During these times of unequalled disruption, the uncertainty that lingers pervades just about every aspect of life on the planet. Social restrictions and other health and safety protocols enforced by governments all over the world have changed the way people in communities everywhere do things, and how they engage and communicate with one another. For retailers, the implications of the pandemic have been, generally speaking, swift and brutal, impacting entire organizations. Perhaps the greatest of impacts have been experienced within the retail supply chain, highlighted most dramatically by port closures and congestion, container shortages and inflated costs. They are global issues that have been wreaking havoc on operations and retailers’ ability to get the product that consumers are looking for on store shelves in a timely manner. However, through innovative supply chain strategy and the use of technology, Giant Tiger has managed to withstand much of the recent turbulence. And, led by a gender-equitable team, it seems to be doing so by virtue of a more holistic perspective – a quality about the company that Jessica Godin, SVP of Supply Chain at Giant Tiger, says is critical in driving it toward continued success and growth
“Gender equity is extremely important,” says Godin. “But, at Giant Tiger, we take a broader view of equity. We really celebrate everyone’s differences, regardless of their gender, race, culture, sexual orientation or identification. Everyone on the team brings different strengths, ideas and perspectives to the table, helping us think about things from all angles. Letting people be who they truly are allows them to bring their very best to work and encourages them to give everything they have for the team, knowing that their contribution is really valued. Approaching the business with a people-first focus supports the creation and maintenance of a positive culture and environment that fosters diversity and inclusion. When this is the case, when everyone within the company feels valued and appreciated, and a sense of equity and belonging is present, then people want to show up to the workplace every day, benefitting the organization tremendously.”
Common goals and objectives
It’s a sentiment echoed by Godin’s colleague, Ashley McDonald, who serves in the role of Ocean Import Specialist at Giant Tiger, recognizing the same benefits that a positive and inclusive culture yield. She also agrees that the work the company has done to achieve this provides a powerful platform for employees to perform and excel. It’s a testament to the company headquartered in Ottawa, operating an expansive network of more than 260 store locations and employing in excess of 10,000 people across the country. And, as McDonald points out, it’s a culture that’s very much appreciated by Giant Tiger’s personnel, and one whose benefits also serve to unite everyone at the company, rallying them around the brand’s goals and objectives.
“All of my female colleagues and I feel very fortunate to have such strong representation at all levels at Giant Tiger,” she says. “It makes everyone appreciate the work that the company has done around diversity, equity and inclusion. Everyone feels welcomed and encouraged here. There are so many benefits to working within a positive culture like the one we enjoy. But perhaps the greatest benefit that results is the fact that the entire team buys into the culture and the vision of the company. It facilitates and nurtures collaboration and teamwork, leading to stronger strategy and more effective execution. When the culture is a positive one, inclusive to everyone, it’s easier to motivate employees and to get all of them pulling in the same direction concerning targets and objectives. And, it also enhances a sense of accountability among individuals on the team because they are proud to be involved in a collective effort, one that’s supported by all of their colleagues through the entire organization.”
McDonald goes on to explain that the strength of the culture at Giant Tiger, in large part due to the galvanizing nature of its impact, has enabled the company to face and overcome recent operational obstructions and obstacles within the supply chain. It’s a togetherness and camaraderie that facilitates information sharing and support, allowing the team at Giant Tiger to openly share insights and ideas in order to collectively address current challenges and anticipate those that may be on the horizon. She says that its an atmosphere at the company that allows the entire team within each level of the organization to be nimble, agile and prepared in order to properly respond to the next hurdle.
“One of the things that we’ve really noticed over the course of the past couple of years, as we’ve worked our way through the challenges brought about by the pandemic, is the fact that the entire team at Giant Tiger is ready, willing and able to not only deal with these challenges, but to overcome them as well,” she asserts. “Because of the dedication and commitment of everyone, we’ve been able to assess our challenges and develop effective contingency plans built to ensure the success and growth of the brand. As a result of everyone being invested in achieving our goals, we’re also more easily able to modify our strategy as we move forward, tweaking and adjusting based on everyone’s input. We’ve managed to develop and maintain a real sense of unity among the team which has been critical in allowing us to continue moving forward, despite the many disruptions that have been occurring.”
Growing list of challenges
She mentions the lack of space on overseas vessels as one of the most significant disruptions that have impacted the efforts of Giant Tiger, and the rest of the retail industry, attempting to bring product into the country from other parts of the world. It’s an obviously essential layer to any business – the ability to move product swiftly and efficiently in order to make it available to customers. However, as Godin acknowledges, the availability of space on shipping vessels is but one of a whole host of challenges that retailers and their supply chain teams currently face, adding that the recent turbulence and interruptions have cast, for the first time, a bright light on the complexities of the retail supply chain and its importance in maintaining retail motion and satisfying the needs of the Canadian consumer.
