Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Supply Chain Disruptions

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 5, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Warm hues spread over the landscape as the rosy golden light of sunrise makes its appearance. The sun is just coming up as I pull up to the storage building where my supplier dropped off my glass order during the night. A sense of apprehension comes over me as I roll up the garage door. It has been difficult for my glass supplier to fill my orders for the past couple of months. I am never sure how much of my order will be waiting for me in the storage building. 

My fears were confirmed as I loaded my glass onto my shop truck. Five pieces of glass were missing from my order. Five customers would have to be called and told that I would not be able to do their job until a later date. I would have to reschedule five jobs. I let out a long sigh. “What a way to start my day,” I thought. 

My supplier is in Little Rock, but I can also order glass from warehouses in Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta. When I order from out-of-state warehouses, I never know when I will receive the glass. I have had parts on order for over a month that I haven’t received yet. The wall of my office is covered with post-it notes for jobs. Many notes say, “call when the glass comes in.” I have been in this business since 1973, and I have never experienced supply disruptions like this.

When I called my supplier to find out about my latest batch of missing glass, I could hear the frustration in his voice. I’m sure that there were many calls that morning similar to mine. He told me that sales were the strongest he had ever seen. In the first quarter of 2021, sales were far higher than in any previous first quarter in the Little Rock warehouses’ existence. But their stock couldn’t keep up with demand. In the auto glass industry, the supply chain moves slow. When the warehouse orders more glass, it can take months to receive. It looks like it could be several months before their stock will meet the demand.

As I talk with customers and try to explain to them why I can’t get the glass that they need, many have told me of similar issues in other industries. I started researching the supply chain problems and found that many sectors followed a similar pattern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers slashed orders from suppliers and reduced production when sales plummeted early in the pandemic. When sales started improving in the 4th quarter of 2020 and then took off in 2021, production and delivery could not keep up with demand, producing shortages.

Chris Rogers, a supply chain analyst for Panjiva, says, “the combination of stockpiling activity, a continued surge in goods ranging from electronics to appliances and a lack of air freight capacity has led to heavy congestion at U.S. ports. Also problematic is the shortage of empty containers and other equipment needed to haul products away from port facilities. Meanwhile, consumers are likely to wait longer for deliveries and face higher costs for in-demand items as container shipping rates jump.”

Phillip Sanfield, the spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles, was recently asked about the supply chain problems. He said, “a total of 34 container ships mostly from Asia are now anchored off the ports of both Los Angeles and Long Beach, waiting to unload cargo including furniture, auto parts, apparel, and electronics. The system is definitely strained. Under normal conditions, it’s rare to have container ships waiting to get into the complex.”

Experts say that retailers are likely to face continued supply chain disruptions and delivery delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic for quite some time. “In 2021, organizations will face a challenge unraveling this complexity,” says Michael Ward, a web developer at Writemyx. “Sophisticated supply chain understanding is essential if organizations are to be resilient in the face of global upheaval.” Nader Mikhail, writing for Supply Chain News, says, “the global pandemic applied pressure to the supply chain in ways not previously seen. Much of the supply chain industry is still hanging on for dear life. Unfortunately, most companies with supply chains are far from where they need to be to deal with large-scale disruptions.”

It looks like we can expect supply chain disruptions for some time to come. I don’t think that there is going to be a quick fix in my industry. But there is a sure supply chain. Writing to the church at Philippi, Paul says, “this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NLT) We can be sure that God’s supply chain will not break down.

God’s supply chain works because God gives us the grace and strength to meet every new challenge daily. “God can give you all you need. He will give you more than enough. You will have everything you need for yourselves. And you will have enough left over to give when there is a need.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLV) The world these days seems to feel almost helpless as everything around us is so unstable. Just watching the news can cause fear and uncertainty. Don’t fill your mind with all of the bad news around you. Instead, focus on God and his promises. Especially the promise that He will supply your needs.

Gentle Reader, “those who look to the Lord have every good thing they need.” Psalms 34:10 (NIRV) God doesn’t promise that you will have everything you want, but he has promised everything you need. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” Philippians 4:11 (NLT) You can trust God when He says he will supply all your needs. His supply chain will never be disrupted. “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Romans 8:28 (VOICE)

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