This past August, this author penned a Supply Chain Matters blog commentary: The Newest Phase for Elongated Supplier Payments- More Aggressive Push Back. The essence of that commentary was that with many more multi-industry procurement teams extending supplier payments under the umbrella of working capital savings, suppliers themselves are now more aggressive in pushing back, especially when their own financial performance takes a hit from a key customer. In some cases, such suppliers utilize the threat of supply disruption to force more timely payments.
We cited supplier aggressiveness examples related to AB In-Bev, Boeing, General Motors, Tesco and Volkswagen.
Today, The Wall Street Journal reports (Paid subscription required) on yet another example, this time involving retail firm Sears Holding.
Jakks Pacific the fifth largest designer and marketer of toys and consumer products featuring a wide range of popular branded products and children’s toy licenses announced the suspension of supplying products to retailer K-Mart, part of Sears Holdings. The stated reason, according to reports, was concerns related to the financial health of the retail chain and to minimize risks of not being paid for inventory. While Jakks senior management did not initially disclose the name of the a stated “major retailer”, business media digging confirmed the identity of that retailer.
Normally, supplier pushback on concerns for delayed payments are not extraordinary news. Sears Holding itself has been itself financially challenged as a result of declining sales and profits and subsequent business restructuring and store closings. Sears CEO Edward Lampert had to recently respond to speculation that the K-Mart franchise was about to close in the light of previous decisions to shutter upwards of 130 K-Mart retail stores. In a blog posting featured on the firm’s SHS Holdings blog, Lampert indicated that there are no plans and there have never been any plans to close the Kmart format. He further calls into question whether intended parties seek to do harm to the retailer for other gain.
By our lens, the extraordinary aspect is the overall timing of the supply suspension, coming just before the all-important and business critical holidays fulfillment period. The vast majority of sales related to children’s toys occur during the Christmas holiday season. The other aspect to timing relates to the Wall Street community’s concerns as to whether other key suppliers will take the same actions related to Sears and K-Mart.
The CEO of Jakks indicated to the WSJ that the decision impacted his firm’s financial performance during the recent quarter as revenues fell by 10 percent, and the company’s stock value plunged by 15 percent. Reviewing the toy supplier’s latest third quarter financial results, we indeed noted the citing of suspended sales “to a major customer that is experiencing challenges” but there is mention to other causal factors such as the impact of Brexit and negative foreign currency effects. A balance sheet review indicates that there has been a nearly $109 million increase (63 percent) increase net accounts receivable over the past nine months. Working capital balances have eroded by nearly $24 million over the last year.
On its part, K-Mart management reinforces that it has an active and long-standing relationship with Jakks and that it continues to receive inventory from this supplier. One wonders whether that implies that compromises are already at-play. The SHS Holdings blog further weighed in a blog commentary from is CFO: Just the Facts- Vendor Relationships. It states in-part:
‘We can tell you that we have had a longstanding relationship with Jakks as we do with our tens of thousands of other suppliers and vendors. Despite the speculation and rush to report the negative, we have always paid our vendors for orders we have placed and as part of the normal negotiations between retailers and vendors, there are occasionally disputes over prices, allocations of product and other terms.”
That latter statement regarding occasional disputes can be interpreted in various ways depending on the perspectives of supplier or major customer. The tone of the commentary can have different interpretations as well. The transfer of the burden of working capital management or cash flow ultimately comes with certain consequences which need to be managed.
Regardless, the overall trending of increased supplier aggressiveness is prevalent, especially when such suppliers perceive their own financial and operational harm.