Sometimes, you come across things in places where you'd least expect them. We were reminded of that during a recent vacation. Standing in line to buy a Coke at a beach concession stand, we spotted a woman wearing a shirt that read as follows: "I'm a Logistician. I solve problems you didn't even know you had in ways you can't understand." Boom. There it is—the logistician's predicament in just 17 words. Unfortunately, it probably meant little to the other beach-goers. But those of us in the field know the words to be true.
Let's face it, logistics is not something you hear much about outside of work. Aside from the occasional supply chain bottleneck caused by a business disruption (i.e., the West Coast port slowdown) or natural disaster (i.e., the tsunami in Japan), it's rare that we hear references to logistics in our everyday lives.
That's why it has often been said in this space that no one goes into logistics for the glory. Simply put, logistics can be thankless. If you and your team are doing the right things each day, that is its own reward. If you manage to keep your logistics operations running smoothly and consistently—never mind staying on top of new strategies, enabling technologies, market trends, and changing customer demands—it will likely go unnoticed. In other words, the highest compliment you'll receive most days is that your phone didn't ring because all of your company's stuff was where it was supposed to be when it was supposed to be there.
In logistics, you don't get a lot of pats on the back, high fives, or "'Atta boys" or "'Atta girls" for making all those things happen each and every day. And that is unfortunate. Logisticians make their companies run. Without them, commerce would stop dead in its tracks.
And the work you do is downright daunting in its complexity. Simply stated, logistics is hard. There's the relentless pressure from management to cut costs, which means doing more with less. And if that weren't enough, more than likely, you'll be expected to accomplish that without sacrificing customer service—in fact, you may even be expected to see that service improves. It's a job that requires a highly advanced management skill set.
That's particularly true for logisticians whose primary focus is distribution center (DC) operations and management. There are a number of reasons for that—all related to current retail trends and market developments.
At the top of the list is e-commerce. In the United States alone, e-commerce has grown by an average of 15 percent in each quarter of 2013 and 2014, almost double the rate of growth in total national retail spending, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Or to state it another way, Internet sales are becoming pivotal to a retailer's success. For companies accustomed to doing most of their business through traditional physical retail outlets, competing successfully means rethinking their DC operations and logistics networks, many of which were originally built to serve brick-and-mortar stores.
These retailers compete not only with other traditional retailers, but also with the online pure-plays like Amazon.com. In 2013, Amazon posted higher sales than the next nine online retailers combined—mainly by using its extraordinary product delivery capabilities to wallop the competition.
Although few outside your profession may understand what you do and how you do it, the basic facts remain unchanged: Logistics plays a critical role in your company's success. And as the market grows increasingly tumultuous, you must still toil quietly and efficiently behind the scenes to come up with solutions to problems that the average guy on the street doesn't understand or even know he has.