Time to Shine: Turning Supply Chain Challenges Into Opportunities
We are all hoping the worst of this once in a century catastrophe is behind us. It certainly is not over, but the promotional products market indicators are headed in the right direction—and quickly. It may be a rough ride for a while as the supply chain levels out and makes corrections to this unprecedented spike in activity. The challenges of low inventories, labor shortages, operating costs and price increases are presenting all of us with the in-your-face opportunity to demonstrate our value in the traditional supply channel for the next six months. (The consensus appears to be similar chaotic times until Q1 2022, or post Chinese New Year before we reach a more reliable and restocked supply chain).
The resources and systems we have developed and honed put us in the optimal spot to outshine the more direct industry disruptors in these more complicated times, whether it be factory-direct importing or direct sales to clients. We have always sustained and grown our businesses by providing relief at the friction points along the way, but the expertise, amount of extra time and work that is currently required to manage these most basic problems in delivering solutions needs to be pointed out clearly to the next customer down the chain. This is our opportunity to tout our strengths and demonstrate our value to our customers.
It is time to tap the brain trusts of our organizations and creatively find solutions while managing our businesses as profitably and efficiently as possible. Fresh ideas using different products, for example, has been the most basic modus operandi for our industry and is the natural solution to combat current inventory and delivery challenges. At this moment, it also fits the bill for the marketing department (well, everyone) who is so ready to put the recent past behind us and present something new to their audiences.
Suppliers need to be as proactive as possible in communicating the delivery and pricing challenges. We need to be immediately and creatively suggesting substitutions and timing options to help provide a positive resolution and outcome to the client. Let distributors know what we are doing in both production and sourcing to help mitigate and correct the problems as we are responding to demand and supply challenges, being upfront even about uncertainties. Present both new and proven product success stories to help distributors who are looking for product substitutions from both us and other suppliers.
Distributors need to reach out to their clients proactively and explain how your industry is not immune to the supply, importing and pricing challenges that they are facing everyday as consumers. Let them know you are working with your trusted network of factories and suppliers and will find solutions for them. Assure them you are working hard to help your clients and get through these current challenges painlessly for them. Now is the time to talk to them about getting their Q4 holiday orders in so you can have first dibs at the inventory that is and will be available.
Bottom line: It is about being better than Amazon now—and not “Amazon Promo” (whatever that is currently). The immediacy/consumer mentality of buyers, at every step in the supply channel, is definitely here to stay. We have an opportunity to surpass expectations, but first we need to communicate and set realistic expectations that match the times. Then, humility needs to take a back seat to pointing out how you came through successfully, overcoming unprecedented challenges to make your buyers look great.
Mark Jenkins, managing director of Pioneer Balloon Co., has been involved in the promotional products industry for more than three decades. He has led the national sales and marketing efforts of three different suppliers. Jenkins is a road warrior, traveling nationally an average of 36 weeks per year, visiting distributors and participating in trade shows, sales meetings and industry events. A former PPAI board member and chair, he has been active in volunteering, bringing his industry knowledge, perspective and leadership to the table. Visit his website here.