So, how did we get here? And what can we do to move forward?
Shamrock COO Tim Connor, and Director of Promotional & Premium Products Tim Berry, weigh-in, sharing the questions they’re hearing from customers, insights from vendors, and solutions we can all use to best navigate this supply chain challenge.
Q. What has created the inventory bottleneck?
A. From the top to the supply chain to the bottom, there is a tangle of issues affecting the availability of goods and services in the United States. Last week Business Insider reported that 56 container ships were stuck outside California ports, worsening shipping delays and costs.
These ports account for about one-third of US imports, serving as the primary source of trade with China. The congested ports mean significant delays in docking and unloading containers for shipping. What’s more, vendors that do have inventory are dealing with a labor shortage, which affects manufacturing, assembly, transportation, and delivery.
Q. When will we see inventory moving again?
A. Freight forwarders expect congestion issues through the remainder of 2021. The good news is that more people are coming back to work—drivers, warehouse and dock workers, decorators, etc. But while shipping companies have ordered more boats, these won’t be operational until 2023, so we hope to see the beginning of a slow turnaround next year.
Q. Why are we so dependent on overseas merchandise for business marketing?
A. What we’re experiencing are the effects of a global economy. We’re not just purchasing products from overseas. Many of the dyes, threads, and other materials used to manufacture products here in the US are sourced from all over the world. Beyond pandemic-related supply chain issues, we have to remember that we live and work in a global economy. The recent turmoil in China caused by Evergrande Group is an example of how foreign markets impact us here at home. So, we must do what we can from our end to manage inventory differently.
Q. How exactly does the supply chain challenge affect my business marketing program?
A. With some inventories and materials in short supply, you need to be ready for alternatives. Keep an open mind and be prepared to make some simple swaps in your program offering. For example, if you’re presenting branded apparel for an event or an award, you might have to mix-and-match styles instead of offering the same item.
On the packaging side, we see shortages in paper and board. So, be open to other decorations and embellishments. For example, you might choose a digital foil stamping process to make your packaging stand out. Or maybe we source a stock box that we wrap with a custom-branded graphic band. But if you’re adamant about sticking with a particular material or process, you might consider a shorter run now, with the remaining quantity printed later.
Q. What can I do to ensure I don’t get burned by these supply chain issues?
A. The most important thing you can do right now is forecast your needs. Extending lead times by getting a jump on your ordering will position you to get what you want, when, and where you want it. So, look ahead and plan for upcoming company milestones, product launches, special events like tradeshows and meetings, hiring events, employee recognition programs—and start the conversation now. Next, make plans and place orders early for collateral, apparel, promotional items, and gifts. And again, remaining flexible is key to getting what you want.
Q. Which items ARE in stock right now?
A. Shamrock has existing inventory right now, and we’re still ordering and receiving merchandise every day. But like everyone else, we are at the mercy of shipping delays and labor shortages. Those are issues beyond our control. That’s where creativity comes in. We know this business, and we work hard to present options for every order or event to give you more choices to help you meet your program goals.
One segment of the business that is more readily available right now is food. We source a lot of our food gifts from local vendor partners. We try to shop locally as much as possible and showcase small-batch specialty products that are ideal for creating themed branded food gift packages.
You can always count on our team at Shamrock to be transparent. So, just reach out if you need some help sourcing print, apparel, gifts, and packaging—whatever you need for your marketing program. We’ll work hard to get you exactly what you want.