Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dell to ship by sea

This will be the fourth post of Dell on my blog. The first three are available at:

Now, Dell is planning to actually use ships (water route) to move products. Read this article here:

Fundamentally using ships will increase the lead time. Direct affect of this is an increase of in transit inventory. With a higher lead time, the forecasts are also 'more' wrong. So to meet the same service levels, Dell would have to maintain a higher inventory of whatever they plan to send by sea. There would be an overall increase in inventory levels. On the other side, there would be a drastic reduction in the transportation costs. The catch is to compare the total cost and make the decision accordingly.

In the IT hardware industry, a major part of the cost of carrying inventory is the obsolete unsold stock. Thumb rule estimates say that a finished product is obsolete within a year. Dell could select some products - finished goods or components (raw material) that do not have such a high obsolescence rate and then ship them by sea. A DVD drive may not change in configuration as frequently as a microprocessor (an assumption, please correct if I am wrong). Thus they may have a good cost advantage.

Unfortunately, life is not as simple. Shipping by sea would mean that Dell would need an entire new set of people and processes to handle sea shipments. This would be a huge cost. When Dell had all the components coming by air, assembly planning would have been an easy operation. Everything for one order would have come individually. Now, there would be some components that would be ordered for every requirement and others (shipped by sea) that would have to be pulled from stock. This would surely contribute complexity and ensure faulty delivery.

There would be two drastically different supply chain processes. The packaging for air cargo and ships would be different. The documentation would be different. Ordering policies, reorder points, etc. will have to be different. Managing this difference in one company, and especially when the organisation does not have prior experience and expertise in managing this diversity would be very difficult. I have my own doubts of the success of this move.

Dell has had a drastic drop in their sales - to the tune of almost 20% in financial year 2009. The sales revenue has decreased from $ 61 billion in FY 2008 to $ 51 billion in FY 2009. Logistics is always and unfortunately the first target of companies facing such a downturn. The seek to maintain the bottom line (in spite of the reduction in top line) by reducing expenses. Again unfortunately for these companies, logistics cost has a direct bearing on service levels (and product availability). An 'unsmart' reduction in logistics cost would further decrease revenue and put more pressure on cost reduction. This would start a never ending cycle leading to destruction. Best of luck Dell.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

takes a thief to nail another

Pharmaceutical companies, I feel, make too much money. Making money is not a problem, but to do it under the guise of a 'noble' profession or creating artificial non tariff barriers is definitely not right. Bayer has some cancer drug and Cipla has introduced a copy cat version at 10% of the price. Read the article in Economic times.

Point one - To invent a radically new drug there are high R&D costs. Every drug maker needs to have a business advantage for some period of time so that it can recover the cost of this R&D. This is what the patents do. In this period pharmaceutical companies price medicines more than 100 times the material (and variable) cost as they have to recover the sunk costs (R&D). The debate is on the length of this free run time. With pharmaceutical companies having profitability significantly higher than the average corporate rate, it is obvious that the free run period is a bit longer than what it should be.

Point two - Cipla says that they are introducing the new drug for Indian patients. I doubt this. They are doing it to make money. Like I said before, the material cost in such cases is less than 1% of the sale price. Since Cipla has not done the basic R&D for the product they would be making a huge profit on the drug. They do not have any other major fixed cost to recover. If they were really interested in 'serving' the Indian patients, they could have offered it at a 10% or 50% margin over the material cost. This they will surely not do.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

'Profit' from a store?

There is news in today's Economic times that Aditya Birla Retail MORE have closed 39 of their stores in Gujarat. This is one third of their stores in Gujarat. The reason was that the stores were not making money. Have a look at the complete article:

Calculating the 'profit' from an individual store is difficult. How do you attribute costs of a delivery vehicle serving five stores in one locality. Closing one store is not going to reduce the logistics costs by 20%. Similarly the costs of the central buying team, and the CEO is not proportional to the number of stores. Thus, if the decision has been taken using traditional costing, I think it would be a blunder. It is incremental cost that matters here.

While costs are not proportional to the number of stores, unfortunately sales is. When stores are shut, sales will definitely go down in direct proportion. It is only the lease and the local manpower costs that would come down. The costs of expensive expat CEOs and the central organisation overheads would stay. Sometimes the drop in sales could be higher than the drop in store level variable costs and put the company in deeper problems.

Stores have been opened without detailed analysis based on some global ballpark figure. This was the first wrong step. Every retailer opened multiple formats. The second wrong step. Now, with cash crunch they are closing the stores recklessly, the third wrong step. My take: If a retail group is sinking, shutting a few shops is not going to help, yes the inevitable could be delayed a little.