The hot topic for today is the impact of the coronavirus on product exports. Supply Chain, a vague term that is often misunderstood is now the darling of the hashtag wars. Whether you’re a merchant with vendors who import products, or you import directly, you are now in the center of what could be a global economic disruption.
If you have a supply chain expert on staff, likely they are already on top of the impacts. Unfortunately, many companies, especially young businesses relying on imported, low cost products for growth, don’t have someone on staff with supply chain experience. I’ve spoken with a dozen of these companies and their response of simply waiting and feeling helpless was nearly unanimous. Here’s what I told them to do:
- Compassion First - It’s easy to look at the impact on your business, or to see that there will be delays and respond with fear or panic. But first, think of the people being quarantined, factories on mandatory shutdown and the unprecedented action of the Chinese government to curtail the spread of the disease. If your supply chain has been affected, start by asking about their wellbeing, the health of their workers, their family and their friends.
- Be Proactive but Compromise if Necessary - The impact of the shutdown will be felt for months to come. Factories will be producing at less than normal volumes when they reopen and with smaller crews of available employees who are not quarantined.
If you have a large order or several orders on hold, determine if you can prioritize certain SKU’s or a partial order. Find out your order is in the production schedule and see if there are compromises that can be made. This also applies to your freight forwarding. Many trucks are not picking up goods from the factories, and many ships are being held and not allowed to leave port. Once it starts moving again, companies that have negotiated in advance will be the first to go out. Depending on what you’re importing, you may experience customs delays once the shipment arrives in the U.S. as well.
You should take the same approach to compromising with your customers as well. Undoubtedly, they will experience firsthand the impact of the coronavirus if you cannot deliver their orders on time. Once again, determine their priorities are, where they can compromise, and see if you can build their responses into your production and shipping plans.
- Protect Your Business - It is likely you will experience delays, shortages and frustration on the part of your customers. You may need to secure short-term financing such as a bridge loan to help with the revenue shortfall while you wait for your products. If you must offer your customers discounts, or credit towards future orders, it will also adversely affect your bottom line. Additionally, paying for expedited freight once the factory is ready to ship is an unexpected expense. Make sure you have access to a loan or line of credit in the event you need to cover these short-term expenses.
Many companies talk about creating a contingency plan for future emergencies. You can develop relationships with manufacturers across a variety of borders, but in the end, the same problems could occur. This time it’s China, but because they are such a global commercial force, even the shipping lanes are impacted right now. You could be producing in Cambodia and still have delays in freight forwarding related to the Chinese quarantine.