If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then the supply chain we as an industry depend upon so much for our survival is indeed, very fragile. In fact, as of late, we can see several “links” that are in desperate need of repair.
Before the pandemic, few of us ever really gave it much thought: We pulled into our distributor’s parking lot and walked in to see wall-to-wall products stacked all the way to the ceiling. Oh sure, every once in a while, a product or tool might have been on back order. Perhaps the manufacturer got hit by a storm, or some other issue slowed supply. But it was nothing to the extent we face now.
Our techs go through a lot of disposable gloves, for example. Even when times were good, it was a challenge just to keep the shop stocked. Now, it’s almost impossible. When you could find them, there were very few left on the shelves. The cost more than quadrupled, and you were usually rationed as to how many you could buy.
Online, what used to be just a click away is now replaced with the words Out of Stock.
My distributor representative helps me however he can. But I can hear the frustration in his voice on the phone, when he tells me so many of the things I want are on back order.
When I do get my order finalized, the products come in a few boxes at a time. One from Atlanta, Ga.; two from Tampa, Fla.; one from Jacksonville, Fla.; and it goes on. They’re shipped by UPS, FedEx and USPS; on some days, these trucks roll in twice a day. It is indeed a yeoman effort on the distributor’s part, and I’m thankful to get these supplies so I can keep my operation going. However, trying to figure out my inventory and implement a plan just to stay ahead is just one more strain on my company.
WHO’S TO BLAME?
As I understand it, there were many factors at work that brought us to this situation. The worldwide spread of COVID-19 and the related consequences didn’t help, either. So here we are, left in a predicament, hoping that the chain doesn’t snap altogether.
In the meantime, we’ve got to move ahead, adjust to our new reality and keep our ships afloat.
3 TIPS FOR SHORING UP
This fall, I focused on three factors I knew I could control:
- Product waste is a huge issue at any time, but especially now. Look in even your best technician’s truck, and you may find a forgotten tube of gel bait that rolled underneath the rig, or some glue boards wet and contaminated from a leaky hose.
- Routes were tightened to save time and fuel. We also set up a white board in the shop so I can easily see what and how much product each tech takes from the storage room shelves.
- Purchasing, and the way I do it, was probably my biggest adjustment. I still go through my distributor representative for nearly everything I need. But whereas before I would place small orders for just-in-time shipping, I changed tactic. Using the white board tracking system allowed me to more accurately predict how much I would need for the next six months. And yikes, even with us minimizing waste and optimizing routes, it was a lot.
For me, this was a big bite. But this is where my distributor representative really stepped up to the plate. He took my list, found every sale he could, suggested a few switches and even recommended that I wait to place the order until a couple of more bargains would be available. I’m thankful that my rep is not one of the weakest links.
These are easy and, in hindsight at least, obvious fixes. At first, I was a bit fearful that I was going to come off to my team as a micromanager. I am happy to report that instead, everyone bought in quickly because they are taking similar steps in their own households.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the direction this world is going in. However, if the chain finally breaks, at least I’ll have some rope to hang on to.