03 Dec 2020

Supply chain heroes

In this tumultuous year, we saw RMI market fall like a stone and surge back in a sustained V-shaped recovery. As we enter another national lockdown, the surge in merchant sales shows little sign of waning.

In lockdown 2.0, the government says construction is essential, merchants should stay open, and those who work in other people’s homes can continue to do so safely.

With enforced quarantine giving homeowners the chance to review their properties with a critical eye and think about improvements, and with money accumulating faster in the bank than they can spend it, the surge in home improvement is likely to continue.

Merchants have been run off their feet and manufacturers haven’t always been able to open capacity fast enough and sometimes they ran out of key lines. Suppliers importing from abroad have also had to contend with clogged ports, ships mothballed, and sailors and containers marooned in the wrong places.

Outside the box performance

One thing we learned when the Government told everyone to stay at home in March, was that supply chains are complex and easily fractured, and it’s a lot harder to piece them back together again. Short of wartime, it’s hard to think of a time when construction supply chains have been subjected to such abrupt violence. Despite that they’ve reformed remarkably quickly, and people in many organisations stepped up a couple of gears and performed outside the box to overcome the obstacles and keep merchants, construction (and the NHS) going. They were true supply chain heroes.

We saw some great examples of supply chain heroes earlier this year. Here are a couple. Showering spaces manufacturer Lakes was quick to provide leadership when lockdown measures began easing back in May. Merchants were opening, but having to negotiate distancing, one-way systems, screens, sanitisers, masks and PPE – all while deciphering government advice that wasn’t always crystal clear. There was also something of a paralysis among bathroom installers. Other trades were working and clear how they could work safely outside the home, but bathroom installers were hanging back, uncertain if they’d be welcome inside the home. They weren’t sure how to operate safely in customers’ homes or how they could reassure customers, and bathroom product sales lagged behind.

Lakes took the initiative to produce two generic free ‘Safe Working in the Home’ guides – one for bathroom installers and one for homeowners – bringing together all the latest government and industry advice in two concise and easy to read leaflets. Distributed far and wide, the leaflets helped installers get back to work which benefitted the whole supply chain.

Lakes was also quick to recognise that this pandemic is accelerating the swing to digital sales channels. Homeowners increasingly start their sales journey online and then come into physical showrooms to complete it.

In July, Lakes launched a pioneering online showroom concept for its showering spaces. Hosted on merchant and stockist websites, online showrooms enable homeowners to learn and narrow down their selection from the comfort of their home and contacting showroom staff to complete their purchase. It’s a great example of breaking down boundaries, with suppliers bringing business direct to merchants. This kind of genuine partnership is extremely powerful because everyone works together towards a common goal – and the better the merchant does, the more successful the supplier becomes too.

Staying flexible in the long term

It’s becoming clear that we could be living with the pandemic for a long time. But the best supply chains adapt to cope with changes in the market and how they do sets benchmarks for businesses that want to survive an uncertain future.

Roofline and cladding manufacturer, Freefoam’s ‘Power of Many’ supply chain is an example. Freefoam sell solely through stockists and work extremely closely with independent merchants and their installer and housebuilder customers. Freefoam’s Newbuild Manager Simon Parrott explains: “We offer extensive support to stockists and their housebuilder customers, from a scheduling service and technical support in the specification process, right through to regular, reliable deliveries and on-site assistance when needed. But more than that we work closely with stockists’ supply chains including installers and housebuilders as true partners to make sure projects run smoothly.”

In a market where the norm is for everyone to keep their cards to their chest to maximise their own best interests, it’s a refreshingly successful approach. Through transparency, trust and acting as a team, everyone in the supply chain achieves more – and each link in the chain benefits.

Now more than ever, supply chains need to work closely together for the good of all. Like a good football or rugby team, when everyone moves smoothly in synch with each other, teams become virtually unstoppable.

The secret to success in a post-COVID world is working with the supply heroes who adapted successfully and quickly to the new environment and made it easier for the whole supply chain to work. It’s time to name and celebrate these supply chain heroes.

If you’d like help growing your business, even in the toughest markets, call MRA Marketing on 01453 521621 or email mike@mra-marketing.com

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