SuperbCrew recently had the opportunity to sit down with Eric Allais, president and CEO at PathGuide, to reflect on 2019 and look ahead to what’s in store for 2020.
Question: It’s been a busy year for PathGuide. Can you share with our readers a few of the company’s highlights from 2019?
Answer: You bet. 2019 has been another stellar year for PathGuide, and we’re thrilled to close it out with a strong finish and momentum propelling us into 2020 and beyond. In fact, it’s the start of a new decade in more ways than one – as our company actually celebrated its 30-year anniversary this year as well.
To start, we held another successful Latitude User Conference in April and we were thrilled to see record attendance at this year’s event in Nashville. Held every 18 months, PathGuide’s 2019 user conference showcased the latest in our advanced Warehouse Management System (WMS) software and unveiled our next-generation vendor managed inventory solution.
Speaking of, this was a year of ‘firsts’ for PathGuide as well. In addition to releasing updated versions of PathGuide’s Latitude WMS and Latitude Manifest & Shipping (LMS), we rolled out our first standalone Advanced VMI – or, Vendor Managed Inventory – software solution. Advanced VMI extends our current VMI offering and is designed to run independently outside of the warehouse for a distributor’s customers, creating automatic replenishment orders when a customer begins to run low on inventory.
PathGuide also announced the availability of its Wire Cutting Management module, new software functionality offering a precise way to electronically prioritize, group and plan wire cuts. This robust tool integrates seamlessly with our Latitude WMS and allows electrical distributors to define wire cuts that go together along with the containers and grouping required, which eliminates the need for cut operators to manually manage this process.
Lastly, coming off another strong year for net new customer acquisitions, we’re certainly bracing for continued growth as a company, and with that comes additional growth opportunities for our employees as well. It’s a great problem to have, and we’re hiring as we speak.
Question: Speaking of change and growth, how are you approaching the new decade in terms of attracting and retaining talent?
Answer: The labor market is extremely tight right now, and in 2020 we’ll continue to evolve our practices to not only retain our exceptional talent but also attract new employees. The Seattle area’s maturation into a global technology and innovation hub over the past decade is certainly a blessing for our region. But it also means we find ourselves up against Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook and other companies when it comes to recruiting.
As a result, we revisited our employee benefits package this year, extending our paid vacation, enhancing our retirement program flexibility, and more. Not only is this important for existing and prospective employees, ensuring we remain competitive is critical for companies like us when it comes to attracting and retaining staff.
Question: When it comes to trends in the warehouse, technology-wise, is there anything you see changing?
Answer: There is certainly a stark dichotomy in distribution. There are the paper-based operations – those whose systems aren’t much more sophisticated than, for example, the mirrors they’ve installed throughout the warehouse to keep forklifts from running into each other when rounding corners. According to a recent study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, it’s estimated that more than one-third of warehouses in the U.S. operate without some form of a WMS to manage warehouse operations.
But then there are the facilities equipped with robotics, automation and other cutting-edge technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. In some cases, the former (those relying on pen and paper) is multi-generational. Generally speaking, these are the businesses that typically invest in improving their operations in much smaller increments over time. The latter is typically either a much larger company or one injected with a lot of money by a parent organization or other stakeholder, such as a private equity firm, with even deeper pockets.
Question: Is there any middle ground between those two extremes?
Answer: Sure. Carousels, conveyors, vertical lifts – that stuff has been around for decades. Of the customers that we’ve landed this year using this type of equipment, it’s usually inherited. While they may have had it for 15 years, if it’s still working, then they want to continue taking advantage of it. And this is part of the reason that they’re less inclined to explore and implement new solutions and advanced technologies. As far as the two extremes, PathGuide’s bread and butter continues to be the group that has been slow-to adapt but is now ready to take that big step forward.
Question: Do you see that gap closing over the next decade? Or some parity therein, where some of these investments become more approachable to a wider range of distributors versus exclusively those with deep pockets?
Answer: That’s an interesting question. Take a look at Walmart’s impact on retail, for example. Mega corporations have gone into small towns all around the country and forced many of the existing, smaller local brick and mortar shops to close their doors. The businesses that have survived in these communities were the ones that didn’t try to be a superstore themselves and came out the other side as more of a boutique. They learned quickly that trying to compete head-to-head was probably a version of David and Goliath that wouldn’t end in their favor. Instead, they identified their unique value proposition, made that their differentiator, and continued to thrive because they’d established their niche in those markets.
Question: Fascinating insights, Eric. Before we close, can you give us a sneak peek into what PathGuide has in the works for 2020 and how it will continue to help its customers thrive in the coming year?
Answer: Our next generation customer portal is right around the corner. It’s going to be easier for our customers to navigate, as well as providing better visibility across their organizations. Customer support and service is the bedrock of what has made PathGuide so unique in this space over the past 30 years – that’s where we really, really shine. When it comes to customer service and support, for us it’s all about responsiveness and having the right people on our end to answer questions and help out. In the meantime, customers can still create a support case online, or give us a call to connect with a knowledgeable and experienced professional from our support team.
Question: Anything else on 2020’s horizon that you’re excited about?
Answer: In Fall 2020, PathGuide will host its next Latitude User Conference in Seattle. We’re expecting to break another attendance record. Stay tuned for more details in the new year!
To read the published article in SuperbCrew, click here.