Bumps in the Road

By Kim S. Nash Print this article Print

The consumer heavyweight has already divested 700 non-core brands—and it's not nearly done. Efficiency in its supply chain is a top goal.

Bumps in the Road

The Path to Growth initiative has had its bumps. Take the effort Unilever made in its HPCNA division to address the inefficiency of its shipping process. The idea behind the effort, Joint Ship, was simple: a single customer would get all HPCNA products on one truck. Making it happen was tough.

Brand warehouses were still separate, forcing truckers to drive up and down streets to fetch soap, then lotion, and so on for a given order. HPCNA addressed that by stocking the same items in several warehouses. But that inflated inventory, which is exactly what you don't want when trying to streamline.

Meanwhile, the logistics software wasn't helping. HPCNA was formed when three companies merged in 1999. Because the division didn't want to spend much time choosing and installing all new software, it simply drew modules from each of the former firms. Order management was a custom-coded package from Lever Brothers, warehouse management came from Helene Curtis and the planning application was from Chesebrough-Pond's. Interfaces had to be written between the three systems and to existing financial and customer data analysis applications.

Customers for the first time saw one Unilever face, but behind the scenes, "it was not optimal and not clean," says Fred Berkheimer, director of logistics at HPCNA. "Picture the duck sitting on the pond, paddling like mad under the water."

This article was originally published on 2002-06-15
Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.
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