‘I’m trying to bring supply chain management to life,’ says Phil Streatfield, supply chain director at Entertainment UK (E.UK), and he has certainly chosen a challenging arena in a complex, fastmoving but essentially low-margin business.
E.UK, a subsidiary of Woolworths Group plc, provides category management and supply chain services to retailers within the group and for others, such as Tesco, who sell entertainment products such as CDs, DVDs, computer games and books. ‘It’s a complex, multi-channel world,’ says Streatfield. ‘We serve bricks and mortar retailers, we provide fulfilment and support behind websites such as tesco.com, and we are also working in the pure digital space.’ E.UK handles hundreds of new products every week with little idea of which will bomb and which will be instant successes. It is a competitive marketplace demanding outstanding shelf availability at the lowest of costs – and that requires the total set of supply chain skills.
‘When I joined E.UK I wanted the role defined according to the way I wanted to do things. Supply chain logistics, for us, runs through product forecasting, replenishment management, buying for replenishment, outbound distribution and returns. We also have a small, focussed supply chain development team and a business planning team.
‘This, for me, is an ideal combination of responsibilities to bring supply chain management to life. It’s not just trucks and sheds – it’s integration from supplier to shelf and back again. We are accountable in terms of managing the flow of product with high service levels and low costs. I’ve spent the past four years trying to bring to life the low cost, low stock, high availability supply chain’.
At E.UK, Streatfield is a full board member, a status not all of his peers can obtain. ‘There’s a need for role models to demonstrate how the supply chain can make a difference. There aren’t many good case studies out there. I’m not sure supply chain people are having the impact they should. Organisations don’t understand how to get the best out of their supply chain capability and there is often confusion between ‘operations’ and ‘supply chain’ – how they add value in different ways.
‘People don’t really see what can be gained from making an integrated supply chain approach work. We need debate and encouragement so that people want to do these jobs. We still don’t have the kudos of roles such as marketing.’
Streatfield worries that people get seduced by the ‘big fix’ for the supply chain. Not that he’s a Luddite – far from it – but he insists that change should be evolutionary, moving at the pace the business can cope with. ‘The supply chain has to be subservient to business strategy. You look at the processes and skills you have, then you might decide to bring technology into play. We are a dynamic business in terms of products and life cycles but processes need time to bed in, and steady adaptation is the key. It’s too easy to be seduced by fads and lose sight of basics’.
That might sound ironic from a man whose pilot RFID project with Tesco was widely hailed in the professional press last year. But Streatfield says: ‘The technologists come up with things that can make a difference and RFID is certainly a helpful technique. But its major impact so far has been to highlight things we could get better at. I’m a fan of technological innovations but we must evaluate how and where they work.
Our RFID experience has helped us improve a lot of things but we haven’t thrown a lot of money at it yet. It’s a fast-moving field and in a low margin business we can’t afford to get it wrong. The pilot has helped us start to understand what the cost implications at the single item level may be – and that one of the key challenges will be to influence manufacturers to create RFID capability at the unit level, in the product.’
- Phil Streatfield trained as an analytical chemist and spent 18 years in the pharmaceutical industry in many roles including manufacturing/operations, quality, and setting up a global supply chain logistics capability, and accountability at UK, European and worldwide levels.
- Over that time he acquired an MBA, and a PhD in organisational change. He is author of ‘The Paradox of Control in Organisations’.
- Streatfield also contributed to two mergers and an acquisition but while he says he owes a great deal to his time with GlaxoSmithKline, he determined to put his ideas on the supply chain into practice in a low margin, high visibility business and has been supply chain director at Entertainment UK for four years