Opinions continue to percolate and swirl around ways to handle the pandemic-related product shortages and to prevent this calamity from reocurring. Everyone seems to embrace backordering and hoarding, of course, buy only as a last resort, or, more likely, knee-jerk first response.
Domestic production, nearshoring and onshoring opportunities also resonate. “Buy [North] American” may be a rallying cry (courtesy of trade deals between the U.S., Canada and Mexico). Kudos to those companies who already employ Americans and manufacture products in the U.S., but the question lingers about the pain of conversion. Has the pandemic elicited enough pain over convenience that buyers, sellers and regulators are willing to change their behaviors?
We’ve witnessed how intensely consumers want their stuff. Curiously, some notable media outlets have posited that the current supply chain woes, independent of the pandemic, can be traced to the idea that we buy too much stuff anyway. Let that linger a bit like the pressure release of a skunk or stink bug. In short, stop spending? That worked so well for the heavily restricted restaurant and hospitality segments during the last two years, didn’t it?
Logically, if all the stuff we wanted were made here we’d have faster access to it, right? Unfortunately, that’s going to require some serious behavioral modification. To their credit, some companies found ways to do that successfully. Good for them; good for us; good for the supply chain and economy. Other companies chose to go a different route hinging on a basic aim – to generate more revenue and ultimately more profit. How? Paying less for more work (product and productivity) rather than paying more for less work (again, product and productivity). Enterprising companies find the former in certain other parts of the world – not here – because the labor there is working to eat, to survive. These are two very important motivations driving a work ethic. They see the labor here as working for … more stuff and time-off … with pay.
For labor in certain other parts of the world, leisure represents nirvana, utopia. For labor in our part of the world, leisure represents necessity, rights. Distinct attitude differences, for sure.
Back in the late 18th to late 19th century, the United States progressed under a largely agrarian economy that morphed into a manufacturing economy for much of the late 19th to late 20th centuries courtesy of an Industrial Age. Through technological development in the late 20th century to here in the early 21st century, we’ve transitioned into a service economy fueled by the Information Age.
Are we better off? Depends on who you ask and how they perceive the supply chain – domestic or global, linear or multi-dimensional and omniversal.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that a linear supply chain, complete with links in either direction, downstream or upstream, easily can be overwhelmed by demand surges. This evokes an image of falling dominoes. Conceivably, it’s more like a kaleidoscope of wing-fluttering butterflies. Or maybe it resembles one of those mid-century Cecil B. DeMille films with hundreds or thousands of extras in the cast – hordes of options versus hoarding as an option.
As we look forward to the second half of 2022, and presumably the last vestiges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be willing to embrace and nurture a new way of thinking about the supply chain – not as a chain, not as a channel and perhaps not even as a network (because we already have too many iterations of those anyway).
Maybe it’s a community. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a community to fortify and equip a healthcare organization.
A broken link in the chain, a clog in the channel, a short in the network, generally leads to crisis, disaster, disruption and upheaval. A community, however, fills in the gaps, plugs the holes, and satisfies the demand because it recognizes value in the outcome.