Technology Newsmaker Q&A: Michael Mitchell

Jan. 1, 2020
Michael Mitchell is director of supply chain management at National Pronto Association.

Michael Mitchell is director of supply chain management at National Pronto Association. He is responsible for developing and implementing the group's technology-based solutions, including electronic ordering, electronic invoices, and data sharing. He previously worked for the RPM Group.

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What do you consider the most difficult supply chain challenge your company faces?

It depends on who you talk to as to how they might answer. I think everybody is going to feel the pressure of an expanding part number universe, from manufacturers and distributors, all the way down to the shop level, the number of available part numbers continues to grow.

A long time ago when I was turning wrenches as a student, you could take the ignition parts for the entire American production and put them in a three-foot by six-foot cabinet, and you'd have every part needed for almost every car produced in the U.S. at the time. So one of the biggest challenges we have is the large number of part numbers we have to deal with.

Along with that is the expected response time by the professional shop, which for us is our primary customer. A shop expects to see that part come across his driveway within 30 minutes or an hour, and that requires a huge deployed inventory and an ever-expanding part number base to keep shops satisfied.

The difficult part is being able to deliver the needed part at the point of installation, and have it available in the timeframe required by the installer, the technician or do it yourselfer.

What technology do you think holds the most promise to help improve operations for your company and for the aftermarket as a whole?

It's going to be data based. We have to get smarter about what we forward deploy. You start to sift out part numbers, and if you don't have that vehicle in the market area, it's pointless to have the part sitting on your shelf. That technology at the systems level and better use of registration data will help.

We also think the supply chain needs to become more efficient. We are and have been a strong proponent of EDI. It has been a world standard since the 1980s, and we still have difficulty getting vendors to sign up and provide documents electronically so that we can speed the receiving process.

We have members who have electronic, paperless WMS systems, and so they send purchase orders electronically, receive ASNs electronically and that creates the electronic document for receiving incoming shipments. They can scan it and it goes instantly into inventory and is available for sale right away. That can shave one to two days off of turnaround time, because now parts have been received and are available.

Over the course of a year, one to two days worth of inventory may not be worth much to the national chains, but most of our members have to pay for inventory, so if they can shave days of average inventory off, that's meaningful. Plus, it's more efficient and more accurate.

There's not going to be one magic process that solves the problem, but I think EDI, better use of vehicle registration data, and special order programs like IPO, all will help address these supply chain issues.

What current technologies do you think have had the biggest impact on your own supply chain operations? How is this changing?

I would say it is the move to more automated warehouse systems, especially by larger members to improve throughput at the DCs and out to the branches. I don't think we're doing anything any different than what I would recommend for us as an industry. We have members who are making use of registration data, who are making use of automated warehouse systems.

One of the areas of improvement we are looking for is more timely application data. We have a number of tools we use, but they all exist because our primary tool, our electronic catalog, is not as timely as we would like. A lot of factors go into that, but at the end of the day, the catalog we rely on is not as current as it should be, so we could be missing sales on part numbers that might have a forward application for newer models that we don't even know about.

So part of improving efficiency is having faster exchange of data, and using industry standards to accomplish that. That's something we're very active in for our own group, s well as proposing things for the industry.

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