Blog: Upholstery players fine-tune businesses, set on managing unpredictable environment

Melisa D. Galvin

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks talking with upholstery resources about their expectations for third- and fourth-quarter business and what they’re doing to find opportunities and face challenges in what remains an unpredictable business environment for the rest of the year.

Those conversations have me feeling optimistic about vendors’ adaptability and determination to fine-tune their operations, communications and processes to help their retail customers buy efficiently and with as little disruption to product flow as possible.

A couple of themes emerged from my discussions:

Betting on in-stock

The resurgence of brick-and-mortar retail had retailers eager to replenish inventories looking to vendors with the ability to ship product immediately. Importers with full warehouses stateside found themselves in high cotton, particularly with domestic manufacturers playing catch-up on backlogs in the wake of their own shutdowns.

A lot of the domestic guys are pre-ordering components, materials and kits, while some importers have more cans than usual on the water and more on order in anticipation of good business in the fourth quarter. They’re doing that despite the fact that current high sales volume could be simply a release of pent-up demand and that the pandemic situation’s future is cloudy.

Still, the smart players know business will normalize at some point — if you can call anything “normal” today — and they want to be ready to ship when any future slowdown ends.

As one importer told me, “It’s a little of a gamble since no one is sure what will happen, but it will pay off when we see another run” like the industry saw in May and June.

Ducks in a row

You can’t tune your car when it’s running, and it’s hard to put your business under a microscope when things are busy. During a time of drastically reduced orders and/or plant shutdowns, the folks I’ve been talking with used downtime as an opportunity to re-think processes, find new efficiencies and hone their internal systems for faster order processing and better real time information for their customers.

A lot of companies have learned to do more with less, and the homework they did in March and April will pay dividends, no matter how the near future plays out.

I’m hearing of improved data entry to provide improved visibility for customers and updates throughout the order-to-ship process; rapid-response teams and procedures; and production contingencies to deal with potential virus flare-ups in plants or warehouses while still keeping the ball rolling. The list of improvements is too long for this space.

Most of all, these companies tell me that considering all the potential complications in order fulfillment these days, constant — and honest — communication with customers has never been more critical. A no-brainer, but how well are your systems set for instant notification if a retailer’s order could be late out the door? In that regard, vendors need to be a wide open book.

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