The MD of Ripples reacts to the continued strain the pandemic has put on the KBB supply chain and offers some useful tips to suppliers on how they should be communicating any issues to their retailers

Pandem-onium R

ight at the very beginning of the pandemic, I remember when the warnings came out that everyone was stockpiling pasta and

toilet paper. I was undecided as to whether to make the problem worse by joining in the fights in the supermarket aisles, or to do the decent thing and just trust the process. I settled for somewhere in between the two.

During these

challenging times, communication is essential. This is where I will be most critical of suppliers as, overall, it’s been poor and bordering on disgraceful

These were days that I didn’t want to ever experience again, and that’s not even taking into consideration the actual pandemic itself. But here we are, 18 months later, and instead of fighting in the aisles, we are fighting on the phone to find KBB products. Let me say from the off, this is not going to be a supplier-bashing article. I will say now, as I have said before, that our suppliers have been good with us throughout this period and will, I trust, continue to be. It’s simply one of those things and it does feel like there is hardly a part of the world that isn’t experiencing one issue or another with the supply chain. This is just about highlighting areas where all suppliers could do better. Steel seems to be worth more than gold at the moment and this comes at a time when the radiator industry is already experiencing its fair share of challenges. One being the not-so-small matter of compliance. I’ve learnt that the race to have products tested for UK approval is going so well that by the time we get to 2050, we might have got through half of them.

There is a shortage of lorries to ship products and I’m hearing figures of 50% growth being quoted as the norm in the building sector. And that’s compared with 2019 not 2020. If you can find a lorry, then good luck finding a driver and you’ll want even more luck if the lorry is on its way to an overcrowded port.

Forced hibernation To depress us even more, anything coming from China is arriving on a container that is costing upwards of $15,000 (£10,800) and surcharges of 10% are being added to price increases of 9%. You’ve seen them, too, I know. Not all issues are caused by logistics. Equally damaging are the decisions made by some companies early into the pandemic to reduce the workforce, cut stock and go into forced hibernation. Most very quickly realised this was the wrong decision and rapidly attempted to recover the situation, but we all know that’s not as easy as it sounds, and they are paying the price for it now. I try to adopt the mentality that we can’t worry about the things that are out of our control and we can only, therefore, try to manage the consequences. This is more easily said than done and we all know our clients, however nice they were when they ordered, really don’t give two hoots what is going on in the wider world, they just want their bathroom. And so, the squeeze begins. During these challenging times, communication is essential. This is where I will be most critical of suppliers


as, overall, it’s been poor and bordering on disgraceful. The very personable and talented people that I meet every week across our supply chain seem to drop all common sense when they compile the notes that go out to advise retailers of these issues.

My advice to any supplier in this situation is to stop sending out templated letters that look like tax documents and instead, write personal notes using words you would say if you were face-to-face with the retailer. Remind people of what you can do and have done to help, as well as what bad news you bring.

And please stop telling us our gross profit goes up when prices do, because we are not stupid, and neither are our customers. Sure, some will spend more, but if it were that easy, we all would have done it years ago. I want to see a continued effort being made by suppliers to visit showrooms and bring back what most did so well before the pandemic – some old-fashioned repping. Make an appointment, bring us product updates, sales figures, exciting news, enthusiasm, some cakes and SELL us your company and products like you used to before they changed your job title to account manager. Look smart, not like you are going out to the park. And do yourself – and your boss – a favour and bring them along, too. It’s a long time since many of them have set foot in a retail showroom.

A good starting question for them to any of our franchisees would be: “How can I help?” We retailers are having to think on our feet every day and adapt to new situations. We want evidence that suppliers are now doing the same.

· August 2021

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