The New Supply Chain Dance
Published By CJ Mead February 21, 2023
Who doesn’t remember the empty toilet paper aisles and, more recently, the well-publicized shortages of baby formula? It wasn’t that long ago that supply chain breakdowns were impacting consumers at home and hindering mobility teams trying to maintain operations around the globe.
The fact is the pandemic played a number on the supply chain, from toilet paper to microchips and everything in between. The effect on the global mobility industry was deep: temporary housing was sparse, household good shipments were sitting off the coast waiting for delivery, and the global shortage of semiconductors created a squeeze on even the rental car market.
To quote the great Bob Dylan, “I accept chaos, I'm not sure whether it accepts me.” As veterans of global unpredictability, the global mobility industry not only accepted the supply chain chaos but also adjusted its processes and policies to manage it.
Now as we enter a period of high inflation and talks of a recession, how does the new supply chain impact global mobility assignments, business travel and more? Read on to find the good that has come out of the chaos.
Strong, Well-Aligned Mobility Partnerships
Tough times can be merciless for businesses not built on strong foundations. Adversity is what separates the wheat from the chaff, the survivors from the has-beens. The reality is that COVID-19 exposed weaknesses and weeded out those businesses that didn’t adjust their models.
Solidifying strategic partnerships within the service industry has been key in global mobility’s ability to service customers, while still creating a healthy competitive environment for all to profit. A recent Ernst & Young survey of US CEOs found that nearly every organization interviewed (97%) is looking at ways to restructure underperforming operations for greater performance and efficiencies. That same study found that an impressive 73% of CEOs are considering pursuing joint ventures or strategic alliances in 2023.
With nearly 25 years under our mobility belt, we recognized the power of partnership long before COVID. But, through the pandemic, National worked to strengthen our relationships with suppliers and vendors, and those critical relationships helped us weather the storm. Technology innovation is a prime example. National understands that we are a service-first organization that is enabled through technology; our passion is finding the perfect housing for clients’ needs, not trying to reinvent ourselves into a tech business. Worldwide ERC writer Tina Nazerian summed up our philosophy well, “Mobility providers aren’t necessarily innovating by releasing new features built in-house. Some are leveraging strategic partnerships to streamline the process of putting new technology in front of their clients”.
For example, last year we partnered with a virtual payment platform, Conferma Pay, which has revolutionized how we manage temporary housing reservations and payment. Rather than having to switch between different systems from our banking partners, we can quickly and easily create a virtual card and confirm the reservation. Making this single change has reduced the time required for creating a hotel booking for a client from 23 minutes to under three minutes. It also significantly reduces our fraud risk and simplifies the process of managing reservations. Navigating the COVID-and-beyond supply chain will demand that mobility organizations stay laser focused on their core strengths, and partnerships enable them to do that.
Finely Tuned Efficiency
As demand steadies and business travel booms, finding creative ways to meet customer expectations while containing costs is imperative. During COVID, consumers became accustomed to scaled-back services: fewer room cleaning, no-touch services. But as business travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, traveling employees are expecting a return to the beautiful room perks and a regularly cleaned room. Relocation management providers are challenged with how to do that, yet maintain greater efficiency. Through our experience during COVID, we’ve recognized that these truisms:
More is, well, more.
A supply chain partner with a bigger reach generally has an advantage that others just can’t match. National has the largest physical relocation management company footprint in the US, with 30 offices across the US and the United Kingdom. Our physical reach has allowed us to identify the best properties to work with, maintain and strengthen our relationships with suppliers/vendors at the market level, make sure our units are guest ready at check in, and be available to assist guests during their stay with immediate customer service.
Leveraging that volume is a game changer for our clients. We can be both cost efficient and customer centric. That means better negotiated pricing from suppliers/vendors. And strategically chosen suppliers who are lean, agile and can adjust quickly to overcome issues and lags in the supply chain.
Technology is not a panacea.
