Sep 28, 2011 • By

On the road with Walmart

I put a few hundred miles on my car over a recent weekend and shared the road with a few Walmart trucks as part of my trip.

It was appropriate, I thought, given I had recently talked about the company’s trucks and distribution network with Walmart’s Elizabeth Fretheim. She’s their director of Business Strategy & Sustainability for Logistics, and she recently wrote a blog post about the work she oversees titled “Taking the Road Less Traveled to Reach Lofty Shipping Goals.”

Walmart is General Mills’ largest customer. And, in terms of its distribution and goals for being more efficient, we have a lot in common. Namely, we both want to get products from point A to point B in the smartest way possible.

In her post, Fretheim wrote about the three areas Walmart is focusing on to improve its efficiency:

1. Carrying more freight on every load.

2. Driving fewer miles.

3. Using advanced, more efficient technology.

Fretheim told me that Walmart is always looking for changes that can make a difference in its distribution process.

“We have a lot of people looking at the minutia, who are dedicated to looking at every little part of what we can do to improve our efficiency,” Freitham said. “There really isn’t a silver bullet to this.”

Again, you can read more details about Walmart’s efforts from Fretheim in her post.

But I also wanted to highlight how General Mills plays into one of Walmart’s initiatives.

Walmart does not want its trucks to be empty after making deliveries, returning to its distribution centers with nothing inside.

Instead, if there is a supplier in the same area – like us – Fretheim says, “Why not use that Walmart truck to go to the supplier’s distribution center, or plant, and pick up more freight as part of the same trip?”

“Because there may be instances where we’re delivering to a store near one of your warehouses. If we didn’t know that you had a load available, our truck would go back empty to our distribution center,” Fretheim said.

So by working together, both Walmart and its suppliers reduce the number of shipments needed, reducing the number of trucks on the road.

“The amount of collaboration between shippers and carriers is changing. The more visibility we have into our networks – where the freight is coming from and where it’s going to – the better we can optimize that distribution. And that collaboration is definitely a key to being able to improve the efficiency.”

Editor’s note: The photos used in this post are from Walmart, via Flickr.