The retail industry has faced significant challenges brought on by trade wars and of course by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating prompt and innovative new product development during turbulent times with a largely remote workforce. CBX Software, Inc., a global provider of retail supply chain and total sourcing management solutions, from concept to delivery and payment, has been helping its customers, global retailers, and brands adapt to a rapidly evolving business environment.
The vendor’s retail sourcing software, TradeBeyond, connects retailers and private label brands with factories and suppliers, helping to streamline communication and improve new product development and sourcing. This post touches upon how the TradeBeyond app is being used today to achieve this and its role in the changing supply chain, perhaps revolutionizing the retail industry. The post also offers the opinions of a CBX executive on the role of technology for supply chains today and into the future.
CBX Software Backgrounder
Via its sourcing management, product lifecycle management (PLM), and production and order management software solutions, CBX empowers collaboration within the supply chain network, comprising more than 30,000 retail, brand, and supplier users in more than 50 countries. CBX has been in business since 1995 and now has 250 employees, with direct operations and offices throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States.
With its headquarters in Hong Kong, the firm specializes in IT solutions for retail, trading, and logistics businesses. In 2012, CBX transformed itself into a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, targeting the same retail, trade, and logistics industries from its original target market. The initial release of the current CBX Cloud supply chain collaboration platform was launched in 2013.
Today, more than 100 world-leading retailers, brands, and trading companies and thousands of affiliated suppliers rely on CBX to reengineer and streamline their supply chains. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the business for CBX Cloud (and particularly its PLM software capabilities) was reportedly quite strong, with significant customer wins at Petco, Pets at Home, Rusta, Tokmanni, and Ace Hardware, just to name a few. Although closing deals has cooled off on the PLM side during the pandemic, conversations remain strong.
In 2019, CBX launched the TradeBeyond mobile app and website to its CBX Cloud customers and formally introduced it to the industry at large at the National Retail Federation Conference (NRF) this past January. The “pre-PLM” solution—at the pre-product (inspiration) development stage—aims to help private brand suppliers connect with retailer partners, and vice versa. TradeBeyond currently works with more than 30 general merchandize and specialty retailers and approximately 3,000 suppliers, in retail goods ranging from hardlines to softlines to consumer packaged goods (CPGs). The platform aims to streamline the retail inspiration and product curation process for retailers developing own brand and exclusive assortments. TradeBeyond is not a traditional marketplace or auction site; rather, it provides the workflow tools and messaging capabilities to execute the private label merchandise development process. Every product proposed by suppliers could automatically flow into the retailer’s organized ranges and line plans. Users of the platform can easily browse concise digital product catalogs, and they can use the workflow tools to help perform their everyday tasks such as “Adopt,” “Shortlist,” “Not Interested,” etc. (see figure 1).
Figure 1. TradeBeyond look and feel
Buyers, designers, and sourcing agents at a retail company can use the app to create, review, comment, and shortlist products. They can converse externally with their suppliers, such as ask questions, give feedback, request quotes, and request samples—all in real time. They can also converse with their colleagues and purchase and sourcing contacts privately, also in real time.
CBX says that with the pandemic has come more opportunity for TradeBeyond business. The software company has reportedly been flooded with calls from retailers scrambling to find ways to plan their ranges virtually. With largely no travel, trade shows, buying trips, or showroom visits, retail buyers and merchandisers need to find ways to communicate inspiration, as well as to discover new suppliers. TradeBeyond and CBX Cloud are licensed separately and can each run standalone or natively integrated.
A feature article by Store Brands describes how Tractor Supply Company is using TradeBeyond to connect with their suppliers and bring new products to market faster. Since this story was released, the phone at CBX hasn’t stopped ringing, claims the company. Perhaps arguably with the exception of Bamboo Rose, CBX’s main competitors PTC, Infor, GTNexus Centric Software, DeSL, and NGC Software are not yet offering a platform like TradeBeyond.
CBX Software Executive Talks TradeBeyond, and More
To discuss recent trends in retail sourcing and more, we spoke to Eric Linxwiler, Senior Vice President at CBX Software. Eric joined CBX in 2013, where he leads sales, strategic business development, and general operations. He has more than 30 years of experience building enterprise software and cloud platform service companies specializing in PLM, sourcing, and supply chain optimization. Prior to joining CBX, Eric managed the business development operations for Direct EDI, Inc. in San Diego, California, where he helped grow the company from an early-stage start-up into a multi-million dollar organization that was acquired by SPS Commerce.
