The classic building blocks of Ahlers include transport, customs clearance services, and warehouse solutions. “On top, we add the sustainable reflex", says Didier Duponselle, business unit director at Ahlers. "With our focus on sustainability, we work closely and in detail with each of our customers. Significant savings will rarely be found in transportation, but rather in their inventory policy, whether or not linked to the various logistics cost items".
Ahlers is evolving more and more into a supply chain specialist who asks for more information. "For many customers, transport, customs services, and warehousing are crucial, but we go a few steps further", explains Duponselle. "We ask them whether they want to rationalize or stimulate growth in certain regions. Sometimes it is a combination of both. Especially in these uncertain times where one customer cannot keep up with the growth, while the other customer is fighting to survive".
One of the things on the mind of Ahlers is the question of why a shipper pays more than 25 euros for booking, coordinating, and visualizing a standard sea freight container load? "With a digitalized solution, no one should pay more than this Let us just be transparent about this transactional price and create added value which the customer appreciates and where margins can be justified.
Ahlers works with a so-called 'control tower' for this service. Every company wants to free up cash and reduce costs. During the annual negotiations, we do not shy away from this, instead, we place it in a new context. Double-digit savings are also our goal. That is why Ahlers set up an advisory branch. Not to compete with the major consultants, but to make calculations based on those key drivers which are important to our customers. Do you want to rationalize or facilitate growth? And how can you do this most optimally?
Ahlers works in three steps. The first is to visualize the flows. Which logistic flows does the customer have available today? "Many strategic business decision-makers within a company have no insight into their flows and feel that they are constantly fire-fighting", says Didier Duponselle. "For example, they have three warehouses, which have grown organically but don’t know if this is still the ideal set-up. By visualizing their flows and mapping the costs, it becomes clear where improvements can be made. Not only logical transport, and warehouse costs are considered, expensive stock costs, purchase costs, and investment costs are also considered. In many cases, this first visualization step already leads to insights to implement savings. This involves both quick wins and strategic wins. What if we increase the load factor? What if we shift production to that specific factory? These are questions that traditional logistics can no longer solve because of the complexity of the supply chain network of many producing and distributing companies
In 2015, Ahlers provided advice to one of their loyal customers following an acquisition. The customer wanted a holistic solution because they felt they were doing some things twice. "They wanted to reduce costs as well as increase customer service," explained Didier Duponselle. "By making this analysis, we were able to reduce the number of warehouses from sixteen to nine. Not only did we achieve double-digit savings, but we also increased customer service by reducing lead times. Five years later, the roll-out is now complete. The customer has now moved on to the next phase. They do not want to make any changes to their premium product lines; however, they want to save on their basic product lines. How to organize this, in the framework of a rationalizing exercise is where we are now making a new analysis.
A second step is optimization. "We have been investing for some time in new supply chain profiles who work with advanced software packages. This ensures that we can digitally imitate/propose the customer's entire supply chain with all its restrictions and cost components. The goal is to create an optimal network design for the customer.
For one of their customers, Ahlers mapped out their entire distribution landscape. "Very quickly we noticed a great opportunity to reduce inventory costs and transport costs with 10% by drastically improving the cost-to-serve per customer. There was a rapid expansion of multiple warehouses leading to the fact that sometimes four to five transports were arranged from different locations to serve the same end customer.”
Based on an accurate supply chain model, our customer was able to implement the proposed step-by-step plan to optimize their distribution network. It even drills down and visualizes the impact up to the end customer level. We can show whether it will be cheaper or more expensive to serve a particular customer. This is also very useful for sales management and sales.
A final step is scenario planning. The advantage of an accurate replica of the end-to-end supply chain is that the model can be reused each time to make strategic and tactical decisions. "This allows the customer to analyze all possible scenarios and estimate what the impact will be on their supply chain. The logistics costs can therefore be balanced each time the turnover and capacity of the customer fluctuates. By using forecasting, it is even possible to intervene before the problems arise".