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Navigating Supply Chain Management during COVID-19

By Alison Rose, VP of Commercial Finance Europe at SharkNinja

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted on all aspects of daily life and has had a massive impact on the economy. Consumers have been navigating changes in the way they are able to access goods, retailers have sought to mitigate shortages and redirect their points of sale online, and product manufacturers have been managing operational changes which have had a substantial impact on the supply chain.

In April, market data suggested the world was in the largest economic crisis since the 1980’s. Wall Street opened lower than it had in over 30 years leading most industries to brace for impact.

The global health crisis has left the automotive industry with an overwhelming supply volume because production had been forecasted for a demand from vehicle purchasers who were instead confined to their homes in Q1 2020. In contrast, bicycle manufacturers have experienced extreme supply shortages from a drastic spike in demand. Just last month, sales for bicycles in the UK more than doubled on year, creating a 200% growth the industry could not have predicted.

These shortcomings in supply chain management is the result of a loss in the ability to control a variety of factors efficiently and make calculated assumptions every member of the supply chain can usually count on to hold true. The coronavirus imposed unexpected changes to operations of the global economy which left companies and the industry players who were equipped to be agile to this forced change in a position to succeed.

Before isolation measures and mass closures of retail establishments were implemented in the UK, SharkNinja was in a period of growth. We have seen this growth continue as we have been able to effectively manage our supply chain and deliver for our customer’s’ demand for our Shark range of floor care products and Ninja range of kitchen appliances through our strong global infrastructure of production, engineering facilities, and retailers.

Although it seems the entire world rushed to a halt at once, our global home technology firm experienced a phased disruption. When the drivers of our innovation slowed with closures of our Chinese suppliers, operations in other parts of the world were able to pick up. We then saw the benefits of China reopening before the initial wave of lockdown struck the UK and impacted consumers.

The key has been analyzing the new product development cycle, tailoring the way it operates to fit within the new restrictions, and ensuring it continues. SharkNinja has three international hubs in London, Boston and Suzhou, with engineers working collaboratively around the clock, passing off projects in different time zones to allow new products to be developed from concept to completion within months.

Our customer insights and research program supplies the key information inputs to this development cycle. Prior to COVID-19, we hosted in person consumer panels. These sessions conduct robust testing of products at the development stage and provide real time feedback on prototypes. This is done to understand the needs of real people and develop products that suit customers’ lifestyles, solve their real-life problems, and ensure the products will deserve five-star reviews once they are supplied to market.

Alison Rose
Alison Rose

The restrictions posed on in person interactions required us to shift the way we secure this information input, which is a key element in our supply chain. To keep this cycle in progress, we pivoted these in person sessions and harnessed all communications technology available to conduct virtual testing and view consumer interactions with the products in their homes remotely.

While we continue consumer testing in order for new launches to stay on schedule and continue building supply of new skus, it has been critical to manage directing inventory and ensuring current stock gets to the right places with our retailers.

Warehouse operations have been able to continue throughout the pandemic which plays a vital role in minimizing disruption in throughput to retailers. Products dispatch on pallets from our bulk warehouses in the UK and Europe to retailers and single dispatch logistics run out of our D2C warehouse in the North of England.

Although our retail partners are holding less stock than they would be in a non-COVID market, we have had a focus on managing supply placement and making sure to keep retailers stocked appropriately with what can be sold so that customers can continue to shop where they prefer. We believe in giving customers a choice of products and all our products are designed to make their lives easierInstead of cutting supply to our retailers and redirecting customers from the websites of our retail partners to our direct brand websites, we have ensured equality of availability so that customers can shop where they want and are not dictated by us.

As the global economy begins to reopen and our usual supply chain and design cycle can resume through collaboration among our international hubs, we will be continuing to keep a close eye on our customer preferences, including if there is a returned interest in brick and mortar shopping and balanced footfall in retailers.

We have a unique brand ambassador program with more than 100 employees staffed in Curry’s retailers across the country. These ambassadors enhance the customer experience by demonstrating the latest technology and are available in person to answer questions. We will see this stage of our supply chain influenced by government guidance and adapted to adhere to the safety mechanisms imposed.

The future of successful supply chain management will require manufacturers and retailers to keep a close eye on purchasing habits of their customers and the way they make choices under the constraints of a new reality. We will continue to evaluate every member of our supply chain to ensure it is operating effectively so that we can achieve our ultimate goal of improving the lives of our customers with our products.