Susan Bang, Sr. Manager – Corporate Communications, sits down with Brian Greene on pandemic-related supply chain challenges.
Susan Bang (SB): Give us an overview of your work history prior to joining HMTX Industries and how it evolved into becoming our new Chief Supply Chain Officer.
Brian Greene (BG): I came to Halstead, a proud member of the HMTX Industries family, in 2002 from The Home Depot (THD). I held many positions there over my six years, ending as Import Merchant buying multiple categories – BBQ accessories, work benches (where I met Steve George and Halstead), plumbing, hardware, window blinds, then moving over to flooring responsible for vinyl flooring. That’s how I met Harlan. We had built a relationship over the years, and when I decided to leave THD, Harlan presented me with the opportunity to start an Atlanta office – and the rest is history! My title was Vice President of the Southeast division, which at that time was my home office and a 6’ x 8’ storage unit where I kept samples and POP materials to support our business with THD.
There has been enormous growth since 2002, and gradually my role morphed into a Supply Chain/IT- centric role. Over the years, that has continued to change as we have expanded, and our supply chain has become larger in scale and complexity with more importance to the company. The Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO) has become a new position and a direction many companies are taking, especially those like HMTX that are heavily reliant upon the supply chain in their business model.
SB: The pandemic presented enormous challenges to the HMTX supply chain. Can you tell us what the biggest ones were and how you and the team troubleshooted and adapted?
BG: There were four key challenges resulting from the pandemic that we were forced to grapple with:
- Container dislocation/chassis pool in low supply
- Radical change in the supply/demand ratio (panic buying)
- Ocean freight increases
- Changes in how we all work and interact (travel, office, etc.)
We had to totally rethink the way we work: the number of people in our factories, offices and distribution centers and the space between them as they worked. We had to provide a safe environment for them in terms of cleanliness and temperature checks that we never had to think about previously.
On top of that, we were facing a major shortage of PPE in the U.S. So, we created a plan to import it to help out not only our employees and their friends and families, but our communities: hospitals and healthcare facilities, places of worship and schools – especially last year, that was vital. We also had to address the effects of the pandemic from a supply chain perspective.
Our industry saw a big increase in dot.com shopping while imports had essentially ground to a halt. Decisions were made based on that reality, but now that we have an economy that’s roaring back, we are seeing a supply chain that is stressed and struggling to keep up. Carriers who had put vessels into drydock with nothing to ship needed months to get them back to seaworthiness. Containers were in the wrong ports, which led to chassis and labor shortages. Retailers were panic buying and seasonal purchasing has just added to the stress. Shipping prices are currently at levels never before seen in our industry, which is leading to inflation as those costs are passed down the supply chain to consumers.
SB: What is the Supply Chain Revolution and how did COVID speed it up? What are the major shifts?
BG: Customer expectation was the biggest paradigm shift. During COVID, everyone was shopping online and wanted it now, thereby speeding up what we knew was inevitable anyway, but what we thought would take 2-4 years happened in eight months. It was such a rapid change in expectation for Where, How and What customers wanted.
The complexity of our modern-day supply chains has reinforced the realization that “it takes a village” to run a supply chain. You have to develop significant relationships with shipping carriers, IT providers, ground transportation and packaging companies, etc. all while keeping a close collaboration with customers. The complexity of juggling all those partnerships is extremely difficult, so partner management becomes a big piece of the supply chain pie.
Technology is another wild card. It’s changing literally every day: New systems and software are coming into the fold, such as AR, AI, Business Intelligence, and the new kid on the block, Blockchain. Why are these technologies so important? Because they have already started to change the finance and supply chain industries by leading to better visibility, chain of custody on the origin of raw materials, and payments.
Data visibility has now become the Holy Grail of the supply chain because of increased customer expectations in a rapidly changing environment. There is a greater need for companies to have better insight on where their products are, how much they have, their shipment status, etc. Big Data was the beginning of this and now it is how you use that data for actionable results in real time.
SB: How are these supply chain problems working themselves out?
BG: Slowly but surely. It’s a global issue that cannot be fixed by a singular government or organization. It’s going to take time and patience, and it’s going to take people making sacrifices to get to the point where things gradually get back to a “new normal”. I do believe they will, this disruption will not last forever.
SB: Where do you see the supply chain going/changes on the horizon for the rest of this calendar year?
BG: I foresee ocean freight to be a challenge for the rest of 2021 and into 2022. We are looking at many solutions to help our Towers (that’s what we call our business units) better react to the needs of their customers and at the end of the day, that really is the fun part of supply chain: building something that did not exist yesterday. People get excited about designing new products but it’s also rewarding to innovate new ways of doing things, as the business climate forces us to discover out of the box solutions.