|Canadian Defence Review
January 14, 2016
Logistik Unicorp: taking managed uniform services to the next level
Louis Bibeau revolutionized the way military clothing is designed, maintained and distributed. His next move: partnering with the Canadian Armed Forces to take its managed services offering to the next level.
Like most company owners, Louis Bibeau is proud of its facilities. His eyes beam as he takes visitors through its product development, sample making, manufacturing, IT and quality assurance departments. However the president of Logistik Unicorp, one of the world’s most innovative military clothing providers, refuses to take credit for its progress.
“It was a team effort,” says Bibeau. “We have a solid base of employees, suppliers and customers who are always open to new ideas. For example our partnership with the Department of National Defence was a major lynchpin in our success. Not only did it enable us to keep Canadian Armed Forces personnel better supplied, equipped and dressed than ever before, it also provided a good base for us to build our international presence on.”
Military uniform providers operate under enormous pressure. Soldiers adhere to strict dress codes and have few direct choices in the shirts, socks, jackets and even undergarments they wear, often for long periods of time, under extreme conditions. That means Logistik Unicorp has to supply high quality, cutting edge products, fast, throughout Canada and often to personnel on overseas deployments.
Innovating: a managed uniform services originator
Bibeau was quick to recognize and adapt to these challenges and constraints. The former public servant worked both in the diplomatic corps and later upper management, where he got a chance to visit many of the country’s top clothing manufacturers. Bibeau quickly realized that while private sector providers were highly innovative and productive, few knew how to deal effectively with public sector clients.
Bursting with ideas, he acquired a small tie company which supplied Canada Post. That tie division, which remains part of Logistik Unicorp, formed the base of what today is the major provider of the Canadian Armed Forces’ distinctive environmental uniforms (DEU) for the Army, Navy and Air Force. “Getting an order from the Department of National Defence wasn’t easy,” says Bibeau. “We started bidding early and won some initial contracts.
However federal procurement personnel were having persistent troubles with other providers. They kept coming back and giving us more work.”
One of Bibeau’s major insights was that uniforms and other clothing and related items could best be provided though “managed services” solutions, that included a mix of design, production, sub-contracting, procurement, quality assurance, warehousing and distribution, based on client needs. “Color consistency is crucial,” says Bibeau. “One military branch we recently took on told us that they had existing uniforms in about a dozen different shades. That was clearly unacceptable.”
Today Logistik Unicorp’s manages uniform supply chains for range of corporate and governmental organizations, in Canada and international markets. Canadian Armed Forces contracts are supplied by 185 employees based at the company’s LEED Gold-certified facility, in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Quebec. The campus is located about 20 minutes south of Montreal, near the Department of National Defence’s 2nd Canada Division Support Group’s unit, where more than 4,000 new recruits are trained each year.
To ensure the highest standards, Logistik Unicorp maintains strict controls over the cloth and other inputs that it procures for uniforms, many of which are produced by a network of specialized sewing shops, as well as the finished products, which are identified and tracked using RFID technology.
More than 80,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel deal with Logistik Unicorp directly, by opening secure personal online accounts. They take and enter in their own measurements into the platform and are sent standard issue kit, often in as little as three days. They then have access to a “virtual closet,” of credits that they can access to order more articles as needed.
Innovation: multi-layered solutions
Carlos Agudelo, the company’s director of research and development, provides a perfect example of Logistik Unicorp’s in-house talent. Bibeau’s ability to lure the brilliant engineering PhD, who is specialized in material science, away from a local university, provides a clue as to one source of his growing success. “He offered me a golden opportunity to put my research into practice,” says the Columbia-born native. “I couldn’t resist.” Those talents are playing out well in a recent Soldier Systems Program Management-related initiative to look into ways to improve current uniform layering systems in the Armed Forces. Key areas to be studied include moisture management, ergonomics, human factors and the use of smarter fabrics.
Agudelo admits that the work is far from the ivory towers he is used to. “We test all of our ideas in the shop through a range of strict procedures,” says Agudelo. “These include stress, heat and cold tests, as well as multiple passes through washers and dryers, often with beads in the machines, to see whether the clothing will tear and how long it will last in rigorous conditions. But we also go out in the field with the soldiers as well as in their daily work environments, for extended periods of time, to see how the gear performs in real life trials.”
