While every national or global crisis has it's own specific challenges, it’s clear many small businesses can experience a delay or complete interruption in their supply chains when things go wrong.
Whether it’s the needed supplies to run your business, such as paper goods or cooking oil, or actual merchandise to sell, the unknown nature of the global pandemic will continue to make finding suppliers a challenge.
The Fragile Supply Chain
This most recent global health crisis has revealed the fragility of the supply chain. According to an article in The Atlantic, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) found nearly “75 percent of the businesses it contacted in late February and early March reported some kind of supply-chain disruption due to the coronavirus. And 44 percent of the companies didn’t have a plan to deal with this kind of disruption.” ISM’s CEO, Tom Derry, told The Atlantic, that while this is “a little surprising...you have to realize there’s almost no industry sector—[in] manufacturing and nonmanufacturing—that isn’t reliant on China in the United States.”
What normally took a few days to move across the world or the country can take weeks or months. Even Amazon is feeling the effects from a shortage of stock, the increase of online orders and not enough workers to fulfill them all.
To get around the delays in normal supply operations, many small business owners are turning to local suppliers to keep inventory in stock.
When one Southern California sunglasses wholesaler found his orders from Chinese factories delayed by more than 45 days, he quickly contacted alternate sources to fill his orders. Adam Rizza, cofounder of Sunscape Eyewear, already had a backup network of local suppliers to call on when his regular international suppliers faced weeks of delays.
“We sourced goods from local distributors,” says Rizza, although he admits “it did affect our margins.”
A good backup plan is key to surviving a crisis situation. Part of that is establishing supportive, friendly relationships with others in your industry.
“We had good relationships with other eyewear distributors before we became one ourselves,” says Rizza. If you haven’t developed those relationships yet, start now—even if it’s with your competitors. “Most business owners are well aware of all the competitors in their space,” says Rizza, so it can be easier to start with them. “The one thing we have seen during this difficult time is that our competitors are coming together and helping one another.”
Finding New Supply Sources
In addition to reaching out to other local businesses for supplier recommendations, contact your city, county or state’s economic or business development offices. Check with the local chamber of commerce in your area for member lists. You can also get assistance from your local Small Business Development Center or SCORE office. Although face-to-face appointments are not available now, SCORE is offering remote mentoring appointments.
Online marketplaces are a good place to source products, just be sure to check stock levels and delivery estimates for the best outcome. Websites such as Shopify, Amazon Business, and Alibaba all have both international and domestic suppliers ready to make deals.
When you’re creating a new supplier network, investigate new suppliers in North and Central America as well as around the world. Choose new suppliers from different regions so you’re not stuck in case of a regional disaster. Establish these relationships as soon as you can, you don’t want to wait until the next calamity to get to know these suppliers.
You also need to check in with your current transportation providers. Do they offer multiple methods of getting your products to you? If not, consider expanding your transportation network as well. It’s important to do business with a company that can pivot from one transportation method to another when necessary.
No one knows when the coronavirus pandemic will start to abate globally. Take the time explore and expand your supplier contacts so the next time supply chains freeze up, you’ll be prepared.
Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned. All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky.
Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2020 Bank of America Corporation