Ingram Micro expands wireless product distribution with BrightPoint integration.
By Eric Johnson
Everyone in logistics deals with some mixture of tight lead times, proprietary customer information, and expedited movements.
But few, if any, deal with those elements on the scale that Ingram Micro Mobility does. That’s because the company, formerly known as Brightpoint, is one of the largest logistics vendors to the mobile phone industry. The company touches more than 100 million wireless devices globally, including roughly one in two in the United States, or one in 10 worldwide.
That’s a lot of complexity to manage, if you think about the delicate dance that mobile phone manufacturers and their various carrier and consumer channels have to perform to get in-demand products into the hands of customers quickly.
It’s often reported that when Apple launches a new product, air freight space from Asia is booked solid as the company rushes to get its devices to anxious customers. That may be the most obvious example of the logistics pressures that these manufacturers and retailers face. But it’s far from the only one.
Doug Pasquale, senior vice president of supply chain solutions for Ingram Micro Mobility, and a 13-year veteran of BrightPoint, said in an interview with American Shipper that the company helps ease the many burdens of mobile phone makers and their channel partners.
“It’s a hyper-competitive market,” he said. “Everyone is trying to get these iconic products to market quickly. They’re complicated devices with customized software. And there’s a lot that goes into the device that could go wrong. And then the manufacturers push as much of that customization as close to the final delivery as possible.”
Another complication: most device makers don’t provide a detailed schedule of their product releases because there’s a competitive advantage not to signal to your competition when your new products will hit the street.
“Some of these devices are cloaked in a lot of secrecy,” Pasquale said. “A lot of times, even we don’t know. Sometimes we get a heads up, but they don’t tell us all the specifics. They might not even know the day it’s being released. We don’t plan months in advance — we’re lucky if we get weeks. Sometimes it is days or even hours. We try to keep our ear to the ground.”
Part of the challenge for Ingram Mobile Micro is that it often finds itself having to make up for time lost by other links in the supply chain.
“We’re the last ones to touch it before it goes to market,” he said. “If there’s slippage upstream, that’s where we have to make up the lost time. That’s a big part of our niche. You’ve got to do that well. You have to have good quality, and you have to have accuracy.”
The importance of the erstwhile BrightPoint business to the mobile industry, particularly in North America, is no doubt what led Southern California-based Ingram Micro to acquire the company in fall 2012. American Shipper chronicled the world’s largest distributor of high-tech products in the November 2010 issue (see pages 24-30).
“Historically, we’ve been a niche 3PL within the wireless space,” Pasquale said. “Our legacy was as a distributor. Over time, we built out the capability to do all these services.”
He said the company eventually started to migrate out of the pure mobile device niche to other high-tech industries – mostly peripheral devices that tie into the wireless space. “Other products around that wireless ecosystem,” he said.
Since acquiring BrightPoint, Ingram Micro has left the unit intact outside of rebranding it, a nod to the subsidiary’s success in managing the complexities of managing mobile phone logistics. The mobility subsidiary, meanwhile, benefits from the expanded geographic footprint and scale of the broader Ingram Micro business.
“It’s a big spend when we put that all that together,” Pasquale said. “The beauty is that our transportation management strategies were very similar. We’ve just rolled ours into theirs.
“Longer term, we’re working on more integration strategies. Ingram today has business and operations in Canada. So that’s big for our mobility customer base that wants to operate in Canada. They want to have a one-stop shop for Canada, for us to extend same capabilities in Canada as we do in the U.S.,” he added.
Ingram Micro Mobility isn’t the only such provider in its field. Two other primary players are Genco ATC, which acquired the erstwhile ATC LE and does significant business with AT&T, and UPS Supply Chain Solutions, which focuses on the transportation side of the business and works with Sprint. New Breed Logistics and Bright Star Logistics are other notable players in this sector.
As for Ingram Micro Mobility, Pasquale said the company touches virtually every channel through which mobile phones are distributed and sold.
“We run a pick/pack/ship operation to four channels,” he said. These include company-owned stores, indirect dealers or agents that work for cell phone service carriers, direct-to-consumer providers, and big box retailers, such as Walmart, Target, and Office Depot.
Ingram Micro Mobility brands the way it serves those channels as lifecycle device management.
“The wireless space has evolved a lot in the last 10 to 15 years,” Pasquale said. “It went from expensive to commoditized to expensive again. So we’ve tailored our services to add device customization.”
That includes things like loading software on a device before it’s packed or once it arrives from Asia, depending on the end-customer’s need.
“The first point of contact is with the carriers or manufacturers,” he said. “We literally pick that product up in Asia – when they need it, where they need it. We bring the product into the U.S., clear Customs, do added-value services, brand the device with the carrier’s logo. We can manage demand into a channel.”
Pasquale said as devices have become more expensive again – think of the cost of your latest iPad or Android device – reverse logistics and repair services have grown in importance.
“On the reverse side, we do recovery services,” he said. “We actually acquired a company to help us repair devices (prior to the Ingram Micro acquisition). There’s greater demand for these repair services, so we’ve done a lot of investing in these reverse services to provide full end-to-end capability.”
Again, Ingram Micro Mobility’s niche arises from the fact mobile device logistics contains complexities that other consumer goods supply chains don’t.
“Within mobility, the complication comes from the need to track sterilization at multiple levels,” Pasquale said. “We track the serial number at each step. There’s a tremendous amount of back-end work, and that’s the foundation of what our history has been about, innovation, the delivery.”