Overcoming sudden distribution industry challenges

 In Best Practices, Inventory Management

Distribution in the Time of Coronavirus

Distribution challenges

It’s been stunning to see how quickly life in the United States has changed as a result of the coronavirus. We watched from afar for a time, but now it’s here in our states, our cities, and our personal lives. Life has been upended for many — as distribution professionals, how should we cope?

In volatile times like these, two extremes emerge. Some distributors find themselves faced with severe spikes in demand that result in shortages, and others plunge into a free fall as supply chains crumble, demand dries up, or the workforce evaporates.

Strategies to combat extreme times

Planning ahead is your best tool when fighting to keep your distribution business afloat, extreme times or normal. Hopefully, you’ve done that already by accumulating the right amount of safety stock, establishing reliable supply chains, and putting careful thought into the physical location of your warehouses.

But if you’ve fallen short on some of these considerations, or if your best-laid plans turned out to be a bit misguided, there are steps you can take to help right the ship.

Bring your ERP solution online to increase productivity

If you’re already operating from a cloud-based ERP solution, awesome! You can go ahead and skip this section.

For those of you feeling tethered to on-premises ERP software, though, we’ve got a suggestion. Explore your options for accessing your ERP solution online. Even if your business never used an online version of your ERP system in the days before the coronavirus sent everyone home, your provider may very well have a stopgap ready for you, or offer an online feature that you weren’t previously utilizing.

One of the best things you can do right now, as a distributor, is to take stock of the current crisis and consider what lessons you will take from it.

SalesPad Desktop users, for example, can turn to WebPortal, our online order management platform. While WebPortal won’t provide you with the full SalesPad Desktop experience, you’ll at least be able to keep your inventory on the move, even if your offices are looking a little emptier than normal. And in today’s scramble to keep those shelves stocked, every little bit counts. 

Look to a mobile solution to equip home-bound employees

On a similar note, consider your mobile capabilities. If your ERP solution doesn’t have an online component, does it have a mobile one? If it didn’t pre-coronavirus era, has your provider come up with one in the meanwhile?

Investing in mobile technology is almost certainly a wise decision in today’s hyper-connected day and age. Mobile solutions empower companies to conduct business faster, and from almost anywhere. They give you a competitive edge in more normal times, and in the challenging times, they can be a business lifesaver.

Set some boundaries to keep inventory availability fair

Let’s look next at a measure that can help you in a more specific way than cloud or mobile technology: blocked items.

When faced with a crisis, some people react by purchasing to an extent that is not necessary, and frankly, not fair. They hoard. Businesses can react this way too, racing to stock up on all of your available inventory, leaving none for your other customers.

To use an obvious example, consider hand sanitizer. While an individual only needs maybe five bottles of hand sanitizer to last them several months, some have gone to extremes and purchased entire cases or more for their own personal use. Not only is this behavior irrational — it is unfair and poses a danger to public health.

Some businesses take advantage of this panic buying by price gouging. This violates fair-pricing principles, and in most cases is illegal activity. But beyond not participating in price gouging, what can you as a distributor do to combat hoarding or other unfair behavior?

Take advantage of blocked items functionality. In SalesPad Desktop, users can block items from automatically allocating on a sales document. Before a transaction can proceed, someone from your company needs to manually approve the sale. So, if you distribute supplies that are in unusually high demand or should only be sold to certain customers right now, blocked items gives you greater control over that inventory.

Work from home

Today’s challenges inform tomorrow’s preparations

Ok. Take a breath. Shake out those shoulders. Wash your hands. Sanitize your warehouse. Repeat.

Whether you are sheltering in place or bracing for the moment when you’re ordered to do so, odds are high that your home office is about to get a lot more use for the next month or more. Your customers are in the same boat, though, and so is your competition. That doesn’t mean that the distribution wheels have to grind to a halt or even slow down. It just means that we all have to adapt.

Take care of your customers now more than ever

No matter your particular situation, it’s almost certain that at least some of your customers are feeling the strain in some way. Stress levels are high. Take this as a prime opportunity to show up for your customers in a big way.

Planning ahead is your best tool when fighting to keep your distribution business afloat, extreme times or normal.

Take a good long look at your CSR software and strategy. Does it support responding to customer needs quickly, efficiently, and compassionately?

At SalesPad, we adhere to a business principle we refer to as #peoplefirst. We feel that it’s reflected not only in our customer service performance as a company, but also in the customer service functionality that we build into all of our products. An ERP solution should provide you with the tools you need to provide excellent customer service in any circumstances. If your customer service strategy is lacking, we highly recommend looking into ways to amend that as soon as you can.

Reinforce your supply chain, and consider contingency plans

As a country, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to supply chains. But they’re under tremendous pressure right now. Some, unfortunately, are buckling beneath it.

If your supply chain has been affected by these current circumstances, you might be stuck for a while. But take this opportunity to evaluate what went wrong, where the weak spots are, and what you can do to remedy the situation once a degree of normalcy has returned. Are you hurting because you really needed third-party logistics help? Maybe fourth-party?

On the other hand, if you are one of those distributors whose business is thriving right now because your supply chain has the strength to endure these hard times, congratulations! Good on you for laying that groundwork and reaping the rewards now. Consider reaching out to those distributors or other businesses who are struggling, though. Do you have the bandwidth to take on some additional business, or the resources to offer free help to suppliers or services who really need it right now? When we do our part to safely help our neighbors in need, we all benefit. Get creative with it. We’re all in this together.

Learn from the current situation and emerge stronger for it

One of the best things you can do right now, as a distributor, is to take stock of the current crisis and consider what lessons you will take from it. Whether you need to add some flexibility to your ERP or other business software, expand your inventory selling options, invest in some supply chain improvements, or make other changes, there’s no time like the present to dive deep into what you can do to strengthen your operations.

The operations experts at SalesPad are eager to help — we want to see businesses not only survive the coronavirus pandemic, but tap into their growth potential as well. If you want to learn more about how SalesPad can help strengthen your business operations, reach out to us today!

Strengthen your operations

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