Canadian Plastics

Logistics: The last savings domain in the plastics industry

By Mark Borkowski, Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corporation   

More and more plastics companies, both large and small, are outsourcing all or part of their supply chain functions. In today's competitive economy, the constant need to improve productivity and do things "faster, cheaper and better" has...

More and more plastics companies, both large and small, are outsourcing all or part of their supply chain functions. In today’s competitive economy, the constant need to improve productivity and do things “faster, cheaper and better” has created a growing market for specialist providers of third-party logistics services.

Outsourcing offers significant potential advantages to the customer. Some of the key attractions include:

Reduced capital investment in real property, capital equipment and information technology infrastructure.

Access to specialized “best-in-class” expertise and new technology (e.g., RFID).


Better visibility for the customer on supply chain costs.

Opportunities for process improvement and better risk management (e.g., labor disruption).

One of the key challenges for customers in completing a third-party outsourcing arrangement is negotiating the pricing arrangements. There are generally two pricing models in the supply chain context:

1 Base Fee Plus Unit Pricing

In the first model, the price charged by the service provider includes two components: a base fee, usually paid monthly, to cover fixed costs such as facility lease costs and capital equipment leases; and a variable fee, also usually paid monthly, to cover costs — such as labor — that flex with changes in product volume moving through the supply chain.

Another adaptation of this model is per-unit pricing with minimum volume guarantees. If the minimum volumes are not achieved, the customer must compensate the supplier.

The key advantages of this price model are the ability to combine price certainty, for both customer and supplier, with the flexibility to adapt to changing market conditions. The disadvantage, from the customer’s perspective, is the lack of visibility on the supplier’s cost structure and profit margins.

2 “Cost-Plus” Transactions

An alternative pricing model for supply chain outsourcing is the “cost-plus” transaction. In this approach, the outsourcing service provider is compensated for its costs plus an agreed percentage margin, sometimes capped at a total dollar amount.

The advantage for the customer in a cost-plus transaction is that it has full visibility on the supplier’s costs and profit. The challenges to implementing this model include agreeing on the yearly budget and productivity measures, encouraging the supplier to reduce costs (e.g., gain sharing), and allocating shared costs (e.g., supplier IT platform) between customer and supplier where many customers may share the same supplier infrastructure.

Another important financial issue that frequently arises in supply chain outsourcings involves termination rights. More and more customers are demanding maximum flexibility in their supplier relationships, and in particular the right to terminate supplier contracts on short notice. Since a supply chain outsourcing may require significant long-term investment by the supplier (e.g., real estate, IT systems), there is a risk that early termination will expose the supplier to substantial financial losses.

To mitigate this risk, suppliers will often require the customer to compensate it for unamortized capital costs if the customer wants an early termination right. Customers will want to ensure that they understand the nature of these costs before agreeing to this approach.

Outsourcing of supply chain functions offers many potential competitive advantages to customers. Pricing will generally be one of the most important considerations in making the decision to outsource, and there are different pricing models that may be appropriate, depending on product profile, operational risks, and the customer’s financial goals. Since outsourcing is ideally a long-term relationship, both customer and service provider have a vested interest in ensuring that the chosen pricing model provides appropriate financial benefits to both parties.

A large number of progressive plastics manufacturers and distributors have adopted this new logistics philosophy. Those that haven’t are being left behind.

Mark Borkowski is president of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corporation. Mercantile is a brokerage that specializes in the sale of privately owned, mid-market businesses. He can be contacted at 416-368-8466 ext. 232, or


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories