It’s December, and if you’ve tried to buy literally anything over the past 18 months, you’ve experienced the crushing disappointment of our supply chain situation. Toilet paper, cars, antifreeze, microchips, Grapenuts cereal and, yes, even office furniture have seen unprecedented supply problems.
Issues stemming from the material, labor, freight and transportation shortages have wreaked havoc across the globe. Unfortunately for all of us, the 2022 forecast doesn’t look like next year will start any better.
There are many articles out there that go into great detail about why we are experiencing such chaos. Here’s a quick rundown.
Let’s start with material scarcity. Raw materials such as steel, wood, laminate and even foam are experiencing shortages worldwide. No joke, The Great Foam Shortage of 2021 has caused significant delays in the furniture industry. But is high consumer demand really to blame? Yes and no. Yes, demand is crazy high right now, but a lot of the shortage is still pandemic related.
The pandemic may seem like it’s winding down where you live, but in many parts of the world there are still full and partial shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. That means less material being produced and longer manufacturing times. Low and slow supply plus high demand is always a recipe for disruption.
Once materials or fully manufactured products are ready to ship, that leads us to the second obstacle in the supply chain: freight demand.
Remember spring of 2020 when the entire world shut down? Our friends in the freight and transportation industry took that as a sign to pump the brakes. If people can’t leave their houses, then the demand for goods will sharply drop. In theory, that makes perfect sense. In reality, it was 100% the wrong move. It’s true, people couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, but they could shop online, and shop they did. People used the money they would have spent on traveling, entertainment and socializing and used it to buy, buy, buy (and hoard, hoard, hoard).
The increase in purchases compounded the stress of the already strained material supply and exposed another issue stemming from the freight industry’s slowdown. They had stopped manufacturing containers. So even if the product was available, there was no way to ship it.
But wait, it keeps getting crazier. So now we have a product that took three weeks longer to manufacture, then it waited an extra two weeks to get loaded onto an available shipping container. Yay!!! It makes its way across the ocean, only to find itself 200th in line at the port of entry. Boo!!!
You’ve likely seen the wild images of the ports along both coasts. There are hundreds of containers sitting on ships waiting to unload. Unfortunately, longshoreman shortages and labor disputes have caused delays in moving those containers to land. So add three more weeks to the timeline.
Please don’t get too excited once it’s unloaded. Even if your product gets off the water quickly, there is also a driver shortage. The available drivers are frequently getting poached by companies offering more money to pick up their loads. That’s right, a driver may be scheduled to pick up the truckload with your product on it, but another company offers him or her an additional $1,000 to take theirs instead. It’s madness!
On top of that, there are local labor shortages in every industry, from furniture installers to retail, service and office workers. So as you can see, the delays compound in every sector, showing how quickly the lead times can get so long.
I know it sounds daunting to contemplate managing a project in the middle of such craziness, but it is possible. Now that you have a high-level overview of the supply chain, you can adapt your project accordingly. It’s even possible to keep frustration to a minimum by following a few simple steps.
Set Realistic Expectations
Amazon Prime has skewed reality. We’ve had the luxury of instant gratification and quick ship shopping for so long that today’s lead times are jarring. So if you are planning an upcoming furniture or interior project in 2022, give yourself plenty of time. As you can see from the supply loop detailed above, the days of a rapid turnaround are gone. But hopefully just temporarily.
Manufacturer and construction material lead times have crept up significantly. For reference, a decent lead time right now is seven weeks, but the average is nine to 10. We’ve even seen as long as 15 to 24 weeks. That’s right, six months! In addition, these lead times aren’t set in stone, and they change rapidly. Therefore, we check weekly to make sure we have the most current information.
Pro Tip: Furniture lead times are based on ship dates. They do not include the transportation time to the destination, which is usually seven to 10 business days. That adds one to two weeks to your timeline.
For those of you who are used to much shorter lead times, this will require a bit more planning. Be sure to include your vendors early in the planning process to ensure you know where current lead times stand.
We recommend taking the most extended lead time item and adding four weeks. That gives you a nice buffer for the transportation time and scheduling considerations. It’s way easier and wildly less stressful to complete your project early than to miss your deadline. Of course, that is frustrating to everyone.
Expect Murphy’s Law to be in full effect. If something can go wrong, it most likely will. This isn’t pessimism; it’s practical. The known and unexpected material shortages and transportation delays are triggering back orders and missed delivery dates. That means even the product you thought you’d have might not be there when you need it.
If I’ve learned any lesson from the past year, just because someone tells me my order is shipping on a specific date does not mean that it will. Have a backup plan (or two) to account for any on-the-fly changes that need accommodation. Again, planning for contingencies will help mitigate frustration for you, your project team and your employees.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a real-life example. We are wrapping up a project where we ordered furniture in June 2021. The product was scheduled to arrive at our warehouse at the end of September, and we would install it all starting Oct. 11. Instead, delivery was delayed to Oct. 1. Then Oct. 5. Then Oct. 11. Then Oct. 15. We finally received it Nov. 8.
Annoying? Yes. Had we planned for it? YES!
Our plan B included temporary desks so that our client’s phased construction project wasn’t delayed. While utilizing temporary desks wasn’t ideal, it did keep the project and its construction moving forward. Our client has been wonderful and understanding. They definitely embraced flexibility!
While long lead times and transportation bottlenecks are frustrating, significant cost increases are also happening at nearly every level. These days everyone is getting a crash course in supply and demand economics.
Our inboxes are a minefield of product price increases, increased freight costs and temporary surcharges. It’s bad enough the increases are more significant than usual, but the rapid-fire pace at which they are taking effect is mind-boggling. Some of the temporary surcharges are taking effect with as little as one- or two-weeks’ notice.
We’ve seen some product costs rise more than 45% since May. In addition, freight and fuel surcharges are wildly fluctuating, some as high as 20%.
The best way to avoid these is to finalize your orders quickly. Ask your vendors about any upcoming price increase timelines and drop-dead order dates to prevent as many of these as you can.
If you have a larger project, this could save you thousands of dollars.
This last tip may not seem like a typical suggestion for managing a project successfully, but I believe it to be a big one. If you step back and really think about the last year and a half, it’s crazy to comprehend that we’ve collectively experienced a traumatizing life event together as a human race.
It’s a weird time. Tempers are flaring, fuses are short and many (probably most) people are frazzled emotionally and mentally. But let’s try and remember that, in most scenarios, people are trying to do the best they can with their information.
At the end of the day, unless your organization is in the medical, first responders or other critical life-saving industry, it’s just office furniture.
The tips for successfully managing your project during this time aren’t complicated or complex. Instead, a little extra planning, reasonable expectations and common sense will lead you to great success.
Courtnay Bradley, WELL AP, is founder and chief purpose officer at Trilogie and host of The Up/Down Podcast and Trilogie’s Table Talk live stream series. Her passion for people fuels her obsession with helping companies design and furnish work environments that truly inspire and engage employees. In 2009 she started Trilogie with the sole purpose of creating kick-ass workspaces that help organizations thrive.