Electrocomponents is a prominent international distributor of electronic, electrical and industrial supplies, best known in the UK under the RS
The company’s general manager, supply chain, Frank Peplinski, is a chemist by training. This is an exact science where outcomes and yields can usually be predicted from inputs. One of the attractions of working in the supply chain, Peplinski says, is that ‘anything we do can always be done better. It’s an exacting and challenging career path and we have a responsibility to explain the supply chain dependencies to others, whether we are working with suppliers, in our many internal processes and departments, or dealing at the other end with customers.
‘Variety makes things interesting every day. People outside logistics don’t always realise the quality of people we have and what they contribute. It’s not just systems, forecasting and planning.’
But getting the right people isn’t easy if potential recruits don’t understand what a supply chain does and the opportunities it offers. ‘My team has opportunities for travel, for dealing with international customers and suppliers and for working in different cultures, becoming more global people.’
Peplinski says that, depending on the post, recruitment involves competing in local, national or even international markets for the few top people who are out there. ‘Fortunately,’ he says, ‘in our organisation everyone knows that supply chain is valued, that it is a core part of the service. And as one of our core competencies it receives a lot of focus from the CEO and the board. Indeed, people want to join the supply chain from other parts of the organisation.’ This is not a claim every company can make.
Electrocomponents has a reputation for being an early adopter, even a developer, of modern business technologies. It was an early exponent of web technology, for example. So Peplinski’s views on the utility of currently emerging technologies deserve respect. The internet and e-commerce are of course central. Peplinski says: ‘I’ve been putting my energies into using the internet and e-commerce to work ever closer with suppliers and customers. B2B web interaction is growing in importance worldwide. It is vital for us to develop our capabilities so that we can
give suppliers more information and more rapid feedback – not just on forecasts and purchase orders but subsequent information around their products and where and how they are being bought and used. Then they can make their own plans and decisions. They can look at their costs and align order quantities with what the market actually wants. More generally, we can take out guesswork from the relationship and
replace it with fact.’
Electrocomponents is a serial winner of awards, especially for its customer website. Peplinski says the firm is about to launch a vendor portal with improved functionality for vendors and further capabilities will be rolled out. ‘This is the way forward. It’s a great opportunity to work with vendors to remove cost, and particularly to remove surprises. Everyone can have visibility of plans and changes.’
So, the firm is hardly Luddite, but Peplinski is no more than lukewarm about RFID. ‘We’ve looked at it with open minds but we don’t see the opportunity – we don’t see where RFID makes sense in our business environment. We are despatching 30,000 orders of low value each day and these volumes just don’t lend themselves to close monitoring with RFID. We have used the technology to track totes around warehouses
but that’s not what the technology is about – it’s about tagging things moving right through the supply chain. We can’t see any significant benefits over simpler and much cheaper bar coding.
‘Also, a lot of our sourcing is in the Far East or eastern Europe where RFID doesn’t yet exist as standard. But if the costs go down things could be different – who knows?’
- Frank Peplinski graduated in chemistry from Oxford, but chose to work in manufacturing ‘because I wanted to do something practical and wealth creating’.
- His 20-year career has taken him across the food, pharmaceutical and catalogue distribution sectors, in a variety of production, operations, materials management, logistics and most recently supply chain roles.