Takes Two

By Brian Cruickshank

Collaboration among trading partners can be a great and productive thing – except when it’s a one-sided exercise.

Of all the buzzwords bantered about the aftermarket, “collaboration” is among the ones I hear the most. Much of the rhetoric surrounding the concept of collaboration sounds nice on paper and in industry presentations, and in practice it’s had some success. Of course, success in all things collaborative requires two things: a pair of willing parties. In the world of business collaboration, it really does take two to tango, and like most dances, sometimes you have a willing partner, and sometimes you don’t.

A few weeks ago an independent jobber emailed me about his efforts to control returns costs through the magic of collaboration. Returns are something everyone deals with, and it seems like everyone is trying to find better ways to handle or reduce them. This particular jobber took a hard look at all the time he was spending on returns and the associated paperwork. He decided to do something proactive about it, figuring that his servicing warehouses would welcome some additional efficiencies. He bet that his warehouses would be willing collaborators in his effort to control costs.

Specifically, the jobber didn’t like the way his store management software prepared his returns reports. He also didn’t like all the time it took to handwrite those returns reports for submission to his warehouses. So he paid a programmer to create a database program that would automatically print out all the regular weekly returns that needed to go back to the warehouse. This would solve two problems: The business would have a much better handle on his overall returns picture, and he could stop handwriting the returns on his WDs’ forms. For the WDs, they’d have more accurate reports and, since it wasn’t handwritten anymore, they could finally read it accurately.

The store owner then spent the time and effort to re-train his staff on procedures to implement the program. The initial results were phenomenal: The store cut the returns processing time in half. The store became 100 percent accurate on the returns going to the right vendor. He had effectively closed an industry blackhole in which parts were not getting properly returned because they were being put in the wrong area, on the wrong shelf or through other various mistakes.

One WD’s response to all this was a firm and uninterested ‘no’ when he faxed over his new report, insisting that the store return to the tedious hand-written form. Other WDs loved it, and took an active interest in the program.

This jobber understands that companies have their protocols and processes. But he also reminded me that costs are shared, and when one partner can reduce them, it is often in the best interest of the other partner to take a closer look. After all, that’s what true collaboration is all about.

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