While distributors are focused on meeting customers’ immediate needs, the pandemic has given them pause to consider how their clients’ needs might evolve in the future.

“Distributors can use this opportunity not just to manage inventory, but to figure out what products and services are core to helping customers get through the crisis — and how those customers might work differently in the future,” says Dancer. “Look at what they are buying that might be a surprise. Decide what to carry forward, because the pandemic could happen again, or another crisis could come our way.”

For example, Grego never sold thermometers and sneeze shields before the pandemic. Now she does. She also witnessed a huge spike in sales of engineered water systems.

“It was always a very small portion of our overall business,” she says. “In the past two months we have sold four times as many as we sold last year, and the numbers are still growing.”

In fact, most distributors are seeing unprecedented demand for bulk disinfection systems that were heretofore a nominal part of their business.

“We’ve seen more demand for equipment to dispense disinfectant in a broad way, such as foggers or electrostatic technology,” says Martini. “These are being deployed in a wide range of applications, whether it’s on a commercial airplane or in a school so that kids can return to the classroom.”

Unfortunately, jan/san distributors are struggling to keep up with the increased demand. In November, Scoles Floorshine Industries sent email blasts to schools encouraging them to buy electrostatic sprayers in preparation for flu season. Today, the systems are sold out and Scoles doesn’t know when they will be back in stock.

In the fight against COVID-19, frontline workers are frequently acknowledged for protecting and serving the public. Custodians, on the other hand, seldom receive the recognition they deserve. Distributors are hoping the pandemic will change that.

“In the end, I hope people have a greater respect for those who are doing the cleaning on a daily basis — and a better understanding of their importance to our health and the health of our loved ones,” says Scoles. “We want to raise the level of the custodian from the person who takes out the trash to the frontline worker who protects us against threats like this.”

Kassandra Kania is a freelancer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to Facility Cleaning Decisions.

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Managing Pandemic Supply Shortages