President Peter Jamieson outlines how The Wheels Group is reaching a higher level of supply chain management in an exclusive interview.
CT&L: This is the seventh year in a row you have been on the 50 Best Managed Companies list. What is it about the way you have evolved your business practices over the years that you believe allows you to constantly remain within this elite club?
Jamieson: There are several key areas to our ongoing success; our commitment to continuous quality improvement; new innovative business/customer development and a people centered culture. In 2001, we achieved ISO 9001-2000, which is the most current version of ISO and addresses the alignment of business strategies with business processes. ISO provided a framework for us to document and measure our business processes throughout the entire organization. Not satisfied with the status quo, this year, for example, we are going through a refreshing effort to ensure that our process blueprints reflect our evolving business and customer needs. We’ve also continued to expand the companies within the Wheels Group. Several years ago we started iWheels Dedicated Logistics, a light asset-based company that utilizes owner/operator equipment to provide dedicated transportation and supply chain service with the primary focus being the automotive industry. We have had huge growth with Dedicated over the past year, as it has become the largest inbound carrier to GM Oshawa and a new key supplier to Ford Talbotville. And most importantly, we have been and continue to be a people centered culture; our people with their experience, knowledge and passion, make the difference day in and day out.
CT&L: Can you outline the most significant developments within your company over the past year?
Jamieson: Our capability to analyze a company’s entire supply chain process – from inbound materials, manufacturing work-in-progress, warehouse and distribution to end-customer transportation delivery. Identifying processes and improvement opportunities, coupled with our ability to implement and manage those improvements, allows us to attract new customers. Wheels International, the original company in our group, was just named the LLP (lead logistics provider) for the Canadian ConAgra Foods business. We have begun to manage all their inbound shipments from the U.S. into their DC’s and also the load planning and transportation out of their DC’s to their grocery customers. We’ve also made significant advances in our supply side e-commerce for both customers and suppliers through load tendering, visibility and reporting. Within the administrative processes, e-mail PODs and invoices have reduced paper.
CT&L: What do you see as the most pressing issues right now in the relationship between carriers and shippers and what role should a 3PL play in helping resolve those issues?
Jamieson: We are at a very challenging time in the transportation/logistics industry. Carrier capacity is maxed out at a time when carrier costs are on the rise with fuel, insurance, borders delays and driver retention. Shippers have to deal with the reality of reduced capacity options and higher rates. An effective 3PL should have the ability to assist both sides of this equation by helping to optimize equipment, miles, lanes and transportation modes to provide the most effective processes and supply chain solutions. I believe that our expertise is needed now more than ever because I don’t see this situation changing in the near future.
CT&L: Freight coming from Asia for either Canadian market consumption or to be transshipped to the U.S. is expected to continue growing over the next decade. Can you outline the capabilities of your Wheels Pacific and Wheels Worldwide divisions and how you anticipate evolving those businesses to continue meeting the needs of companies shipping product from the Asian market?
Jamieson: It’s amazing how much growth there has been over the past few years. Shipping patterns are reversing and pricing models will have to be brought into line with those changes. I believe that Wheels is particularly well positioned to help people importing from Asia. Wheels Pacific has excellent expertise with transloading of ocean containers and we can ship by truck or rail and deliver North America wide. For example, we do all the Bridgestone import tires from Japan through Wheels Pacific. Our consulting group identified process improvements in how the tires were brought in from Japan. We changed the port of destination, moving it to Vancouver. We are also able to interface with Bridgestone’s systems to see when the ships are arriving and then pick up the containers and transload, destuff and deconsolidate them as per Bridgestone’s requirements. The relevant information is then placed right into their system. Wheels Worldwide, although a small company, has full service capability and can manage the entire process from origin P&D, booking the ship reservation overseas and creating the documentation, to managing the customs requirements and clearance, offering marine insurance, destination delivery and providing online tracking and consolidated billing. We can take a rather dispersed process and make it very easy for our customers.
CT&L: 3PLs, which are able to leverage technology investments over several clients, clearly have an ability to help their customers get into new technologies. Yet market studies show that the use of 3PLs as technology providers remains low. Why do you think that is and what needs to happen for that to change?
Jamieson: Technology is a tool to help facilitate the timely transfer of information. It has the capability to be an information enabler, but there is the challenge with employing common technologies, networks and applications that will effectively interface with the many proprietary enterprise systems that most companies deploy. The majority of business systems have been developed around manufacturing, sales and marketing and financial applications – not supply chain information. That is changing, however. The Internet has made the biggest advancement in the ability to stream this important information between business partners. Wheels has developed our Wheels Link supply chain information system which can interface or integrate with customer and supplier systems to provide key supply chain information and drive new levels of optimization, efficiency and effectiveness. So the interaction between customers and suppliers is becoming easier, but people still make the difference on how they use the information and tools to improve their work responsibilities.
CT&L: Users of 3PL services are challenged when it comes to accurately measuring the improvements offered by the relationship. In your view, are 3PLs themselves doing an adequate enough job of tracking cost savings and communicating them to their customers?
Jamieson: No, there is definitely room for improvement here. What we’ve learned is that it’s critical to benchmark the starting processes and costs in a very thorough detailed way. This includes the customer’s business objectives, issues and strategies such as sales, marketing, manufacturing, purchasing and distribution which all have an impact on the various process and cost links in the supply chain. This allows both the customer and the 3PL to have a strong starting point. Then you have to continually monitor and measure the progress made, identify ongoing obstacles, and communicate everything to the customer. It does require detailed work up front, but it creates a higher level of supply chain knowledge, internal support for change and mutually agreed to measurements for success.
CT&L: What does the future hold forThe Wheels Group?
Jamieson: The Wheels Group and its operating companies remain on a path of significant business growth. Our different companies are specialists who provide a range of innovative and value added supply chain products, services and technology solutions. We will grow in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and globally through incre
ased customer values and needs. Our people have the drive and passion for continuous process improvements and customer satisfaction. This year we are going to go through significant growth, in the area of 30% plus.