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How to manage customers when the supply chain is unpredictable

Customers need special attention during supply chain issues

Industry News | February 4, 2022 | By: John Moravec

Most people in the U.S., at least those who follow the news to any degree, should know what problems business is having with the supply chain — and because business customers and consumers are having the same issues, they should have some sort of sympathy.

At least for a while.

Fabricators are an optimistic bunch who are working hard to mitigate the impact of Covid, the supply chain issues, labor shortages and everything else that is going on. And they know it isn’t going to be this way for forever. But for the time being, they are finding ways to get the work done, and here offer some advice and how they go about things in an uncertain world.

“You have to set expectations to a certain degree, says Cindy Thompson, founder and president of Transformit, Inc., a design/build studio on Gorham, Me. “If we want a job, we have to tell people it’s going to take three months, not a month.”

Another tactic is urging clients to close jobs earlier.  “That way we can get started in enough time to get supplies,” Thompson explains. “We’re begging people to do that. But if they can’t, they can’t. A lot of our clients are not the end users and can only move so fast.”

“In this environment, it’s important to look at different ways of doing things,” she adds. “We find ways of doing things, but sometimes we run out of choices, which is really hard for a small business.”

“One thing we have done is increase our communications with customers,” says Peter Weingartner, president of Queen City Awning in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Maybe the fabric pattern they chose originally is not available, but in some cases, they can select a different pattern. We try to keep customers informed based on materials.”

One big issue, according to Weingartner, is the uncertainty about pricing jobs, and how that impacts each job. “Typically, with a commercial job, been able to bid that project, and say that project didn’t come to an order for a couple months, we’ve usually been able to hold our pricing on that.”

“Now, when we get the order we have to go back and review the quote to make sure we can still buy the materials at that price,” he explains, “and often times the materials have gone up. So we certainly have to qualify that on our quotes.”

“Sometimes,” Weingartner adds, “we’ve actually gone to different suppliers or to a different brand of fabric to try and supplement the fabrics that are available.”

“Customers seem to be understanding,” Weingartner says. “But it will be interesting in the new year. I’m not sure if that’s going to continue to be the case. There are a lot of unknowns at this point.”

One thing that helps, according to Weingartner, is that homeowners are becoming more savvy about the purchasing process. “They’ve been investigating the resources that are available online,” he says. “In some situations, when we go out to meet with them, they are ready to purchase that point, they’ve done the research already, and they know that in the current business climate, it takes a lot of lead time to get materials, so they are often anxious to get the order going.”

“Our customers that are connected closely understand the challenges we have,” adds Alex Kouzmanoff, president of Aztec Tents in Torrance, Calif. “Certainly, there are some people out there that think this global supply disturbance is just a container problem from China to North America that is the source of the delay. The bottom line is that there is an amount of demand that right now far exceeds our ability to supply. It will in time settle back down and stabilize. But when that is we don’t know.”

“I have two or three huge jobs on the books that should have been finished over a month ago,” says Christian Cain, president of Camel Custom Canvas Shop in Knoxville, Tenn. “But I don’t have the material in yet, and it’s important for me to tell them the truth — I just can’t get your material.”

“I can offer them alternatives I know I can get, whether it’s from the same vendor or another,” adds Cain. “Whatever the case, I just need to make sure I am trying to help them.”

Jeff Moravec is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

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