TEC: What have been the most urgent needs from your customers since the onset of the pandemic? EL: CBX’s customers are being forced to reconfigure business rules in their systems to better accommodate fluctuations in order flow, invoicing, discounting, etc. There is also more emphasis on real-time or “near” real-time collaboration with suppliers modifying shipment quantities, timing, etc. Furthermore, the entire global supply chain is affected. We are seeing that traditional carriers are struggling with demand and capacity, so integration to third-party portals and booking systems is being more strongly considered.
TEC: What particular CBX solutions and capabilities could really (or have already) come in handy to your customers these days and how? EL: Without doubt, it is our TradeBeyond app and exclusive network on which retailers, suppliers, and factories connect, source, extend innovation, and bring private label products to market faster. TradeBeyond allows members to work “virtually”, in real time, and seamlessly. It is revolutionizing how the retail industry manages product development and product sourcing for their own brands.
“The legacy, ERP-centric, siloed approach to managing supply chains has been abandoned by the world’s leading companies, in favor of modern, networked supply chains. A key success factor in breaking functional siloes is the enablement of a collaborative use of data and decision-making across internal departments and external trading partners. This requires high user adoption by all parties and what the industry refers to as a multi-enterprise supply chain business network.”
Indeed, the only way to drive real value to all parties is to do everything possible to ensure high systematic user adoption. TradeBeyond does not charge fees for retailer and supplier connections, so as to promote retailers to invite their entire supply chain community to join the collaboration network. The retailer gets their first 20 users at no cost, and thereafter, pays a nominal annual fee per user. On the other hand, the supplier gets the first single user connection to a “known” retailer at no cost.
Figure 2. TradeBeyond collaboration
Fees are collected for premium services that either party may want to take advantage of but are not necessary for day-to-day business transactions, such as messaging and video conferencing, access to network members that are currently not part of an existing community, or visibility into compliance documentation. The real key to making the service work is the Premium Account upgrades available to suppliers. A Premium Account includes a verified third-party audit, compliance and validation badges, and open access to the entire network rather than through a known access invitation.
Technology and the “Future Supply Chains” Considerations
TEC: Do you think that COVID-19 will discourage on-premise software deployments? EL: Generally, while on-prem software deployment has been on the decline, legacy systems still stay in place because retailers are slow to change unless they are forced to. COVID-19 has been a catalyst, forcing new digital adoption because there is no other choice. Then, once people start using new technology they can’t understand why they did not implement sooner. It’s akin to the Baby Boomer population being slow to adopt video conferencing or smartphones and tablets because they are concerned about privacy or confused. But, being forced to use them because it is the only way to see their family today—now they are all in and will not stop.
TEC: Has any other current “killer app” or a high-sounding technology buzzword come to the fore in this crisis? EL: Business Intelligence (BI) and big data analytics remains a BIG topic. More specifically in our business, the systematizing of capacity planning is another high-trending topic. Dashboards with dynamic alerts based on artificial intelligence (AI) trend predictions is also top of mind.
TEC: Once the pandemic subsides or goes away completely, do you think manufacturing, brands, and retail companies will rethink their supply chains for the future (that is, by re-shoring or diversifying their low-cost locations)? In other words, will manufacturing and supply chains change for good due to COVID-19 (and, if yes, how?) or we will they go back to the “old normal” once the vaccine is (hopefully) found? EL: COVID-19 has been a real eye-opener for retailers. The pandemic has exposed holes, weak links, and naïve thinking within and about the supply chain. I had one of our customers, an SVP of Global Supply Chain at a leading retailer, tell me that their business has grown significantly since April 2020 as compared to last year.
They are receiving twice the container loads and receiving more direct-to-customer (DTC) orders than ever and claim that they are only able to do it because they built a robust e-commerce and supply chain technology infrastructure prior to the crisis. They were ready and it has paid big dividends. I am sure many more will follow. COVID-19 will end, but “winter” will come again and the smart retailers will invest now and be ready.