Interior Design Pros Share Their Supply Chain Hacks

First came the tariffs and trade wars.  Then came the pandemic, which caused factories to close, shipping services to dwindle, and ports to back up with non-loaded and unloaded containers of goods.  To make matter worse, severe climate events wreaked havoc on raw materials, warehouses and manufacturers.  Together, they created the perfect storm of supply chain shortages and backlogs that are affecting nearly every industry, from automakers to producers of paper products.

Supply chain issues have created major headaches for designers.  Inventories of some goods are exceeding low or non-existent.  Waiting lists for appliances, furniture and other big-ticket items are long, and deliveries dates continue to be rescheduled far into the future.  Once-understanding clients are losing patience.  Recently I spoke with some of my clients to find what they are doing to try to work around some of these issues.  Here are their top recommendations.

Aside from not being able to get product, the biggest issue for designers is managing clients’ expectations and frustrations.  With any new projects, have a conversation with prospective clients up front to make them aware of the challenges everyone in the industry is facing.  Explain the need for patience and flexibility.  Nearly all designers agreed that under-promising and over-delivering, as well as substantially padding lead times, can help alleviate client anxiety.  Several designers also suggested putting language in your contract regarding possible delays and the need to substitute products, including a no cancelations policy for any items the client orders through you.

In regards to delays or availability problems, designers say to have a backup plan worked out and ready to go.  Stagger the process, if need be, focusing on completing each phase to show clients you are making progress.  Communicate regularly with clients and provide regular updates on any significant delivery delays and price changes.  One designer said she prepares a timeline for the project, which she shares with the client, showing them how long each phase will take and how the timeline will be affected if delays should occur.  It’s also essential that you counsel your team on how to communicate with clients about these issues if they are responding to calls or emails.

It always helps to have good relationships with vendors and reps, but since there’s only so much tried-and-true providers can do at the moment, you need to diversify your sources.  Source multiple vendors so you have a backup if a problem arises with one of them.  Many designers are turning to local artisans and workshops to purchase customer items.  As a result, though, many of those smaller businesses are overwhelmed with requests, so try to plan ahead.  Another popular strategy is to rent items, such as appliances or furniture, as placeholders until the ordered item is delivered.  Those, too, however are becoming more scarce as demand increases.  Keep as much temporary inventory on hand as you can, even for small items like lamps and rugs, to rotate among projects as the need arises.  One idea proposed to help speed up deliveries was to pool resources to form a purchasing group in order to qualify to buy a container load of product that could be delivered to a central warehouse and dispersed using local carriers.

We could be looking at another 12 to 18 months before things return to normal.  In the meantime, talk with reps, showroom personnel, and manufacturers to keep on top of what’s happening and why.  Different industries and different countries are facing different issues. Improvements will occur sooner in some than others.  Reach out to peers and other professionals to expand your network of contacts and share information.  Knowledge, flexibility and ingenuity are the best tools we have to weather this perfect storm.

Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting

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