The consciousness of supply chain
Prior to COVID-19, how many of us had heard of or thought that much about supply chain issues? The concept of supply chain dates back to the early 1980s but may not resonate with those not directly affected by it. However, many of us are being impacted by it today.
The supply chain is the way that goods and services – durable and consumable goods we use and depend on and the professional and personal services we engage to help us – get from production to the marketplace and eventually us. It may sound simple, but there are many moving parts involves. All it takes is a breakdown or glitch in one of the steps along the way, and we are faced with the prospects of doing without what we want or need – at least in the shorter and possibly permanently.
The impact of COVID-19
Over the past year, we have witnessed many delays relating to supply chain issues. We may recall that in the push to develop the vaccines that are now available that the term supply chain was used in many of those conversations and announcements. The raw materials or ingredients to be used in the various vaccines had to be available in such quantities that the vaccines could be developed and widely deployed. Any hiccups in available resources would not be acceptable.
Early on in the pandemic response, and to a lesser extent now, all we had to do to see firsthand about supply chain issues was to visit our local grocery store or convenience center and see some of the empty shelves. People cleaned off the shelves for commonly used items, and getting them resupplied took days. Some still are not available a year later.
Over the past several months, bottled water (gallons and liters), peanut butter, toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants and other cleaning supplies, pasta, cereal, and a host of other commonly used household items are intermittently not on the shelf. Some shelves remain barren for weeks at a time even though the stores themselves are doing their best to keep up with demand and restocking their shelves as quickly as they have the products in inventory – to the extent they get the items.
However, they cannot put products on the shelves that they do not have in their storeroom. This brings up the supply chain issue for us. As manufacturers are shortchanged on the raw materials they need to put into what they produce, and as the demand for the finished product is so high that meeting that demand is a significant challenge, we find that there are shortages in what is available for us to acquire. What is rather surprising is that prices have not increased in a commensurate way.
Aging in place concerns
Supply chain issues manifest themselves in two ways for us in the aging in place market. First, as consumers and as consultants for our clients, the items that we recommend they have or that we want to see them use are in short supply or nonexistent. Second, the building materials or devices that we want our clients to use are unobtainable in the short term.
In some cases, there is no definite idea by the manufacturer or middleman as to when these out-of-stock items might be available. These clearly are supply chain issues that impact all of us that a year ago would not have concerned us. Now, we have to factor this into our equation of service and provision.
When we want to create a solution for our clients, we have to determine if the finished products that we want to install or the construction materials that go into creating such a solution are going to be available in the sizes, colors, finishes, and quantities that we need them. Sometimes, the selection is very limited. Sometimes, the items are indefinitely out of stock, and we must choose an alternate solution.
It’s on backorder
After doing the research and finding the perfect item online that we want to order for ourselves or a job for our clients, or locating it in store so we can actually inspect it in-person, and then learning that it is indefinitely unavailable is frustrating to the point of being upsetting. We spend the time learning about a product, reading reviews, comparing it with other available choices, having our clients agree to it, and putting it into our proposal to our clients only to learn that a particular item is unavailable. – possibly permanently.
Maybe we should determine that something is available before we get excited about it or tell our clients what we would like to install for them. This is thinking that we are experiencing now that we never had to do in the past. If something was temporarily unavailable due to a production glitch or a heavy demand for a certain color or finish, we knew that it was available in other styles or that it would be restocked on a certain date, and we could make the necessary adjustments. Now, many of the items we want simply are not going to be available anytime soon, if at all.