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Tight Supply Chain Success Strategies (Part 1)

“Right now, the supply chain for just about everything is tight. What can I do to help ensure my operation has the materials it needs?”

Textiles: Cecil B. Lee, Standard Textile, Cincinnati, Ohio

Forecast, forecast and forecast. At Standard Textile we have always promoted forecasting and scheduling linen supplies to be delivered on a regular basis. As the pandemic demonstrated, customers who had planned orders were given priority in that their orders were filled in advance of new customers.

For new customers or additional needs, the sooner you submit an order, the sooner you will receive your order. We make a great effort to inventory toward the needs of our customers.

Our methods are that we have this month’s order being delivered, next month’s order is in the warehouse and the following month’s order is being produced. This process describes the flow of products through our system.

Yes, we have additional standard and high-flow products available, but the idea is to make what the customer buys.

Moving forward, if you know what you need, the sooner the order is placed, the better.

When I was managing healthcare laundries, I would place the orders for the upcoming year by September of the current year. This covered my needs based on my most recent year’s volume needs for basic products.

Obviously, I would have swings and needs for product, and I would order it when needed. Nevertheless, when I ordered my bath blankets for the year, it was a commitment to buy that product. Sometimes I would need them held for a month or two, but I still needed them, and they would be shipped in future months.

Currently, many laundries receive shipments on a weekly basis. This helps to lower in-house inventory, and it also allows the laundry to inventory the special items that would take longer to receive in the event of an emergency. You may want to go from receiving inventory biweekly or monthly to weekly.

Additionally, it is important to be in contact with your hospitals or senior living accounts to see if they are forecasting increased patient volume in the future.

Operationally, a laundry can schedule additional soiled linen pick-ups to bridge gaps.

Buying and receiving inventory has become more frequent for many. Excess inventory is cheaper than paying for overtime or additional work hours

Good luck with your inventory purchases and forecast, forecast, forecast!

Equipment Manufacturing: Charles Spencer, G.A. Braun Inc., Syracuse, N.Y.

We all run into the problem of inventory at some point, and today’s culture of “just in time” manufacturing only makes this more difficult. All the contract language in the world will not bring you product if it’s not available.

To me, this is really a two-part question: What can I do to avoid material shortages, and what can I do when I have them?

Let’s start with the former. Having good and open lines of communication with your suppliers is critical. Value them as a business partner and discuss product supply and flow before the time comes so you both understand how and what impacts each other’s operations. Internally, you should always put a great deal of importance on tracking and inventory control.

A good warehouse/inventory control program begins with discipline followed by some data-driven assumptions. Tracking exactly what you use over days and weeks can help you make very structured decisions as to what you need to keep on hand—and what and when your orders will be generated. It helps you anticipate seasonal shortages, and it also helps you keep from growing excess inventory.

Don’t just track what you use, but also track the days from when you place the order with each supplier until the order arrives. This allows you to determine how much lead time you need to have when placing your order.

Some suppliers will allow you to inventory goods and pay upon a monthly inventory count. The benefit is carrying excess inventory to guard against shortages, but the risk here is that if discipline is lost, you can have a large monetary hit on the inventory count. Everyone with access needs to be responsible.

I’m a firm believer that it’s important to have a backup supplier for core products, and again, supplier reliability will determine how much you value that backup supplier. As the old saying goes, “Never put all your eggs in one basket.”

Sometimes it’s overlooked, but negotiating the contracts can influence your access to goods as well. If you have a clause that requires your core supplier to pay some sort of penalty if they do not deliver, you stand to have more access to their inventory than another that does not have such a clause.

Now, what to do when you have a supply shortage. Again, open communication can go a long way with helping you out of this problem, but now instead of relying on your supplier, it’s often time to go to the customer(s) or even other competitors.

After you reach out to your backup supplier, perhaps the news isn’t good. Maybe it’s not just a manufacturing issue.

Let’s say it’s a core manufacturing material-related issue that impacts an industry. Let’s say there is another worldwide cotton shortage. Reaching out through service liaisons to determine if any customers may be overstocked sounds scary, but to me, it shows your concern for servicing your clients—all of them.

It may be an opportunity to review inventory levels at all customers; it certainly is a time to review the alternative product options with each customer, and in this case, see if some are willing and able to accept a high poly item instead of high cotton.

While your competitor may not be anxious to help you, they may be willing to help you, as they may be wise enough to realize that the time could come when they need your help. If it’s too hard to work with a direct competitor, there may be some more willing who are not quite in direct competition with you as well. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Lastly, make sure that with every supply issue that comes and impacts your business, you have a follow-up with your team members to evaluate how you responded, and what, if anything, you could do to improve if faced with a similar problem in the future.

As always, good luck!

Healthcare Laundry: Tammy Barrett, HHS Environmental Services, Bonita Springs, Fla.

The handling of supplies has certainly had to change during this current time. Locking up essential supplies, supplies that are in high demand and difficult to procure, is a must.

You also have to take into account where supplies are budgeted within the facility.

We have rearranged where hand sanitizers are placed in the plant—every other dispenser during this time. We do not place hand sanitizer in areas where handwashing and hand sanitizing are offered.

Another place we cut back is wherever we find expired hand soap and hand sanitizer. We know that these areas are not frequented; therefore, we leave them empty.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion with insights from commercial laundry, consulting services and equipment/supply distribution experts.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].