Supply Chain On The Brain

Steelyard talks with makers who are finding ways to overcome COVID-19 disruptions

Back when High Point Market exhibitors sold only to stocking dealers, 6-9 month lead times for orders placed during the show were not only normal – they were expected. Operating on the twice-a-year sales/production cycle that existed for apparel and home goods throughout most of the 20th century, buyers came to Spring Market to order ahead for fall and bought at Fall Market for spring.

HPMKT c. 1960: “Just sign on the dotted line, fellas, and we’ll have it to you in a year or so!”

But with the onset of the Great Recession and the rise of e-commerce in the early aughts, that reliable re-stocking rhythm got hugely disrupted. A new breed of trade buyer came on the scene, and they wanted to see orders turned around in days or weeks, not months. Their design clients and retail consumers had become trained by emerging e-commerce giants to demand ever-shortening lead times, and manufacturers were figuring out how to adjust.

HPMKT c. 2020: “Just FaceTimed my client; they love it. Can they have it by Friday?

Then came COVID-19, which ground much of the industry’s 2020 order-fulfillment capabilities to a halt. Supply chains clogged, production bogged, orders got backlogged, and buyers were in no mood to order anything at the Fall ‘20 Market from a company that still hadn’t filled their Fall ‘19 orders. That was about the time some of us started to consider ourselves lucky, if our order that was sitting in a container wasn’t in one of the containers that got tipped into the ocean.

After the initial shock of seeing everything go suddenly out of stock, most wholesale buyers began to make peace with the global supply-chain challenges. Though they are painful and tedious, they obviously pale in comparison to the life-threatening issues that affected so many in the pandemic. We’ve learned to dial back our customer’s lead-time expectations to a 6-9 month estimate, a groaning-ly ironic throwback to the old days.

But not every brand is battling backorders. Some are working aggressively to get ahead of the supply-chain issues.

Scott McKearn, VP of Sales for Dôme Deco says, “We are aggressively growing our immediate delivery program. We have a section of our website dedicated to those goods that we can quick-ship from our Bayonne, New Jersey warehouse. Our first two years distributing in the U.S, we stocked very little here and leveraged the large inventory we hold in Belgium. As the business has developed over here, we have prioritized supporting our designers and dealers by holding stock of our bestsellers in the U.S.”

When it comes to upholstery, Dôme Deco recognized that these times call for a deep in-stock inventory. “Our upholstered pieces have always been available to order in a couple of dozen fabrics. Now, we are nailing down a bestselling neutral fabric for each frame and stocking the piece in that fabric.”

Dôme Deco Lugano Sectional

Lighting brand Crystorama has always featured ready-to-ship items in their showroom, whether it’s a new collection or a classic bestseller. “Everything on display in June in our High Point showroom will be shipping items”, says Ryan Ranzino, VP Sales of Crystorama. “I can confirm that nothing will be featured at the show that has not already arrived at our NY warehouse as an initial shipment.”

But he does add a caveat: “That being said, I am not guaranteeing we have any given exact item SKU in stock during Market. Everything is a moving target and impossible to keep up with this far out!”

Fair enough – all the more reason to get to the showroom and put your order in!

Crystorama Xavier Collection Pendants

But even brands that are completely custom and made-to-order can surprise you when it comes to turnaround, if their manufacturing is local and centralized. Gretchen Keith, Vice President of Marketing and Brand Management at Kindel Grand Rapids says, “While we have considered stock options in the past, right now this is not a likely scenario for us. However, we have learned recently that, being made in Michigan, we do not have the logistical issues many importers have encountered from the pandemic. That means, while we may be restricted by the speed of our workflow and backlog, we don’t have to worry about shipping logistics.”

But all is not lost if you’re looking for a quick fix. She adds: “While we do not typically offer our showroom samples, this year we are offering a fair amount of showroom samples to sell, so technically those would be available as a quick-ship.” (Shhh, you didn’t hear it here!)

These are just a few of the exhibitors who are finding ways to keep goods moving along today’s knotted supply chains. As the industry continues to emerge, getting goods in customers’ hands will continue to be a high priority. Be sure to ask the exhibitors you visit this June about their plans for the coming months.We’re sure our industry’s innovators will continue to show they’re equal to even this once-in-a-century challenge.

About Steelyard

Developed to simplify the way designers source, Steelyard puts a panoply of furnishings resources at its members’ fingertips. One password-protected login provides access to trade pricing and the ability to send and track direct inquiries to the vendor with one click. As all Steelyard members are vetted professional architects or designers, suppliers respond quickly, confident that they are dealing with a qualified lead.