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How Supply Chain Excellence Builds a Competitive Advantage

June 9, 2023 Rick LaGore

Competitive Advantage Woven throughout our website is the phrase “building a competitive advantage with your supply chain,” but what exactly does that entail? 

In short, building a competitive advantage through a company's supply chain refers to the strategic management and optimization of the various activities involved in sourcing, procurement, production and distribution of goods or services. It involves leveraging the supply chain as a means to create a unique and sustainable advantage over competitors in the marketplace.

More specifically there are key supply chain strategy examples that help a company build competitive advantage which we’ll cover in greater detail below. 

Components of Competitive Supply Chain Strategy

Quality, Consistency and Reliability

An effective supply chain can ensure consistent quality and reliability of inputs, leading to better quality products or services. By working closely with suppliers and implementing quality control measures, companies can maintain high standards and minimize defects or disruptions in the production process. This will enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, giving the company a competitive edge.

Having a consistently reliable supply chain further enhances the relationship with vendors and suppliers and keeps logistics departments focused on new initiatives versus fighting the “fire of the day” from consistently inconsistent performance, with the added benefit of keeping the logistics team lean.

The more transparency built into a company’s supply chain is a keystone of quality, consistency and reliability because users of the information can rely on it to make the best decisions to quickly optimize and drive efficiencies.

Speed and Responsiveness

Companies that can quickly respond to customer demands and market changes gain a competitive advantage. An agile supply chain - and a responsive one - allows for faster production and delivery, reducing lead times and increasing customer satisfaction. This can be achieved through efficient coordination and collaboration with suppliers, using technology for real-time visibility and flexible production capabilities.

Under this heading of speed and responsiveness, identify opportunities to streamline your supply chain processes. Look for areas where you can eliminate waste, reduce costs and enhance efficiency to get the finished product to your target market fast. This may involve optimizing inventory management, improving transportation logistics or enhancing communication and collaboration with suppliers.

Innovation and Differentiation

The supply chain can be a source of innovation and differentiation. By collaborating closely with suppliers, companies can gain access to new technologies, ideas and expertise. This can lead to the development of innovative products or services, unique features or improved processes that differentiate the company from competitors and attract customers.

Embracing Technology

Leverage technology to enhance visibility, automation and data analytics within your supply chain. Implementing tools like enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, supply chain management software and real-time tracking solutions can improve operational efficiency and decision-making capabilities.

It is important that as more technology is brought in not to lose the humanity in the business. To accomplish the goal, find areas to insert human oversight to what systems are sharing to validate the information and have people step in to make the final decisions on the results. Also, keep customer service and a human connection with those that interact with your business at the forefront.

Investing in Talent Development

Attract and retain top talent with supply chain expertise. Build a team that possesses the necessary skills to navigate complex supply chain challenges and drive innovation. Continuously invest in training and development to enhance their capabilities and keep them updated with the latest industry trends.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility

An environmentally and socially responsible supply chain is a source of a sustainable competitive advantage. 

Incorporate sustainable practices into your supply chain to differentiate your business and meet growing customer demands for environmentally responsible products and operations. This could involve optimizing transportation routes or selecting a different freight mode to reduce carbon emissions, sourcing materials ethically or implementing recycling and waste reduction initiatives. 

Companies that prioritize sustainable sourcing, ethical practices and social responsibility can enhance their brand reputation and attract environmentally and socially conscious customers. This can result in increased market share and customer loyalty.

The key point under sustainability is to make it a key component in supply chain decisions versus being a slogan on a website.

Collaboration and Partnerships

Building strategic alliances and partnerships with suppliers, distributors, and other stakeholders in the supply chain can provide a competitive advantage. Collaborative relationships can lead to shared knowledge, resources and capabilities, enabling companies to achieve economies of scale, access new markets or innovate more effectively.

Cost Efficiency

Supply chain network optimization can bring a company several cost efficiencies while also driving a higher top line sales number. There are two reasons for us putting cost later in this list:

  1. Often companies see their supply chain as only a cost center, and we want to get other points of a well-managed supply chain across before calling out cost efficiencies
  2. At the same time, we want to highlight the many cost and cash flow drivers in a supply chain and do so without making this article be all about cost savings available in a logistics and supply chain business strategy 

With all that in mind, let’s jump into the cost topic by saying that by streamlining supply chain processes and optimizing the flow of materials and information, companies can achieve significant cost efficiencies. This can be through

    • Effective inventory management

    • Strategic sourcing

    • Efficient transportation and logistics

    • Reducing waste in the production process


In the end, the cost advantages allow companies to offer competitive pricing or higher profit margins, while also driving significantly higher revenue and improving the order-to-cash cycle.

More specifically, companies need to look at all the cost drivers in their supply chain that directly or indirectly influence the costs incurred throughout the supply chain process. Identifying and managing these cost drivers is crucial for optimizing costs and building a competitive advantage. Here are some common cost drivers in a company's supply chain:

Freight Costs

Freight costs include expenses related to moving goods from suppliers to the company's facilities, between different company locations and to customers. Factors such as distance, mode of transportation (road, rail, air, sea), fuel prices, accessorial charges, transportation capacity and routing decisions impact transportation costs. 

