By Lucie Côté
Covid creates opportunity for reinvention in the supply chain
By Lucie Côté
December 7, 2020 – The world of sales and distribution for lighting products and electrical equipment has had to face a period of adaptation since the start of the pandemic. As delays and stock shortages are a somewhat common problem in daily business, manufacturers, their agents, distributors, and electrical contractors must tackle things differently to face the challenges in the supply chain’s new reality.
Covid-19 and the distributor’s new role(s)
The role of a distributor is to act as an intermediary between the order from the manufacturer and the material handed over at the counter or delivered to the electrical contractor.
Since the start of the pandemic, distributors have had to put themselves in a “solution” mode to evaluate new ways of doing things that would allow them to face is-sues related to the delivery of lighting and electrical equipment.
“Coordination, teamwork, project management, logistics, action plans and replacement plans must now be part of the distributor vocabulary,” said Mathieu Legris. He and Christian Grenier are co-owners of Electrimat, an independent Quebec-based distributor.
The pandemic has made the entire ordering and delivery process increasingly complex.
“As delivery is at the centre of the distribution logistics of lighting products and electrical equipment, close collaboration between the manufacturer and the distributor becomes a key element that allows us to set up new processes to face the constraints disruptions and deadlines,” added Grenier.
Since the start of the pandemic, some customers could receive up to seven different deliveries, from different manufacturers, to account for all the material required for the same order, Legris explained.
“Because the distributor is also responsible for facilitating the work of the electrical contractor, he must come to an agreement with manufacturers that would allow for the receipt of deliveries directly to the distributor’s warehouses,” Legris said. “Once all the material has been received, the distributor can then consolidate the materials and make one complete delivery to customers.”
The distributor must now team up with the customer and take on the role of a logistics manager in the supply chain. In fact, Legris feels a distributor’s strength in project management is an essential element for contractors to consider when choosing their distributor partner.
“It is also our responsibility to coordinate all stages of the supply chain to make the process as easy as possible for customers,” he added.
Sales of new lighting products in times of pandemic
We can all agree that everyone in the electrical industry must reinvent themselves and approach things differently in all aspects of the supply chain.
Adding to the challenges of delivery times and stock shortages, manufacturer agents have had to face the new reality related to teleworking.
“With the introduction of teleworking and physical distancing, the work of the manufacturer agent must be reviewed from A to Z,” said Marc Laplante, who co-owns manufacturer representative Laplante & Associates with his brother Paul Laplante. “We must show ingenuity to reach our customers, attract their attention and interest them in buying new products. We are facing a major challenge.”
Regular follow-ups are now essential to ensure everyone remains active in this time of uncertainty, Laplante said. “We need to do more ad hoc follow-ups and be proactive! We must reorient our work strategies toward communicating at a distance. With travel possibilities greatly diminished for most agents, we must—among other things—put in place strategies for sending documentation and samples by mail, con-duct Lunch n’ Learns, presentations and meetings virtually, all while using social media more effectively.”
In the lighting industry, some manufacturers have been greatly impacted by the de-livery times of certain offshore components. “This reality leads to stock shortages that could lead to loss of income for both sides of the supply chain,” Laplante noted. “The raw material supplier who has been delivering the same material for 20 years can no longer ensure regular or punctual delivery. There is now a reduction in inventory at distributors, causing further complexity in the distribution chain.”
In our new normal, electrical contractors have an important role in alleviating the burden related to delivery delays. “Instead of hanging on to the P/O until the last minute, electrical contractors’ orders will need to be better planned and sent in ad-vance to ensure all materials are received when the contractor is ready to begin work,” Laplante concluded.
Increase customer service to stand out
When combined, all of this means “you have to look for the agent or distributor who will make an offer that will stand out from the others,” said Laplante. “Whether it is for logistics, project management, service, selection, personalized solutions or the most efficient distribution process, it is the one who has adapted to the changes that will have the most chance to emerge unscathed from this crisis.”
For Legris, the pandemic provides an additional opportunity to highlight the importance of distributor’s role in the supply chain. “The distributor must allow each electrical contractor to find, in one place, all the products he needs, with a complete overall service offering. We have to offer a turnkey service.”
“It is often in the midst of a crisis that we really recognize what our people are made of,” said Legris. “As customer service is a key part of our new normal, it will help solidify existing relationships or provide the opportunity to create new ones.
Lucie Côté is a bilingual, Montreal-based communications professional who, after 20+ years of working in the corporate and education fields, launched her own consultancy to help organizations with their communications, public relations and marketing needs. This article originally appeared in L’industrie électrique magazine, October 2020. Visit lcserviceconseil.com.
This article—along with other great content—appears in the December 2020 edition of Electrical Business Magazine.