Finding the Sweet Spot

Disruption caused by the rapid move to direct delivery of goods to customers has prompted many manufacturers to reconstruct their supply chains to cope with the multiple new ways of reaching the end consumer.

This accelerating trend has played into the hands of Sydney-based Pollen Consulting Group, which has achieved notable growth in the five years since inception. Founded by UK expat Paul Eastwood, who has a background in operations and supply chain management, particularly in the fast-moving consumer goods sector.

“I felt there was a different way of doing things when compared to the two main consulting approaches: boutique players addressing small parts of a business and the Big houses that play across everything, but in a more general way.

“Launching Pollen was a unique opportunity to hit that sweet spot in the middle.”

It was good analysis. Since Pollen started with two people and revenues of less than $1 million in its first year, the firm now comprises 42 people and expects revenues to reach $10.5 million this financial year.

Pollen focuses on supply chains and manufacturing excellence and sticks to specific core areas of operation where it knows it can add value. Most of its consultants have mechanical engineering or chemical engineering degrees that directly address these selected areas.

Mr Eastwood is proud of the culture created at Pollen, which has seen most of its senior leaders come up through the ranks. The future goal is to reach a total of 100 people by 2025.

“The overall aim is to keep things lean” he said, “with small, focused teams that can drop into businesses and deliver great results and act as a partnership with senior people in those businesses to play a big role in the transformation.

Part of Pollen’s success can be put down to their entrepreneurial mindset to adopt new technology and innovative approaches to solving client pain points.

One example is a recent collaboration with the Colliers commercial real estate brokerage and investment company to create an industry first end-to-end ‘footprint’ offering.

“This was the last piece of our jigsaw,” Mr Eastwood said.

“If you are a manufacturing or distribution business, the footprint of buildings and infrastructure are key parts of the cost structure and how you design the business for competitive advantage. Redesigning supply chains often involves assessing locations, land and buildings.”

“Colliers has the data on land costs and availability, building costs and can offer project management to build warehouses and factories while we figure out where, how many, what size they should be and what to do inside them.”

“We are able to talk to our customers about improvements that are based on independent advice. If the best result is to stay where they are, that’s what we advise. Our Moto is Think it, build it, optimise it”

On the technology front, Pollen is an early adopter of artificial intelligence and uses this to test run proposed changes to manufacturing or supply chain operations.

“We’ve got a really cool Digital Twin simulation tool that can analyse how a proposed network or factory might work. We feed in real-world variables and then run a simulation of the new or reconfigured factory to see how it will perform.”

“If you’re making big capital decisions or making changes to your factory and the way it works, this gives you the ability to model the options so you can really see the impact of the changes you are making. Because we use variability like the real world, we are not going to tell you the exact outcome, but it will tell you the probable range of outcomes you may achieve without the real-life risk.”

“We think this is a big area where businesses need to move, particularly as they trying to chase the evolving world around them. They don’t want to make an investment that leaves them stuck.”

Pollen respects the confidentiality of its clients, but the firm was recently “outed” by the former Freedom Foods (now Noumi) as a key part of their turnaround plans.

“They had a pretty patchy financial year last year which gained a lot of media attention with some significant write-downs. They told shareholders about the turnaround under way and mentioned that we were there supporting them.”

“The one thing that summarises us very well is that we thrive on a challenge, the harder the problem, the more we want to work with our client to solve it. That builds our credibility and that’s what we come to work for.”

“We solve the problems other people can’t. Doing that alone always looks after the rest of our business.”

Paul Eastwood; CEO & Founder – Pollen Consulting Group 

Originally published for the Australian Financial review –29th Nov 2021