Inventory Costs

Inventory costs encompass expenses associated with storing and managing inventory, including warehousing, holding costs, insurance, obsolescence and the cost of capital tied up in inventory. Factors such as inventory levels, carrying costs, demand variability and lead times influence inventory costs.

Procurement Costs

Procurement costs involve expenses related to sourcing and purchasing materials or components from suppliers. This includes activities such as supplier selection, negotiation, ordering and supplier relationship management. Factors affecting procurement costs include purchase volume, supplier pricing, quality requirements and transactional costs.

Production Costs

Production costs comprise expenses incurred in manufacturing or assembling products, including labor, equipment, utilities, raw materials, and overhead costs. Factors that impact production costs include production volume, labor efficiency, production process complexity, automation level and production cycle times.

Warehousing Costs

Warehousing costs cover expenses associated with storing and managing inventory in warehouses or distribution centers. These costs include rent, utilities, labor, equipment, handling and storage systems. Factors that influence warehousing costs include inventory levels, facility size, location, layout efficiency and warehouse processes.

Packaging Costs

Packaging costs involve expenses associated with designing, procuring and using packaging materials for products. Packaging costs can include the cost of packaging materials, labeling, design and handling. Factors such as packaging design complexity, material costs, product protection requirements and sustainability considerations impact packaging costs.

Information Technology Costs

Information technology (IT) costs encompass expenses related to acquiring, implementing, and maintaining IT systems and infrastructure to support supply chain operations. This includes costs associated with software, hardware, network infrastructure, data management and cybersecurity. Factors affecting IT costs include system complexity, scalability, integration requirements and ongoing maintenance and support.

Reverse Logistics Costs

Reverse logistics costs refer to expenses associated with managing product returns, repairs, recalls and recycling or disposal of products. These costs include transportation, inspection, handling, repair and disposal costs. Factors that influence reverse logistics costs include return rates, product complexity, warranty requirements and regulatory compliance.

Customer Relationship Costs

Customer relationship costs encompass expenses associated with managing relationships with customers, including communication, collaboration, performance monitoring and customer development activities. These costs include personnel, technology, travel and coordination expenses. Factors that impact customer relationship costs include the number of customers, customer type (wholesaler, manufacturer, big box retailer, club stores, ecommerce, etc.), payment terms, cost of capital of customer accounts receivable, geographic distance, complexity of products or services, ease of operation with the customer and the level of integration and collaboration.

The key to optimizing the customer relationship costs is to begin by thoroughly understanding customer requirements, preferences and expectations. This knowledge will guide supply chain decisions, ensuring they align with customer demands.

Supplier Relationship Costs

Supplier relationship costs encompass expenses associated with managing relationships with suppliers, including communication, collaboration, performance monitoring and supplier development activities. These costs include personnel, technology, travel and coordination expenses. Factors that impact supplier relationship costs include the number of suppliers, geographic distance, complexity of products or services, ease of operation with the supplier and the level of integration and collaboration.

It's important to note that the specific cost drivers and their relative importance can vary depending on the industry, company size, product characteristics and supply chain structure. Understanding and effectively managing these cost drivers can help optimize costs and improve overall supply chain performance and the order-to-cash cycle.

Another key to optimizing suppliers is to nurture strong relationships. Establish open lines of communication, collaborate on innovation and improvement initiatives and negotiate favorable terms and conditions. Reliable suppliers who understand your business needs can provide you with a competitive edge through timely deliveries, quality products and cost efficiencies.

Building in Metrics to Create the Flywheel Effect

Foster a culture of continuous improvement within your organization. Encourage employees to identify opportunities for innovation, efficiency gains and cost savings in the supply chain. Regularly evaluate and optimize your processes, seeking feedback from customers and suppliers to drive ongoing improvements.

Monitor and Measure Performance

Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of your supply chain. Regularly monitor performance against these metrics and use the data to identify areas for improvement. This data-driven approach enables you to make informed decisions and adjust strategies accordingly.

Leverage Data and Analytics

Utilize data and analytics to gain insights into your supply chain operations. Analyze historical data, forecast demand, identify patterns, and make data-driven decisions to optimize inventory levels, improve forecasting accuracy and enhance overall supply chain performance.

Risk Management

Develop robust risk management strategies to proactively address potential disruptions in the supply chain. Identify vulnerabilities and implement contingency plans to mitigate risks associated with factors like supplier reliability, geopolitical events, natural disasters or regulatory changes.

Summary on Building a Supply Chain Competitive Advantage

Overall, building a competitive advantage through a company's supply chain involves aligning the various elements of the supply chain to create value for customers, optimize costs, enhance quality and differentiate the company's offerings. The competitive advantage examples above show it requires a strategic approach, continuous improvement and a focus on customer needs and market dynamics.

By following these steps, a company can invest in its supply chain optimization to develop a competitive advantage through an efficient and effective supply chain that meets customer demands, reduces costs and positions your company for success in the marketplace.

If you're looking for help making your supply chain a competitive advantage, let us know by filling out our brief Request a Quote form. We'll be happy to get back to you to discuss your unique needs. If you need more information about this or other freight topics, browse our Freight Guides for free eBooks and comprehensive articles, or check out more of our blog.

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