Through the COVID shutdown, some companies flipped to an entirely artificial intelligence-enabled or tech-driven model for self-service options. “That is definitely a growing trend now— employee choice, self-service,” says Mark Thomas, CEO and co-founder of Equus Software, “Companies have been offering some form of this for a while now. But now, employees demand it.”
But, when a corporate traveler is staying for 30, 60 or 90 days, sometimes with a family, they often need help and have questions that a chat bot just can’t answer. And as the corporate travel manager, you want to be sure their apartment is being walked and is safe and unoccupied. Purely AI technology-driven solutions do not provide this service. Case in point:
Early last year, one of National’s clients was staffing up for a major project in Europe, just as the leisure travel market was strengthening, rents were skyrocketing, and availability was limited. We knew that meeting the client’s needs would take more than an artificial intelligence-enabled tech platform. We used a boots-on-the-ground game plan coupled with a creative booking approach. National’s team met face to face with local supply chain partners to see their properties firsthand. We were transparent about our rate and quality expectations. We then worked with our trusted suppliers to block book units which enabled us to secure a lower rate and ongoing accommodations. Although this required National to manage move in/out of travelers in tight detail, it significantly reduced the wait time of checking for availability and expedited employee onboarding.
The end result? Our client has been able to attract much-needed new hires to its expanding operation, with zero concern over immediate availability of quality housing for them. Score one for good old-fashioned customer service.
Continual improvement grows through continual review.
Mark Twain once said, “To stand still is to fall behind.” And that may be one of the biggest lessons successful mobility suppliers have learned through the pandemic. The COVID “pause” gave us the gift of time – time to look at ourselves, our systems, our processes, and our opportunities to be better. At National, that meant going back to the basics.
We reviewed all our processes – and continue to do so - to make them more efficient, effective and positively impact the customer. No sacred cows here; we reviewed everything from how we place orders to scheduling deliveries to supplier installations to be sure we are utilizing our time, and our suppliers’ time, well. We adopted a Shark Tank-like approach to innovation, through which we encouraged staff teams to ideate and present innovative solutions. Through them, we have uncovered creative ways to streamline processes for a better customer experience while also increasing profitability for the company.
Choosing the Right Mobility Partners Matters
Dancing to the new supply chain music takes a partner you can trust to not miss a beat. Through the supply chain challenges of the past year, the corporate housing world exemplified collaboration unlike any other industry. Competitors worked together to fill the needs of our collective clients. And with that, many who weathered the storms and aligned with strong partners have proven and stronger relationships. We have shifted processes to be more targeted and deliberate in everything from how we pursue business to the systems our frontline teams need, and how and where we can automate to achieve more efficiency.
At National, we continually evaluate our footwork to make sure we are in step with the evolving cadence of global supply. Our network of highly vetted supply partners and team of seasoned corporate housing experts excel at delivering customized temporary housing solutions that make life and work easier for others. Ready to take the first step? Contact us.
About the Author
CJ Mead | Senior Vice President, Supply Chain Management & Procurement
With an unwavering focus on process product improvement and refining the buying life cycle, CJ’s dedication on client and guest experience continues to be the driving force behind the success he’s created at National. Because of his business acumen and gift of negotiation, CJ has strengthened existing corporate partnerships and continues to build new, mutually beneficial relationships.
CJ graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BA in Hotel Management where he effectively applied his education in the hospitality industry. As an emerging leader he quickly implemented customer-focused sales training within his department. This allowed customers to benefit from the increased knowledge of his staff and secure lodging that met their specific requirements. Always seeking a challenge and new areas to learn, CJ transitioned to the corporate housing industry leveraging his experience in sales and industry insights building out National Corporate Housing’s internal and external supply chain. In this role, he has consolidated spend with our strongest partners and reduce our expenses by millions of dollars. This has allowed scalability for continued growth upon a foundation of strong suppliers and vendors.
When not at work, you’ll find CJ spending time outdoors with his family – hiking, biking and traveling as much as possible. And on Sundays… CJ wears green and navy to cheer on his beloved Seattle Seahawks.