Leveraging international experience
One of Logistik Unicorp’s growing advantages is the company’s increasing presence on the global stage. This provides not only returns to scale, which enable the company to produce product more economically, but also to take lessons learned in one country and to apply them, if relevant, in others. One example is the company’s Australian Defence Apparel (ADA) subsidiary. The Melbourne-based unit, which employs 180 people and whose origins go back more than a century, recently won major contracts related to the Australian Defence Force’s load carriage equipment (LCE) program. These include wet and foul weather, non-combat (service dress, mess dress etc…) and under garment clothing.
In an ultimate validation of Logistik Unicorp’s innovative business model, its Australian subsidiary also inked a letter of intent with the Australian Defence Forces to provide overall supply chain management similar to what the parent company provides the Canadian Armed Forces with the Department of National Defence’s existing Consolidated Clothing Contract (C3).
In Australia, as in Canada, innovations in Logistik Unicorp’s defence-related work has provided a platform which it has leveraged to build its civilian business. For example the Australian division recently picked up a major contract with Toll, a leading integrated logistics provider, as well orders for corporate apparel and image-wear for Ergon Energy a major electrical utility company.
One key player in Logistik Unicorp’s international strategy is Larry Lashkevich, its director of business development. Lashkevich, who joined the company following a long career with the Canadian Armed Forces, where he reached the rank of Brigadier-General, now heads its Ottawa office, which he uses as a base to develop foreign business initiatives. So far the response from clients has been extremely positive. “They are very impressed with the managed services concept,” says Lashkevich. “Many countries’ armed forces still operate using the old model, consisting of dozens of supply depots, in which huge amounts of redundant or unused inventory accumulates. Inventory turnover ratios are often atrocious and there is thus huge waste. Dealing with us offers international clients a substantial advantage as much of the software platforms that we have developed here can be easily adapted for overseas use.”
The good news is that the international work has also had a positive impact on staffing in Canada, which has increased by about 5% during the past year, says Matthew Rosenberg, director of Logistik Unicorp’s uniform program. “We have been gradually increasing our workforce,” says savvy garment industry veteran. “However due to the highly technical nature of much of our work it is increasingly difficult to find people with the right qualifications for certain positions. The good news is that we are increasingly training new talent in-house, which of course makes them more productive, as they do things correctly right from the start.”
Logistik Unicorp’s ability to leverage its Canadian management talent and skillsets in growing its Australian division, was crucial to the latter unit’s success. However that knowledge flows both ways says Rosenberg. One example is the company’s contract to supply combat uniforms to the Australian Forces, which has provided Logistik Unicorp access to multi-layer insights that it can apply in Canada. “We pay close attention to what uniform providers across the globe are doing, particularly in countries such as Norway and Russia, where soldiers operate in tough Northern climates,” says Rosenberg. “We also recently opened a procurement hub in Vietnam to improve service international markets.”
Further penetration in the Canadian market
That international experience is going to be coming in handy during coming years as Canada’s Department of National Defence is going to be needing a lot of help on the uniform front. Bibeau is currently leading the development of a range of new ideas and proposals related to upcoming Consolidated Clothing Contract (C3) and Operational Clothing and Footwear Consolidated Contract (OCFC2) tenders. Logistik Unicorp’s “virtual closet,” database, should give it a leg up in the latter bid, because DND could substantially increase productivity if personnel could get more of their uniform kit from one source.
“Stakeholders are increasingly seeking to leverage the benefits of the prime vendor approach, to supply chain management,” says Bibeau. “These include reduced acquisition, overhead, inventory management and distribution costs. The success of the consolidated strategy adopted by PWGSC and DND has, since 1996, demonstrated that when government and industry work in true partnership, major innovations and productivity advantages can be achieved. That’s something we can all be proud of.”
Name: Logistik Unicorp.
President: Louis Bibeau
Contact: Matthew Rosenberg, director of uniform programs, 450-349-9711 (330)
Employees: 185 in Canada, 180 in Australia.
Defence related facilities: Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Australian Defence Apparel: Melbourne, Australia
Major opportunities in Canada: Consolidated Clothing Contract (C3), Operational Clothing and Footwear Consolidated Contract (OCFC2), Combat uniform multilayered research
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