The Q-tip Strategy for Supply Chains
Take This Advice And Don't Stick It In Your Ear
11 June 2020 // Leave it to our contrarian investment friends at Chenmark Capital Management to find a lesson for innovators in plain sight on the bathroom counter.
Recently, they republished a post about the Q-tips paradox. It goes like this: In the near century since Leo Gerstenzang invented the ready-to-use cotton swab in 1923, they’ve become one of the most widely used personal care products—and a powerhouse brand. In 2018, the company sold more than $200 million of them. That’s somewhere around 35 billion Q-tips worldwide.
Yet, nearly every one of the world’s Q-tips is used exactly for what the manufacturer warns customers not to do. “Warning: Do not insert inside the ear canal. If used to clean ears, stroke swab gently around the outer surface of the ear only.”
Though that warning has been on Q-tips packages for more than 50 years, it falls on, well, deaf ears. Nearly all of us ignore the advisory and swab away. That adds up to lots of visits to the otolaryngology doctors by people who are just doing what everyone else does.
In one recent study, more than half of all those doctors’ patients admitted to habitually sticking cotton swabs in their ears. Henry Ford Health System, which conducted the research, concluded that there’s “a direct association between cotton swab use and ruptured eardrum”—not to mention impacted wax and other problems.
So, what does all this have to do with supply chain (or in Chenmark’s case, investing)? The bloggers write that learning about the history of Q-tips is “a good reminder that seemingly innocuous or mainstream practices can be entirely wrong. Just because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
Investors who mimic broader market trends and strategies are consigned to average results at best. Being like everyone else is the very definition of average. If you want superior returns, Chenmark argues, you have to think for yourself and come up with different approaches.
That advice may be even more valuable for supply chain practitioners. In an industry where caution is the norm, there’s every temptation just to follow industry “best practices.” That doesn’t merely yield average results; it can also expose you to higher risks for supply chain disruption and continuity in times of crisis like recent months. Just like ears, no two supply chains are alike. So, you need operations that take your specific flows, conditions, products and customers into account.
Truly transformational processes and results only come from fresh and independent thinking. At Morgan, we specialize in transportation network transformation—analyzing operations data and finding new ways to get goods from factory to consumer in the most efficient ways possible.
Heard On The Dock
“This is a very emotional time. When you’re emotional, you tend to be distracted … by things that would not fool you in more normal times.”
--Bob Verret, CIO, Dupre Logistics,
on recent, increased hacking threats for supply chain workers
While You Were Shipping…
More Recent Stories You May Have Missed That Caught Our Eye