Remember when store shelves emptied out in March of 2020? From toilet paper to furniture to electronics, product shortages became commonplace — and many businesses are still playing catch up. There is one positive from those early pandemic days. It shone a blindingly bright light on breakdowns in the supply chain, bringing an otherwise backburner issue to the forefront.
But a cursory understanding of supply chains isn’t good enough for business leaders. They need a strong understanding to prevent problems and capitalize on potential opportunities their competitors might not see.
We explored the issue in Supply + Demand: The Real Cost of Doing Business — the first event in a series developed by Stimulus, Project W, and Black & Brown Founders. It explored supply chain issues, industry trends, optimizing sustainability in the supply chain, and offered a few growth hacks.
- Martha Montoya is the Founder and CEO AgTools, a food supply platform offering real-time news and information to farmers and agriculture buyers.
- Beau Wangtrakuldee is the Founder and CEO of AmorSui, an eco-friendly supplier of PPE for the inclusive workforce. A professional chemist, Wangtrakuldee suffered a chemical spill that nearly cost her life due to inadequate protective gear — leading her to launch the business well before the pandemic took PPE mainstream.
- Melissa Lamarre is the Founder and CEO of Mel’s Butter Blends. Her company manufactures hair and skincare products with natural ingredients.
Here are seven takeaways from the event:
1. Large corporations should prioritize local sources. It’s a challenge for smaller vendors to break in with large corporations because they already have deals with much larger partners. “It sounds good in theory for a hospital or healthcare system to support more diverse and smaller local businesses, but the truth is that they already signed an exclusive contract with larger vendors,” said Wangtrakuldee. She said those businesses need a shift in mindset to give smaller vendors a shot.
2. Getting a product in a physical store comes with hidden costs. While gaining a coveted spot on a store shelf may seem like an ideal goal for a lesser-known company, it comes with costs you may not have considered — meaning your margins might need adjusting. Consider the cost of displays you’ll use in stores. “You have to pay to get that stuff created,” said Lamarre. “Those stores are not going to magically create it for you.”
3. To grow faster, plan and prepare. Lamarre said planning and forecasting are essential to understanding the seasonality of your business and knowing your peak periods. “I need to make sure I’m ordering all of my supplies in advance so that if there are any issues, I still have what I need to hit my production goals,” she said.
4. Present data in a user-friendly way. “Big Data” has been a buzzphrase recently, but there’s a downside to massive amounts of information. “I think we’re a little bit overwhelmed with data,” said Montoya. “How do we make it simpler for us human beings to absorb the data?” The answer is to present the numbers in a compelling and appealing way and “try to entertain when we provide data,” she said.
5. Ease supply chain worries by sourcing as locally as possible. Raw materials and products that come from overseas often have hidden costs. Wangtrakuldee explained that in the PPE industry, Chinese-made disposable masks and gowns can be bad for the environment, and subject to delays as they travel across the world. “We have created a really easy way for hospitals and clinics to leverage 100% made and sourced products in the U.S.,” she said.
6. Leverage software to promote sustainability. Wangtrakuldee’s company built a fully automated platform with a tracking system to make washable, usable, and recyclable PPE easier for clinics and hospitals to purchase. With this technology, AmorSui can show customers the impact of sustainable purchases sourced in the United States. It’s an example of how leveraging modern technology can help a lesser-known vendor stand out.
7. Women are already supply chain experts. Women already know how to manage the complexities of family and career — which should give female-founded companies a leg up in the supply chain business. “We women have been doing supply chain all our lives,” said Montoya. “We’re very supply chain inclined, in many areas. We are good, but we need to capitalize on that.”
The April event was the first in a series that will take place throughout 2021. In August, panelists will dive deeper into navigating supply chain issues for consumer packaged goods. In October, the third event will consider digital and blockchain in the supply chain. To sign up for the free events, visit https://dwtevents.com/supply+demand/.