By Jessica Schussler | Lion Plumbing Supply | Miami, FL
The good news is that this is not just occurring in our industry, and in my opinion, ours is far easier to navigate through than some others.
Also good-ish is many customers are already used to hearing those 5 words no consultant ever wants to say: “Im sorry, that’s on backorder”; and chances are you’re not the first to tell them that something they want isn’t in stock. Cue the 2020 TP crisis of the century – I think we can all agree that there are worse things to be waiting to get back in stock! Unlike the toilet paper debacle, it’s doubtful that people started hoarding matte black shower heads in the beginning of the pandemic, but we all know of something or someone who is currently having major backorder issues and I’m here to say: I’m sorry. It sucks. Yes, for all of us. And no, it’s not getting better, yet. We are a year into this thing already – if your customer isn’t aware of backorder issues that are happening right now, I promise, you are not going to be the only one to disappoint them throughout their renovation process.
According to Steve Rowen, a managing partner at the retail-analytics firm Retail Systems Research, similar problems currently affect all kinds of retailers, and they have for months. At the beginning of the pandemic, when most people assumed that things would be back to normal in weeks or months, retailers and manufacturers “weren’t really in a hurry to shift gears and make a lot of expensive decisions,” Rowen said. “I don’t think anyone really had any indication as to how long this pandemic and its effects were going to be felt.” – But they are still being felt. I know it feels like beating a dead horse here, but COVID is still very real and very prevalent. COVID closures in factories and warehouses globally continue to have a trickle-down effect often leaving us as the buffer between the problem and the consumer. While it is out of our control, and completely understandable, what separates a good sales consultant from an exceptional one is how we deal with it.
So how can we overcome the continuous challenge and what does this say about us as a society?
First I think it’s important that everyone understands that these are totally unprecedented times. There is no answer here that is right and together our power as a buying group has a lot to offer that we should be talking about. It’s also noteworthy, though definitely for another blog, how expectant and reliant humans have become as a result of technology really, and how this pandemic and the ongoing backorder issues has forced us to take a step back and evaluate how far we have come, where we came from and how to stay relevant moving forward.
Now is the time to be resourceful.
Is there a competitors product that is the same or similar you can offer? Now is a good time to get acquainted with your “specialty” lines. You know, the ones you aren’t really familiar with because you’re used to selling the Delta or Grohe that’s sitting on your shelf. Most of the time some of these “higher end” faucet lines are really not that much more expensive, and most of them are not having the same shortages. A 3 – 4 week lead time for matte black or brushed bronze? 2 years ago that may have seemed like a lot compared to the brands that mass produce and keep product on their shelves, but with many having 2, 3 and 4 month lead times, now is the time to open those books and re-discover LPG lines like Franz Viegner and Graff, or to start looking at lines that you never gave a chance, think Jaclo for faucets for example.
Have you checked with other LPG members to see if anyone has something you need in a jam? The Facebook community is a great tool to reach members all over the country. The truth is all of us are having the same problem with the everyday stuff, but this tool could really be helpful if we all used it. I find that discontinued or decorative specialty products are the easiest to find amongst other members, but if you are desperate for a valve that you know you’re waiting for on backorder it doesn’t hurt to ask the community if anyone has it.
It’s also a good time to take a look at what you are keeping in inventory and start thinking about what you don’t have. The internet is full of a near-infinite overabundance of stuff, which all used to be available at a moment’s notice. With more than 150 million Americans having access to Amazon Prime, which promises a two-day turnaround on millions of items that can be dispatched to your home with literally one click, pre-pandemic showrooms were being left in the dust. Now, I know we haven’t really talked about it, but the e-tail shortages has actually helped small brick and mortar locations like most of us in LPG. People are not just shopping everything online the way they used to. They want to see other people. They want to shop around and pick things in person. They need someone who knows what they are doing to complete their next project, and that someone is you my friend.
As a last resort – is it on Amazon?
I know, I know… but hear me out. Does it make sense for you to buy it and resell it or should you send them the link to buy it themselves? I’ve done this both ways. Sometimes I’ve taken a small hit on one item, but at the end I didn’t want them to end up shopping the whole thing on Amazon and losing the sale. Other times I have sent my customer the link and let them know it’s more expensive, but the only way they can get it right away. Ultimately this needs to be a decision and policy your company and manager is aware of, and it’s understandable that many small business owners choose not to support Amazon in any capacity. Those consultants who can’t buy on Amazon can still offer it to your customers if you really can’t get it for them. I find that honesty is the best policy when it comes to backorders and people are more and more understanding since the pandemic started. Its also my experience that going the extra mile to do the legwork goes a long way. I once had a customer who did not have prime (I know, right? – clearly not a millennial) ask me if she could buy it from my desktop with my prime account because she didn’t have one. This is the kind of service an LPG showroom should be giving and the reason someone would buy local from your showroom over the internet.