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The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre is the name given to the 1929 murder of seven mob associates as part of a Prohibition-era conflict between two powerful criminal gangs in Chicago led by Al Capone and Bugs Moran.

While no mistake I could possibly make this upcoming holiday would result in such bloodshed, I’m willing to go to great lengths to avoid my very own Valentine’s Day massacre this year.

Here is a simple checklist I plan to follow to ensure a happy Valentine’s Day – with a look at the not-so-simple, behind-the-scenes supply chain workings required to avoid a massacre.

Say “I love you” with a card

Valentine’s Day is big business. In fact, around 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent annually, making it the second largest card-sending occasion, behind Christmas, according to figures from the Greeting Card Association.

When I go to my local pharmacy or specialty card shop, I am always amazed at the selection of cards available for the holiday, and I constantly have to wonder how the manufacturers ensure on-shelf availability across the hundreds of thousands of outlets spread across the U.S.

More and more, however, customers are seeking a more personalized approach to Valentine’s Day cards. Hallmark is a great example of a card company that is keeping up with this trend, introducing its specialty retail concept store HMK.

At HMK stores, shoppers can create unique, personalized gifts that reflect an individual’s sense of style, and these products carry a unique artistry coupled with the emotion typically found in a Hallmark-brand item. But with customized products, inventory planning is not that simple. These items call for a more demand-driven supply chain, requiring HMK to go from make-to-stock to engineer-to-order, with some of the engineer-to-order processes even taking place onsite.

In addition to physical cards, an estimated 15 million e-Valentines will be sent this year. After all, the card business is now an omnichannel one, and numerous sites exist that offer customers the ability to personalize a card and send it to a loved one.

Show love with a bouquet of flowers

I – like 75% of men, according to a survey conducted by Luth Research – plan to give flowers this Valentine’s Day. Along with Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day is the most popular holiday for giving flowers, generating an estimated $100 billion worldwide for the industry. Approximately 180 million roses – the majority red – will be sold and delivered within a three-day period.

So how exactly do our roses get to our loved ones on the big day? The cold-chain logistics of transporting short shelf-life products such as flowers across a global network from a farm in Ecuador, for example, to a happy spouse or significant other in Massachusetts, let’s say, is not easy. It requires a lot of planning, collaboration, and execution. Humidity-controlled shipping containers, refrigerated cooling facilities, and other equipment are required to minimize delivery delays and ensure freshness.

Flowers have a shelf life of about 10 days. A day lost in the supply chain is 10% lost in shelf life, which can cost the wholesaler big bucks and result in an unsatisfied customer, her Valentine’s Day dream left drooping right in front of her!

Appeal to the sweet tooth with chocolates

The modern chocolate supply chain is a global affair. It all starts with the cocoa, which is predominantly grown in equatorial countries, with Ghana and the Ivory Coast responsible for 50% of the global supply. Imagine if there was a natural disaster or other break in that supply. Can you picture the panic late in the evening of February 13 – when most men shop – if there was no chocolate left on the shelf? It would definitely highlight the need for the global supply chain to be more robust and explain why supplier backup is so critical.

To establish resiliency against supply shocks such as the cocoa-bean shortage, companies need to combine risk-management strategies with a balanced supply network, a multi-tier understanding of inventory positioning, and the visibility and responsiveness to re-plan supply interruptions.

Another rising challenge to this global supply is the spotlight around the sustainability of the supply in West Africa and the prevalence of child labor, human trafficking, and forced labor. This certainly doesn’t jibe with the “hearts and roses” image typically associated with Valentine’s Day. Partially as a result of this, we are now seeing a number of chocolate companies around the world sourcing Fair Trade Certified cocoa. Many are also increasingly sourcing cocoa beans that have been certified by independent organizations to meet various labor, social, and environmental standards.

So with those little pointers, and a “tip of the cap” to the business processes that make it all happen, here’s to a happy Valentine’s Day.

This article was originally published in The Digitalist

Join me on Twitter: @howellsrichard.

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