People like Lisa Whittingham know all too well how frustrating delays can be when you just want to fully complete a home renovation.
She and her husband have recently finished the bulk of a kitchen reno and were out shopping around Monday for stools for their counter.
But they were surprised to hear what that would take.
“Everywhere we’ve been, they’ve told us we’re looking at, the shortest timeline has probably been 16 weeks, but most places are saying six months, maybe,” Whittingham says.
The supply chain represents all stages of how a customer’s request is fulfilled, from sourcing, to manufacturing, to distribution to delivery.
The COVID-19 pandemic reduced has mobility of people and their shopping habits, and some manufacturing shutdowns have had rippling impacts.
Now, demand is back, but the supply is not — yet.
That drives some prices up and increases pressure on the supply chain, says M. Ali Ülkü, the director of the Centre for Research in Sustainable Supply Chain Analytics at Dalhousie University.
“There is an increase in prices because of the scarcity or the uncertainty and even the unpredictability in the capacity for production,” Ülkü says.
Aside from delays, shortages of supply can result in fewer choices for consumers.
“You have in your mind how you want it to look and how you want it to be, and you want it to be finished,” says Whittingham. “Now, it’s like I’m waiting and waiting and waiting … and I can’t always get the products I want, so that’s been the other frustration.”
Don Jordan, the general manager of Jordan’s Furniture in New Minas and Halifax, as well as La-Z-Boy in Halifax, says custom orders pre-pandemic would take eight to 12 weeks from a manufacturer.
Now, it can be nine months or longer, he says.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years or so, I’ve gone through recessions and stuff like this, but nothing, nothing like this,” Jordan says. “In the furniture industry, there’s been high demand for the product and appliances, too. I mean, we’ve got people waiting nine months for special appliances, too, so it’s impacted everything in our business.”
The business world has been known for its bottom line, says Ülkü, who has studied supply chains for 20 years.
The pandemic offers a rethink, he says.
He says governmental, educational and consumer decisions all need to focus on “the quadruple bottom line.”
“To consider, not only the financial bottom line,” he says, “but also the environmental bottom line, societal bottom line, cultural bottom line.”
Compounding the strain is the labour shortage issue, forcing people like GM Don Jordan to play an even bigger role in the business.
“I’ve been on the (delivery) truck myself when guys don’t show up or are no longer with us, but I mean, it’s what you have to do,” he says. “We want to make sure that when customers are waiting as long as they are, that that they’re not disappointed by having to cancel or a truck going on the road, which we’ve had to do the odd time.”
He says the majority of customers have been understanding, but some aren’t.
There’s no clear timeline on when we can build back to a “better normal,” says Ülkü.
“It depends on the collective effort of the whole world, from developed countries to underdeveloped countries,” he says. “We cannot isolate ourselves when it comes to the pandemic and say we’ll bounce back in a year or two, it’s an open-ended question.
“My hope is that we learn lessons from this and start living more sustainably.”
Consumers are hoping for the best.
“Hopefully, as time goes on, it’ll get better,” Whittingham says. “That’s my hope.”