SupplyCompass speaks to Christos Chamberlain, UK General Manager of Flexport—a leading digital freight forwarder headquartered in San Fransisco. Flexport has quickly become a leading digital disruptor in the freight industry, with more than 10,000 clients in over 100 countries. They offer a full range of services powered by their software plaftorm, including ocean, air, truck and rail freight, drayage & cartage, warehousing, customs & compliance, financing and insurance.
As part of our Tech Talks series, Christos shares more about Flexport’s tech platform, the importance of digital transformation for fashion brands, and what to consider when choosing a freight forwarding partner.
Tech Talks is SupplyCompass’ content series spotlighting software and technology companies at the forefront of cutting-edge innovation, through the lens of fashion and supply chains. A must-read for fast-growing, ambitious fashion brands looking to invest in digital transformation.
Can you tell us about Flexport?
Flexport is a modern digital freight forwarder and customs broker. We move freight globally for our customers by sea, air, rail, and truck as part of a larger service offering that includes logistics and customs via a first-of-its-kind platform. We’re able to do this by combining advanced technology, data analytics, logistics infrastructure, and hands-on supply-chain expertise.
The objective is to replace the typical lack of transparency with deep visibility, while easing the complexity inherent in global trade. Specifically, our technology is designed to give our customers faster, easier understanding and control over their supply chains as a whole.
Though we’re a young-ish company, we grew very quickly to become one of the top 10 freight forwarders on the Asia to US trade lane. Today we support over 10,000 clients and suppliers, including established brands and emerging innovators in over 100 countries.
What do you wish more people knew about freight forwarding
It’s easy to select a freight forwarder based on the price of freight alone—many businesses treat it as just another cost line in a profit-loss statement. But it’s just as easy to realise value throughout your supply chain when you partner with a data-driven freight forwarder that offers visibility down to the SKU level.
A value-driven approach to selecting a freight forwarder should include looking at the total cost of ownership, comparing RFP prices with landed prices. So much about freight forwarding service costs has to do with the details, which could encompass handling, transportation fees, customs, duties, taxes, tariffs, insurance, currency conversion, and payment fees.
Importers should ask about service capabilities, like the ability to optimise routes for savings or speed, or how to escalate service solutions during crises like COVID-19. Make sure you can communicate with a trusted point-of-contact that offers transparency on day-to-day business or other issues that could arise.
By the way, it’s worth noting that the consulting firm BCG estimates that visibility into your supply chain can reduce overall costs by 20%. That’s why working with the right experts is so important.
Technology and data analytics are hugely important to Flexport. Can you tell us more about this?
Our technology platform is central to everything we do at Flexport. As I mentioned, it’s designed to make global trade easier and bring transparency to the process. On the platform, customers connect with their supply chain partners around the world, along with our own experts who are onhand to ensure smooth operational flow—in real time.
We created a dashboard that lets customers see when goods arrive, access the fastest modes of transportation, and partner with Flexport logistics experts, in real time, to find the most efficient routes possible. Even more importantly, the platform shows insights for the types of things most logistics managers care about, along with the exceptions they need to manage. For instance, if a shipment is enroute that will be part of a key product launch, the dashboard can flag issues like delays or other events that can allow for quick contingency plans to avoid issues. This gives upstream and downstream visibility to feel in control of the supply chain process, while staying informed with real-time updates and transit times.
We see it as a type of operating system for global trade, which we are continually improving upon.
What would you say to fashion brands that want to invest in improving their supply chain management and logistics capabilities?
Digital transformation is a critical part of this. Think about the supply chain not only as the physical movement of goods, but also the data, operational processes and communication flows that keep it running. Technology solutions deliver value here in enabling better and faster decisions, making processes more efficient and speeding up execution lead times.
Fashion brands that rely on fast responsiveness to market trends have the most to gain from digital supply chain transformation. To support decision making, real time data and visibility can be a big competitive advantage. One of the features of the Flexport platform that our fashion clients really value is the ability to see SKU level data in their shipments and to be able to prioritise them to meet product launch dates
Inventory management in general is a key challenge for fashion supply chains. Digital solutions can play a role here firstly by improving upstream visibility of inventory in-production or in-transit, the areas where brands tend to have the most limited view. Incorporating this view of inventory into planning processes using real time data can help to make more optimal purchasing decisions. The second impact of technology on inventory management comes in the form of better communication with suppliers, enabling faster and more accurate purchasing decisions to be taken by creating a shared source of truth between fashion brands and their suppliers.
Flexport’s platform gives you that single control centre for data and supply chain processes, connecting your teams, your suppliers and your logistics vendors all in one place.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, how has Flexport adapted?
Flexport has been quite agile in adapting to the crisis. From the get-go, we have prioritised keeping our workforce and partners as safe as possible. Transitioning to work-from-home has been smooth, because our technology platform allows anyone to run their supply chain from anywhere. We’re staying focused on serving our clients, so that they feel supported during this challenging time.
We’ve also mobilised our organisation to support global relief efforts with the delivery of PPE and medical supplies. Through the Frontline Responders Fund, we’ve raised more than $8 million and shipped 126 million units, including masks, isolation gowns, face shields, and goggles.
What are the aspirations for the future of Flexport in the UK?
We’re very excited to have launched our London-based office this year. We’re fortunate to already have a great group of clients in the UK, so opening the office here gives us the opportunity to get closer to them and serve them better.
We see the UK as a key growth market for Flexport, and we’re looking forward to sharing our services and technology platform with more customers across the UK.
What are the most important values to you as a business?
We have six core values that we follow as an organisation. They involve ideas like empowering the client, strong feedback loops, end-to-end thinking, deep-dive understanding, and playing the long game for our customers.
Right now, one of our values—to drive agility—is more relevant now than ever in a global pandemic. With agility, we can observe circumstances, orient that information in proper context, make good decisions, and act decisively. This is how we can take initiative rather than solely reacting to situations. And we can help our customers benefit from this mindset, too.
But also, we very much prioritise helping the communities we serve, which includes sustainability efforts and helping those in need, like with the Frontline Responders Fund.
Join us for a joint webinar with Flexport, driving an insightful conversation on leveraging technology to make better decisions across fashion supply chains, on 25 June, 2020. Register now.