Inbound Logistics: Playing the Name Game

“You are so much more than just inbound.”
“Inbound Logistics…is this a magazine about importing?”
“Why do you cover only inbound transportation?”

So why do we call the magazine Inbound Logistics? Over the years, I have been asked this question, and at a logistics trade show in Chicago last month, I was asked it repeatedly. “Were all the good magazine names taken?” asked one smartmouth.

It is true that, while the other publications serving this market have changed their names to “stay current” on the latest trend or buzzword, we have always been “Inbound.” Like the business philosophy it represents, we think the name is timeless.

Philosophy? Well, at the risk of going all Zen on you, yes, philosophy. There are fundamental philosophical differences between the outbound and inbound practices of managing the flow of product or raw materials. Both approaches are valid. But we believe in the philosophy of flipping the accepted belief of pushing product at the market and beginning to pull materials and product into your facilities, and allowing your customers to pull product through you.

That philosophy doesn’t sound odd now. But in 1980, when the magazine was founded, it was certainly counterculture. Those of us who are old enough to remember the late 1970s remember the concerns of stagflation and flight of manufacturing facilities to offshore locations. Thomas Publishing, our parent and publisher of The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, believed that stateside manufacturers and others would be better global competitors if they cast the management spotlight on the inbound pipeline of materials. So they started this counterculture magazine—with no readers, no advertisers, and no practitioners to speak of. Oh, and we gave it an odd name. We love doing things the hard way around here.

When we first began publishing, few readers actually had inbound transportation programs. Some began with traffic managers who assiduously followed their customers’ routing guides, and purchasing managers who created ones of their own for their vendors. For them, pipeline visibility was delivered via phone. And different functions in the same company often were operating in a silo—competing for company resources, not collaborating. We felt that acceptance of the inbound philosophy might spur inter-function cooperation, replacing the silo approach that provided functional optimization while sub-optimizing the whole.

And so while business managers went about their business back then, shipping product out, managing warehouses, sourcing and trying to drive efficiencies in company operations, some were brought together by an idea—from corner office to frontlines. That idea was called “inbound.” Today, some call it managing the supply/demand chain. No matter what you call it, it is as important a business philosophy today as it was back then.

So then, it’s “inbound.” And we won’t be changing our philosophy—or the magazine’s name—anytime soon.