Who is responsible for ‘the last mile’?

Mark Lawrence, Operations and Service Director with Collect+, will be speaking at the FlyPharma Conference 2017 about the vital importance of ‘The Last Mile’ in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and how pharma can learn from other industries. We sat down to ask him some questions and get a sneak peek at his upcoming talk.

 What is ‘the last mile’ in the supply chain?

The last mile in your supply chain is the bit that matters most to the customer. If you stop anyone on the street and ask them about delivery, they really aren’t interested in the planes, trains and automobiles involved; they want to be certain that the product will be available where and when they want it, either on the shelf at the store or as an on-time delivery for their online shopping.

For a customer, the last mile represents the final, and most tangible, promise of the contract between seller and shopper. If anything goes wrong in that final stretch, that is when they get upset and your brand is damaged. At Collect+ we try and put ourselves in the shoes of the customer by regularly mystery shopping our clients and seeing if the last mile promise is being delivered.

Whose responsibility is it (or should it be) to monitor this stage of the process?

If you care about your customers and brand, you should monitor the final mile even if you do not have direct responsibility for it. If your product is made available through a wholesaler or distributor who looks after the “final mile”, you should make sure that they are delivering it to the right place at the right time and in the right condition.

In your experience, what attitude do most companies take towards dealing with the last mile? Is this changing?

Brands like Amazon are famous for giving the customer choice and flexibility in their last mile, and other retailers must pay attention. Consumers want it all and they want it now, but they don’t appreciate the actual cost of the bespoke option. When retailers pass the costs of their tailored final mile solutions onto the shopper, they do not enjoy stellar adoption. Free delivery is still a huge lure at the checkout.

Our research has confirmed that those who choose options like Collect+ for click and collect favour the flexibility of being able to pick up their parcel from a safe place at a time that suits them, without having to pay through the nose for a subscription service or a timed delivery slot. In essence, they enjoy the convenience of a timed slot without the eye-watering cost.

In your presentation at the FlyPharma Conference, you’ll be advising how pharma shippers and air cargo service providers can plan for this last mile of delivery, in which they are not directly involved. Can you tell us one thing these companies can do to be more hands-on?

Get a trusted partner involved, one that you know can handle customer support, possibly one who works across the industry for many manufacturers and is able to bring scale benefits to all. The cost of a failed last mile delivery is far greater than the redelivery, and in the case of pharmaceuticals could be far more important than just the financial impact. You are competing on product, not last mile fulfilment.

You have a vast amount of logistics experience outside of pharmaceuticals. What can the pharma supply chain learn from other industries?

If I have learnt one thing from working in so many different businesses and industries, it is that they all consider themselves unique. In reality, they are not that different. Pharmaceuticals do face technical challenges such as temperature control, but so do many others in their own fields. I would always suggest looking around for similarities with other businesses, instead of using the differences as a reason not to do something!

How did you come to work in logistics?

I have always loved things that move (particularly trains – sad, I know!) so I wanted a job in logistics. When I graduated I was struggling to find a job and had accepted a job as a trainee commodity broker in the city. Luckily, just before I started this job I was offered a role in the head office distribution team at H. J. Heinz and have never looked back. There are always new challenges and problems to solve which is what I like.

Describe a typical day for you.

Not much that is typical other than getting up at 06.25. From there on almost every day will be different, which is great, although what I do will always be centered around our customers in some way.

What inspires you most in your current role?

 Personally, it’s the focus on our customers. I enjoy always looking to improve the service and find better ways of doing things. For example, we don’t just bask in our good reviews – our team follow up bad reviews and try and implement the learning from all customer experiences.

What keeps you awake at night?

Space and the meaning of life – I think too much!

Mark Lawrence will give his full talk about ‘The Last Mile’ on 6 June at 16:10 at the FlyPharma Conference. Click here to view his speaker profile, and to secure your place at this years conference, please click here.