Supply Chain 101 For MilSpouse Entrepreneurs

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If you’re a military spouse business-owner, work in retail, or even just a shopper, you may have noticed things look a little…different. Face it, if 2021 were a drinking game, and the magic word was “shortage,” you’d probably need to Uber home.

The reason for this is often given in two short words: supply chain. It sounds simple, maybe, but what exactly is the supply chain? And what are we doing about it?

Here’s a quick primer on supply chains, and a few tips on how small business owners can manage.

How the Supply Chain Works

The “supply chain” isn’t one centrally-managed assembly line of goods and products. It’s made up of a variety of different organizations, manufacturers, people, and industries.

According to supply chain company Blume Global, there are five basic steps in a typical supply chain.

  1. The original sourcing or the extraction of raw materials
  2. Refining or manufacturing those materials into basic parts
  3. The assembly of those parts into the product
  4. Selling the product to customers, users, and clients
  5. Delivering those products

As you can see, there are a lot of moving pieces, and all it takes is one hold up somewhere to create problems further down the chain.

What’s Going on Right Now?

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc, and the supply chain has not been immune. A recent Harvard Business Review article attributes part of the current delays and shortages to the fact that many US manufacturers have outsourced their production to other countries.

As a result, the suppliers for these manufacturing industries also left the country, since their customers were no longer in the US. Essentially, the article maintains that it’s harder to get what we need when we need it, if we don’t make it ourselves with materials we produce here.

Add to this issue that the global shipping slowdown, which is another ripple effect of the pandemic. For example, the world’s third busiest container port shut down in August 2021 when a worker there tested positive for COVID-19. Huge global corporations then had to recalibrate and rework their shipping schedules and plans as a result.

How MilSpouse Businesses Can Get Out In Front

If you’ve got a busy time in the coming months – whether it’s a holiday season or some other time of year specific to your business or – it’s always a good idea to plan ahead to anticipate the rush.

Do Your Homework

However, during a pandemic and a supply chain disruption, you really need to act early. There are probably already delays and shortages cropping up that you can’t miss. Don’t stop there, though. If you haven’t already, do some research into what disruptions, delays, or shortages are on the horizon for your industry or business. Social media pages with other small business owners or people in your field can be a good way to get an idea, but so can industry publications or business journals.

Encourage Your Customers To Be Proactive

With ongoing shortages and COVID-19 still going strong, it’s not a bad idea to give your clients or customers a heads’ up. Even though not being able to complete orders or have adequate inventory isn’t entirely your fault in a situation like this, you still want to avoid the bad online reviews or influx of messages from unhappy customers.

Transition your messaging in your marketing to give your returning and potential customers plenty of lead time. Let them know you’ve been (or could potentially be) impacted by supply chain disruptions. Encourage folks to order early for holidays, birthdays, seasons, or events. At the very least, people will appreciate your concern for them and everyone on their gift list!

A Little Preparation Goes a Long Way

Of course, if the past two years have taught us anything, there’s no real way to prevent being overcome by events outside of your control. However, we have also learned that certain smart steps can help us mitigate risk and do the best we can in the face of challenges.

The effects of supply chain disruption can’t always be avoided, but a clear-eyed recognition of its causes and consequences can help you protect your business.

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