Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Graham Parker, founder and CEO of supply chain technology company Gravity Supply Chain Solutions Ltd., speaks about the need for speedier supply chain digitization and the role that connectivity can play in customer loyalty.
Name: Graham Parker
Title: founder and CEO
Company: Gravity Supply Chain Solutions Ltd.
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
I wouldn’t say there is any industry with a better understanding and handle on the supply chain over another. Various verticals have different approaches, although certain pharmaceutical sectors have a very good understanding of the supply chain. This is not to say the retail/apparel vertical doesn’t have a good understanding; it’s more in the digital execution. The digitization push has primarily been at the consumer-facing end, which is a good place to start. However, this goes back to how companies operate, i.e., in silos, which leaves the actual supply and, therefore, the supply chain, playing catchup or overstock to compensate for the demand.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
I’m more conscious than a spontaneous consumer. I typically plan ahead in the main, and for apparel purchases, I’ll purchase several items of each at the same time. However, if I see something and I like it, I might buy it regardless of whether I need it or not. When it comes to household and general items, purchase decisions usually get based upon whether something needs replacing. Over the past three or four years, I’ve become more online driven; however, I generally prefer the bricks-and-mortar approach.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Consistency in the merchandise’s quality, size, materials, fit, sustainability and delivery, with price as a secondary consideration.
What’s your typical uniform?
Smart casual unless there is a specific requirement for formal. I think I’ve worn a suit maybe a dozen times in the past three or so years. At weekends, it’s casual all the way!
Which fashion era is your favorite?
The late ’80s and early ’90s was my favorite era. I like to buy some of the retro apparel that’s available now.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
I am proud that we have managed to stick to our core beliefs and vision while remaining flexible and as understanding as possible towards our staff and customers’ situations. Covid-19 has made the world sit up; it’s hit every one of us hard, both individually and collectively, so it’s essential we are understanding, compassionate and caring while at the same time focusing on delivering the key messages and driving the business forward. One thing is certain: The pandemic has demonstrated exactly why businesses must have a connected, agile, visible and seamless supply chain.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
We are a listening company with a very flat structure. Everyone has a voice and a platform to express and share ideas, opinions and views. We are typically very relaxed and, to a point, informal in the workplace. We have a certain standard to maintain and have implemented policies that safeguard the employees as much as the employer. We have a very mixed and diverse employee base, different cultures and religions. We appreciate and respect each and every one individually and collectively bring them together to create an agile, balanced, creative, fun working environment. The fact we had less than a 1.5 percent turnover in staff during the past four years tells you people are happy working for Gravity.
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
Harmony through connectivity. A company is only as good as the customer and consumer they serve. On the flip side, the factories and the suppliers of merchandise and services are the lifelines to ensuring the consumer receives the product they want, when they want it, for a price they are willing to pay. Digitizing every aspect of a company’s supply chain is essential to achieving ultimate success and enable scale. Breaking down the silos and removing the fragmentation internally and externally is critical, and this gets delivered through a truly connected data set. Transparency ensures decisions get made with absolute certainty; it ensures and provides accountability, and ultimately trust. Removing all the visibility voids gives every stakeholder a completely holistic view from sourcing through to intake, ensuring a reliable, accurate one-view of the truth. This enables better decision making, reduces costs to serve, frees up working capital, and ensures consumer demand is at the forefront of every decision.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Consumer demand and availability of merchandise have never been more flexible, which will only continue to become more so as time goes on. Critical to the brands and the vendor base entrusted to produce and deliver the merchandise is a complete understanding of each process in real time of what’s happening and, more importantly, what’s coming next.
Speed and cost to market and, therefore, sourcing are also key strategic considerations. New technologies in manufacturing and continued focus on sustainability, traceability and ethical trading are paramount to longevity. Brand loyalty is getting tested like never before. Remaining relevant, being agile and outward-facing is crucial for any business, and digitizing every aspect of the business enables recognition from the consumer, sales and ability to scale. With vast amounts of real-time analytics available, having the right platform, predictive capabilities, and one accurate view of everything in one place is essential.
Equally as important, you need a top-down buy-in to digitize and change the business processes to enable change and drive efficiencies. This will include a shift in mindset and culture. If this is not endorsed and sanctioned from the top down, it simply won’t happen. The supply chain is not a separate stand-alone aspect of the business process and digital journey. It’s the backbone and the enabler for customer retention, sales, and growth.
What keeps you up at night?
One of the biggest things that keeps me awake is the decision process, and the timeline shippers take to make the move to digitize the supply chain. It’s still far too slow in many instances. There’s always a reason why they think they shouldn’t, or excuses like, “We don’t have the time now.” Disparate and legacy systems, coupled inevitably with a manual output through a spreadsheet, will not cut it for much longer. Ultimately the consumer will not forgive mistakes.
Lack of the right product, in the right place, at the right time will result in failure. It’s not about ripping out old systems or requiring huge CapEx sign off. Many platforms—and certainly Gravity Supply Chain Solutions’—wrap around existing systems. Where there are data voids, we bring this onto the platform through our ecosystem of data providers.
What makes you most optimistic?
The need for change has always been evident. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought awareness to the forefront. The way we live, work and function has changed significantly over the years, and the pandemic has moved this forward quicker still. Technology is here to stay. Today’s generation shouldn’t be working in outdated legacy environments. According to various sources, only 6-8 percent of global businesses have a truly digitized supply chain, so there is a long way to go. Therefore, the speed of adoption has to increase, which fills me with tremendous optimism.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
We have a mature and fit-for-market supply chain visibility and execution platform. We can cater to and scale with any business wishing to digitize their supply chain. Our recently launched Source product, seamlessly integrated with our Purchase Order Management suite of modular apps, enhances the ability to have a complete view of everything in one place. We are also enabling supply chain finance, CO2 emission tracking, and working on additional sustainability and traceability features for our clients and their clients alike. Ultimately, we offer our customers a true value chain proposition.