Supply Issues: The sun’s shining, the threat from COVID seems to be diminishing; the NHS is getting ready to play catch-up with its non-pandemic obligations, (so the hospitals will be full of thirsty / hungry outpatients again) and 21 June, the day when things are scheduled to get ‘back to normal’ draws ever closer. People are back in the grounds watching the footy and the test cricket, music festivals have got the green light and with HMG doing its best to persuade everybody to take their holidays in the UK….
No wonder then that we anticipated a bumper summer during which we, as an industry, could regain some of our losses.
But – and it’s a pretty big but – thanks to Supply Issues we can’t get stock. You don’t have to be a graduate of Harvard Business school to realise that for sales to rise, you must be able to offer consumers the brands they want to buy. The problem is that due to (what appears to me to be) a litany of incompetence, many of vending’s best-selling lines are simply unavailable. These days, you’ve got more chance of finding a Fabergé egg in a charity shop than you have of finding a box of a certain brand of Salt & Vinegar crisps in our warehouse. Frustrating? You’d better believe it: we’re currently losing a fortune every week in sales.
If you know me, you’ll know that I like numbers. I’m proud of the numbers we achieve at ARN. Take order fulfilment for example. I’m always pleased to tell anyone in earshot that our fulfilment rate – that’s to say what we deliver against what was ordered – usually hovers at around the 99% mark. Now, let’s put that into the context of today: In the past month / six weeks or so, the fulfilment rate we’re having to endure from our suppliers has levelled out at around 70-75%. Despite this – and mostly because we saw the signs that there would be Supply Issues and stocked-up in advance – our performance during the same period has been between 90-95%
Which is bloody brilliant: except of course it isn’t.
So why are we experiencing these Supply Issues? The pandemic, Brexit; An Act of God? None of the above. I put it all down to human error. It’s not just ingredients that’s the issue: it’s packaging supplies, the foil for crisp packets or confectionery wrappers; the flavouring… In fact, the only thing that the nation’s best-loved crisp brand can supply at the moment is the actual potatoey bit. It’s an absurd state of affairs, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
I don’t want to name and shame any brands – where’s the future in that? – but when we take calls from disappointed (and sometimes very cross) customers, we have to apologise and tell them honestly that, one: it’s not our fault and two: there’s no end to the shortages in sight. ‘By the middle of June, we’ll be back on track’. So we’ve been told; but frankly, we don’t believe it…
Some of our customers have taken an alternative product when their chosen item is unavailable and that’s been good news for those of our suppliers who have been able to maintain production. Sales of McCoy’s, for instance, have gone through the roof. Other customers, reluctant or unable to alter their planograms, have had to accept empty spirals –never a good look for a vending machine.
There’s just not enough time in the day to communicate all of the Supply Issues to all of our customers, all of the time. There are so many no-shows that it’d be a task reminiscent of painting the Forth Bridge: never ending. Effectively, we’re being told ‘it is what it is, get used to it.’ What we can share with you is our view: ‘things shouldn’t be as they are, and we’ll never get used to it.’
I’d better stop there: after all I’ve got my reputation to think of…
The culprits responsible for today’s unprecedented Supply Issues know who they are and we hope that they’ll take the time to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Our chance, as an industry, to balance the books after COVID is quickly receding and it’s largely down to them.
Rest assured, we’ll keep you in the loop and we’ll continue to be honest with you, our valued customers. But, technically speaking, bloody hell!
Meanwhile, back to work.
*John Crichton is CEO of the specialist wholesaler to the vending industry, Automatic Retailing Northern (ARN)
More of John’s opinions and observations can be found HERE on Planet Vending