How Philly-area businesses adapted to supply chain bottlenecks, from stockpiling shingles to cutting chickens
Three Philly businesses — a grocer, a roofer, and a promo gift maker — discuss how they’re grappling with supply chain problems.
The broken global supply chain has businesses scrambling to get goods, especially with holiday shopping underway. But there are no easy solutions. Just about every link along the chain is busted, from factory shutdowns in China to a lack of truck drivers in the United States.
“The bottlenecks are literally everywhere,” said Brian Glick, the founder of Chain.io, a Philadelphia-based supply chain technology provider. “There’s no shortcut.”
Philly shoppers are still expected to spend more this holiday season than last year despite the supply chain woes, according to Deloitte. But the problems could persist well into next year and possibly 2023, said Dan Hearsch, a managing director at the New York consulting firm AlixPartners. And the supply chain disruptions will likely lead to lasting changes. Many businesses will keep suppliers closer to home and want them to have a reserve of finished goods, Hearsch said.
“They will require or at least allow the suppliers along the supply chain to have more safety stock, more inventory, finished goods,” he said. “So that when something like this happens again, the impact won’t be as bad.”
In the meantime, Philadelphia-area businesses are trying short-term solutions. Here are how a few companies are adapting to supply chain challenges, from stockpiling shingles to teaching shoppers how to cut chickens.
Keeping the lights on
Pop! Promos manufactures socks, sunglasses, and other branded merchandise that clients give away at trade shows or NFL games. Although the promotional products maker is based in Philadelphia, the company builds its wares in India and China.
China’s electricity shortage has shut down factories where those goods are put together, said Sterling Wilson, the Pop! Promos president. So the company has worked to move its manufacturing to plants where the lights are still on.
For example, Pop! Promos partners with multiple vendors to make sunglasses, with one factory producing lenses and another making frame hinges. In the past, Pop! Promos separated these vendors to keep costs down. But the company decided to connect its partners so they can set up complementary assembly lines at each other’s facilities.
“Now our sunglass factory in one region is using the lens supplier for the factory in another region, because they’re on and off at different times in their existing factories,” Wilson said.
Power outages are hardly the only obstacle. Pop! Promos is one of many companies with products stuck on a cargo ship. An order of 3,000 socks for a health-care client sailed three months ago but was still sitting off Long Beach, Calif., as of last week, Wilson said. There is no estimated time of arrival.
To avoid jammed seaports, the company is now shipping more stuff through the air. Unfortunately, the cost of putting products on a plane is 10 to 20 times higher than using a boat, Wilson said.
Some customers are picky about their shingle colors, presenting a problem for Bachman’s Roofing, Building, and Remodeling.
Shingle manufacturers stopped making some sought-after colors, such as the grayish-greenish slate or the popular Williamsburg slate, which is gray with red tones, said Bachman’s director of operations, Carl Rost.
“Forget about hunter green, which is a solid green color,” he said. “They’re not going to make them for probably another year or two.”
Foreseeing the shingle shortage, the Wernersville, Berks County-based company stockpiled on popular colors, buying them in bulk from all over the country. The company has pounced when a rare color is manufactured, such as when the orange and brown-colored hickory briefly hit the market. But the shingle makers have wised up, Rost said. They now require customer purchase order numbers to prevent bulk buying.
The mounds of shingles have taken up precious real estate in Bachman’s lumberyard. Now, they’re dwindling. Bachman’s recently ran out of Williamsburg slate. Although some customers are happy to order similar colors, others insist on specific shades, Rost said.
“We’ll go into homeowners associations where they are very specific on what they can use on the exterior of their condos,” Rost said. “One happened to be Williamsburg slate, and that’s all we can put on there. That’s in their bylaws.”
Certain shingle shades aren’t the only hard-to-find item. The company searched far and wide to find the screws and plates it needed for installation, including on social media. Bachman’s bought some from someone on Facebook, Rost said.
Learning to cut chickens
A few months ago, Riverwards Produce Market couldn’t get boneless, skinless chicken breasts because of supply chain issues. The specialty grocer had plenty of whole chickens, however, so CEO Vincent Finazzo advised a customer to spatchcock one, or cut out the backbone to open and flatten it.
The advice was not just a work-around to the chicken breast shortage. It helped the customer get more meals from the bird in a cost-effective way. She later messaged the grocery on Instagram to thank Finazzo for the tip.
Finazzo has had to make other recommendations lately, such as suggesting coconut flavored coffee creamer for some recipes when coconut milk was out of stock. Experimenting with new foods is perhaps a silver lining to the supply chain shortages, Finazzo said.
“People should be open to trying different things,” he said. “You might not be able to get that cheese or that cut of meat or that specific item. But maybe that’s your cue or try something new.”
Riverwards just ordered 7,200 paper bags, 10 times more than normal, he said. That’s because the cost of paper bags has jumped with both supply chain issues and higher demand in Philadelphia, which recently banned plastic bags. The specialty grocer doesn’t make money from the paper bags it gives away to customers, so it’s saving money by buying them in large volumes.
And much like shoppers hand-picking produce in the Fishtown store, Finazzo and his team carefully select fruit from suppliers to ensure high quality. Citrus, in particular, has not fared well as supply chain bottlenecks make the journey to Philly longer.
“We’re opening every single box. We’re smelling, we’re tasting, we’re inspecting,” Finazzo said. “So most of that doesn’t make it into the store.”