Isabelle Vermeersch is owner and president of Centipid LLC, a Westport, Conn.-based transportation and logistics consulting company. Vermeersch founded Centipid in 2000 after spending five years as manager of purchasing and planning for Valois of America, an importer of perfume dispensers that is part of Aptar Group. After overhauling Valois' supply chain, she saw the need for this service in other companies and decided to create her own business. Centipid's clients include large and small importers and exporters, whose products range from plumbing equipment, dispensing products and paper-making equipment to furniture, personal-care items and food products.
Q. What are your clients' major supply-chain concerns?
A. They are concerned with compliance and the time and effort involved in getting C-TPAT certified and validated, the increasing importance of their transportation networks to their bottom lines, and the consolidation of their freight forwarders and what they see as the loss of personal attention to their needs.
Q. What are they saying about C-TPAT certification?
A. Even though C-TPAT is a voluntary program, many companies are pressured into joining because their clients require them to belong or they are experiencing more inspections. They have to understand that this process does not happen overnight. There are different steps, beginning with applying for membership, which requires them to verify a secure supply chain for themselves and their vendors, filling in the security profile on the Customs Web site (www.customs.gov) to become certified, and then going through the domestic and international validation process. We have seen the entire process take anywhere from six months to nearly three years. A large number of overseas vendors for a company can have a big effect on this time frame. Once a company is validated, it is important to continue to make C-TPAT a best practice for the company and its vendors and suppliers, as there is an ongoing revalidation process.
Q. What are they telling you about the importance of transportation and logistics to their bottom lines?
A. As they move more of their sourcing overseas, they are spending more money on transportation, which may not have been a big expense for them before. The cost is attracting the attention of top management.
Q. How are they keeping costs down?
A. Even though top management is aware of the big transportation expense, they often miss the detailed information to be able to negotiate contracts. Larger companies with several divisions or acquisitions often have local transport suppliers and agreements. They know the total dollar spent on transportation, but to be able to reduce cost, it is important to understand their TCO (total cost of ownership): Incoterms, mode of transport, duty rates and fuel surcharges. We analyze transportation invoices to get a clear overview and then create the RFQ/RFI (request for quotation/request for information) to find the best transportation partner for their specific needs. We help our customers control their transportation cost by educating them on the basics of transportation and their TCO.
Q. How can you help companies get more personal attention from the merged forwarders?
A. We negotiate with the forwarders to have them designate a key account manager who will manage the account on a global basis, submit reports with KPIs (key performance indicators) every month and resolve any issues that arise. With KPIs, they can track the problems that are a concern. For example, if they are having problems with late deliveries, we will negotiate with their forwarders to provide monthly reports on delivery times. That forces the forwarder to fill out monthly reports so our customers can measure exactly what the delivery times are. If their invoices contain accessorial charges not agreed upon in their contracts, we set up a KPI report that shows how many invoices were wrong. We then review the report with the transportation provider. This helps the customer manage its provider and get control of transportation costs.
Q. Do you find that most companies understand their transportation costs?