From coffee shops to hardware stores, home appliances to automobiles, food at grocery stores and restaurants, lumber, paint, clothing, eggs, and even DMEPOS…. how many times have you heard the phrase “supply chain issues” in the last few years? Along with a crippling pandemic, staffing shortages, and a couple major equipment recalls, supply chain issues were something we all had to cope with and learn to work around in the marketplace. It became an almost mantra-like excuse, explaining away why goods were not available, or why there were delays, or why the cost of product and shipping was rising so dramatically.
The DME industry, like other sectors of our economy, was not spared. Visions of tanker/carriers sitting off the coast of Long Beach Harbor were rampant on the evening news; and many DME owners and insiders wondered how many oxygen concentrators, PAP devices, and boxes of bent metal DME products were onboard those ships. Suppliers made excuses, local sales reps tried to accommodate as many of their best customers as possible, and we scrounged and bought supplies for “retail price” to resell. It was a desperate time and a new reality about how the industry works that wasn’t very positive.
But, a funny thing happened during these desperate times. Adversity builds character. Or as a philosopher once said---and I’m paraphrasing here—"Adversity doesn’t so much build character as reveal it.” And this extremely challenging time helped some companies grow stronger and build, or at least reveal, a stronger character!
Companies found alternative suppliers, alternative products, they shared their resources, they banded together in some cases to support the collective (industry). In short, they adapted to the new realities and refined and revised their business processes to address these challenges and roadblocks.
Some of the creative ways that companies dealt with this new supply chain paradigm included the following techniques:
- Find new “alternative” products. Is there a product out there you can substitute that has the same clinical efficacy that IS available?
- Find new suppliers. While most of the suppliers faced the same issues, wholesalers and manufacturers were certainly scrambling to gain more market share because of what was happening in the marketplace. In some cases, a particular supplier might have had a different pipeline. Some of these suppliers were eager to impress new customers with their products and the efficiency with which they could deliver it.
- Stockpile when you can find/buy product. It was not a good time to practice conservative inventory control. When a product was available, many companies took as many as they could get—even if it exceeded their normal inventory levels, stretched their pocketbooks a bit more than usual, or meant crowding product into a warehouse.
- Increase inventory tracking. Companies did inventory more often, so that they understood what they had on hand at any given time. The more current that information is or was, the better able to plan for the future a company becomes. Know what your company has on hand so that you are able to…...
- Avoid over-promising. Successful companies tamped down expectations and were careful not to set themselves up for disappointing customers by not over-promising. Present the facts to your customers with a “we’re all in this together” attitude.
- Communicate. Communicate. To expand on the “avoid over-promising” point, keeping customers in the loop on order status was –and is—the best defense against unhappy customers. Although the supply chain issues and your company’s inability to get product might not be your fault, failure to keep customers informed is on you! I talked to a company that actually started a company newsletter which they emailed out to all their customers. They sent the newsletter out every week to ten days during the most challenging periods. This PAP company scrambled impressively around a product recall and supply chain issues, but managed to hold on to a lot of existing and potential customers simply by keeping them informed of their progress in getting CPAP devices and supplies into the store.
Conventional wisdom is that these supply chain issues are here to stay. Accept that and readjust your procedures, protocols, and practices to adapt to this new reality. Using some of these creative coping “hacks” will decrease your stress level and make you a more efficient company.