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Supply chain kinks and rising inflation pose challenges for jan/san distributors. As a result, many leaders are navigating uncertain waters. 

For example, COVID-19 brought a dizzying array of challenges to the world’s economy. Lock downs, panic hording, shortages, and a lack of labor revealed how fragile the global supply chain really is.  

While the present environment is certainly better than those first foggy weeks and months, problems continue. Backlogs persist at ports. Critical items, like batteries, remain hard to source. And the demand for cleaning supplies and services has remained high. 

Now cue inflation, that boogey man from the past who is all too ready to make an appearance.  

It’s been four decades since inflation has been a newsworthy topic, making it a great unknown for many younger professionals. As a blog from law firm Foley & Lardner LLP puts it, “Many of those at the upper echelons of leadership today have never dealt with a high inflationary environment. To put it in perspective, the CEO of Walmart, the No. 1 company on the Fortune 500 list for 2021, was 19 years old when inflation was last a newsworthy topic.” 

This climate has jan/san distributors scrambling in every direction. Now, along with sourcing new suppliers and figuring out how to deliver product, many are wondering if it’s time to raise prices. Here’s how some in the industry are coping.  

The Struggle is Real 

The COVID-19 pandemic created a cascade of disruptions right from the start.  

“Sourcing things like PPE (personal protective equipment) was a nightmare,” recalls David Trinks, R.Ph., CEO of Franklin, Massachusetts-based Trinks Consulting Group about those early days. “Getting product out of China presented another problem. I had one billion plastic containers to hold hand sanitizer on the loading dock waiting to be shipped. It was usurped by the Chinese government.”  

As the pandemic wore on, clearing product out of China did not guarantee smooth sailing. Port congestion on the U.S. side was, and still remains, high. Relief appears to be nowhere in sight.  

“Port congestion in the U.S. will get worse before it gets better,” writes Peter Tirschwell in The Journal of Commerce.  

Add in sky-high shipping container rates and onshoring product production sounds like a great solution. But don’t get too excited. Trinks reports that the cost for domestic shipping is just as eyepopping.  

“I just transported some material from Chicago to Long Island, New York, and the price was quadruple of what it was just four months ago,” he says.  

Supply Chain Struggles

China’s Zero-COVID policy, when the government forcibly locked down entire cities, continues to add fuel to this volatile supply chain situation, according to Daniel Wong, undergraduate supply and logistics management program director at Portland State University, Oregon. The policy is impacting the deliverability of raw materials from China, even for those companies manufacturing in the U.S.  

Not only are labor issues impacting any supply moving through China, Wong believes the staffing challenges in the U.S. will also persist. 

“The competition for blue-collar labor is strong,” he says. “UPS and Amazon have sucked up all the people who used to do construction, work in restaurants or drive trucks.”  

Glen Huizenga, sales leader at Norton Shores, Michigan-based Nichols, a Division of Imperial Dade, agrees.  

“Labor is impacting manufacturers, causing them to make choices about what product SKUs to produce or not produce,” says Huizenga. 

While this strife tested many distributors, some emerged stronger, according to Phil Carrizales, director of hygiene and facilities solutions at ACME Paper & Supply Company, Richmond, Virginia.  

“Sourcing for some items such as cleaning supplies, disinfectants and wipes have gotten better since they were in extremely high demand when COVID-19 was surging,” he recalls. “The experience we gained at the beginning of the pandemic really pushed us to look forward and identify what categories of supplies would be next on the priority list as the country started to reopen.” 

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