“Very bluntly put, circumstances around the global supply chain are a mess,” Godin laments. “Folks working within the supply chain are well used to disruption, even prior to the pandemic. Anyone working within these roles have to possess a great deal of tenacity and grit in order to deal with regular occurrences like weather events that disrupt the flow of goods. However, the past couple of years have presented a number of persistent challenges all the way along the chain. There have been challenges related to the availability of labour and talent. The cost of virtually everything has inflated, from raw materials and finished goods to freight and fuel. There’s been a mountain of trucking disruption, especially over the last couple of months here in Canada. And there have been limitations on border crossings which have taken capacity out of the market. These challenges have been intense and sustained over a long period. During normal circumstances, the consumer doesn’t ever realize the disruption that’s overcome because it doesn’t end up impacting them. But, these past couple of years have really made the average Canadian take notice of just how integral the supply chain is to the management of a smooth retail operation.”
Equity driving innovation
It’s work and management that Godin says wouldn’t be possible without the people at Giant Tiger. As such, the company has placed substantial focus on ensuring the health and safety of its employees within the entire organization throughout the pandemic, a focus that’s been especially important for supply chain personnel given that many are working on the frontlines without the ability to work from home. It’s another layer that adds to the strength and upkeep of the positive culture that’s been created at Giant Tiger. And, adds Godin, it’s a layer and culture that’s also been pivotal in driving the continued innovation happening around the supply chain, helping the company tighten where needed, resulting in greater efficiencies and increased performance.
“There’s so much innovation that’s being developed at Giant Tiger,” she says proudly. “The easiest to talk about is robotics. We designed and built these capabilities within our distribution centre between 2015 and 2018. We knew that it was the right thing to do at the time in order to sustain our growth as a company. We obviously didn’t have any idea that things would be turned upside down in March 2020 with massive runs on food, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and wipes as people pantry-loaded. Leveraging our robotics and automation in order to deal with the spikes in volume that we’ve experienced, as well as to address the cause of the next disruption, has been, and will continue to be, critical.”
In addition, any commentary provided around Giant Tiger’s supply chain strategy and innovation would be remiss not to include mention of the company’s trucking fleet. Established all the way back in 1987, affectionately referred to within the company as ‘Tiger Trucking’, the private fleet makes daily trips to Giant Tiger’s network of stores, delivering product from its warehouses. Godin recognizes that being afforded the opportunity to manage its own fleet carries significant benefits for the company and its loyal customers. However, she says that constant development and upgrades made to the fleet, which include the use of innovative technologies, have been instrumental in consistently enhancing the performance and efficiency of Giant Tiger’s supply chain execution.
“We’ve got one of the safest, most efficient fleets in the entire country,” she says. “We invest quite a bit into technology that’s applied to our trucks, trailers and equipment in order to not only help from a fuel efficiency perspective and to provide GPS locations of our trucks, but to also be able to monitor things like whether or not a door was left open or if there was a hard brake during a trip. It all lends toward ensuring the safety of our drivers and personnel while also helping us reduce costs and find efficiencies. It’s another way in which the company has put a lot of effort into taking care of the people who help deliver the continued growth and success of Giant Tiger.”
The power of data
The advent and accelerated adoption of these types of technologies is very much reflective of the digitization of the industry, showing tremendous promise with respect to potential improvements and enhancements that could yet be made to the retail supply chain. The monitoring and tracking capabilities are changing the way fleets are managed. And, serving to underpin all of this advancement, drawing the greatest benefit of these connected technologies, is the generation and dissemination of the plethora of data that’s available. In short, the ability to use data and apply it to the supply chain is game-changing, says Godin, adding that the power that’s inherent in it is nearly boundless.
“There’s so much data out there,” she says. “Being able to harness it and pull it all together is critical today in informing decision-making and being proactive and efficient concerning the ways people are spending their time. You can call it blockchain, visibility or supply chain digitization. But, very simply put, the innovation out there now concerning the ability to connect all of the data, whether it’s related to distribution, trucking or replenishment, allows us to forecast with accuracy and plan strategy accordingly. It’s innovation that’s been developing for some time now, helping supply chains run smoother and more efficiently. But it’s power and associated benefits have ramped up over the past two years.”
Finding efficiencies through people
Although many of the disruptions and challenges that have blighted retail supply chain operations over the course of the past two years or so persist, the strategic and innovative thinking among the Giant Tiger team has been impressive, standing the brand extremely well to continue meeting its objectives. Through the use of technology and sustained improvements to its transportation fleet, the company pushes forward, forever modernizing in order to stay ahead of the perpetual curve. Godin says that the team will not relent when it comes to investing in these areas. However, she adds that it will always do so with a focus on its people and a commitment toward ensuring a first-class culture of inclusion and equity for them to ply their trade within.
“Regardless of where we look for efficiencies, it’s clear, given the challenges that the industry is facing, that we have to find them. At the end of the day, Giant Tiger is committed to providing Canadian consumers with the necessities, and more, at the lowest possible price. And, given the cost pressure on everyone at the moment, it’s non-negotiable. And so, we’ll continue to find efficiencies to offset those costs by continuing to leverage physical automation. However, we know that the discovery of those efficiencies just isn’t possible without properly investing in your people who can leverage the innovation. Driving all of this is strong communication and coordination within and between departments and with vendor partners, breaking down siloes and enabling a direction toward a common goal. You can layer on all of the technology that you want. But, without a great group of people who feel encouraged and supported within a positive culture and environment, the potential of organizations and the technologies they use will never be fully realized.”