TEMPLE, Texas — The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a near stop in early March 2020, but while schools, offices and entertainment venues shuttered, convenience stores kept operations going.
Continuing to serve its customers and communities while dealing with a health crisis was not easy, and the struggles continued notably in the form of supply chain disruption when the cities and states across the country lifted lockdown orders. More than three years later, some hiccups still exist.
"In our post-pandemic reality, the supply chain is stabilizing considerably, yet many businesses are continuing to grapple with the lasting effects of disruption to the convenience industry," said Tony Frankenberger, CEO of McLane Co. Inc. "Global supply chain challenges profoundly impacted every facet of our ecosystem, and the industry came to a collective realization that the supply chain was more fragile than many businesses had anticipated. This realization prompted significant learning that reshaped our perspectives on operations, the workforce and long-term partnerships."
In the months following March 2020, Temple-based McLane tapped into real-time data and advanced analytics to forecast scenarios and make informed decisions, ultimately prioritizing operational excellence, workforce stability and strategic partnerships, according to the company. As a result, the company established a stronger and more resilient system — leaving McLane better equipped to navigate future disruptions.
From an operations standpoint, McLane optimized inventory management, order fulfillment and logistics using advanced technology, ensuring streamlined operations and increased productivity.
At the same time, it focused on attracting and retaining top talent with competitive compensation packages, comprehensive training programs and ongoing professional development opportunities.
"In parallel, we continued to foster transparent communication and collaboration in the industry, strengthening our strategic partnerships with suppliers and retailers. This allowed us to share insights and proactively address challenges, resulting in a more cohesive and interconnected supply chain," Frankenberger said.
"Going forward, we have the opportunity to align goals, measurements and processes across the industry to achieve a higher level of coordination and synchronization to the benefit of our businesses, partners and customers alike," he added.
Meeting Future Obstacles
According to Frankenberger, the convenience store industry must remain extremely agile, forward-thinking and more prepared than ever to meet the challenges of any future disruption.
Turning to solutions like advanced data and analytics tools during and after the pandemic — and continuing to invest in those tools — can have a "significant impact across an enterprise, including in supply chain network design and engineering, facilities design and engineering, operations and transportation," he noted.
"Predicting possible disruption is futile without the ability to respond to it," the chief executive said. "Thus, using data-driven insights to take decisive action ensures continuous operations at the highest level, and that in a period of disruption, we maintain excellence for our customers."
To that end, McLane addressed storage capacity, increased its fleet of vehicles, established new domiciles and a new distribution center, and implemented new standard operating procedures since the pandemic.
The pandemic did not just give rise to supply chain disruptions; it also gave rise to labor woes across industries. Citing October 2023 data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Frankenberger pointed out that are still 1.4 million fewer Americans working than in February 2020.
"Having a stable and reliable workforce is the foundation of a successful supply chain, and addressing the labor shortage requires a multipronged approach to boost both retention and hiring," he said. "In our industry, retention translates to improved safety and efficiency, and it is our responsibility to maintain excellent standards for both regardless of the labor climate."
To help combat the labor challenges, McLane has taken steps to attract new teammates and retain its existing ones. For example, the company now explores different driver classifications outside Class A in certain markets for operating box trucks as opposed to full tractors. It also invested in technology to provide similar flexibility to our existing teammates.
Above all, Frankenberger said, the pandemic underscored the necessity of transparency and real-time visibility on performance throughout the supply chain ecosystem. "Communication within the supply chain ecosystem has undergone a significant transformation. We collaborate more closely now with retailers and suppliers, establishing shared goals and implementing measures to ensure sufficient inventory in anticipation of shortages," he said. "These relationships are based on honesty and accountability, with each business taking ownership for their part in the supply chain and informing industry partners when challenges arise."
McLane is one of the largest distributors in the United States, serving convenience stores, mass merchants and chain restaurants. It operates more than 80 distribution centers and one of the nation's largest private truck fleets, and provides adult beverage distribution through its subsidiary, Empire Distributors. McLane is a wholly owned unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
McLane was named the 2023 Category Captain for General Merchandise by Convenience Store News.