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Solutions for Dealing with the Ongoing Supply Chain Disruption

Oct. 7, 2022
Product sourcing problems continue to haunt the industry. Here’s what some are experiencing and a few solutions that might help us all moving forward.

It’s not just the sometimes months-long lead time waiting game that the supply chain disruption has caused. Designers are reporting headaches at every turn when it comes to product selection, specification, ordering and delivery. We’re talking domestic price gauging, damaged deliveries, hold ups and ghost fees coming out of customs, not to mention the line modifications—aesthetically and monetarily—that can happen three to four times over along the way (leaving you with a product you never wanted in the first place).

Clients seem to be at a point of acceptance with added storage fees in order to have product in stock and at their fingertips. But designers are having a hard time drafting contracts that can outline these possible time sucks, leaving many feeling improperly compensated.

“Supply chain disruption and material price volatility have affected most of our current projects that have been under construction,” reported Christophe Laverne, principal with HKIT Architects, a Oakland, Calif.-based firm with three main practice areas: K-12 education, affordable housing and senior living. They’ve seen a shipping backlog that has still not recovered and categories such as window, flooring and lounge furniture have particular difficulty due to shortages, with some items being delayed up to a year.

“Furniture manufactured in Eastern Europe experiences significant delays due to the war and materials from China encounter large delays and/or price increases due to supply chain issues. The general contractors we work with are anticipating the demand by placing orders early, or proposing alternative materials in favor of products with shorter lead times. Regardless, schedules have been impacted,” he explained.

Dealing with Sourcing Shifts

“Presently, we have seen the issue partially shift from sourcing of the products or components to a logistic/transportation challenge of booking space on both ocean and air,” said Sarah Proefrock, a Dallas-based interior designer with HOK. She also has had to work with general contractors (GCs) and clients to have alternative specs ready to go, and while they have become more understanding of delays in construction, one element that remains across the board is the added pressure on design teams.

To avoid the scramble of reviewing submittals early and/or responding to field questions faster, HKIT has added more staff to handle construction administration. On the flip (manufacturing) side, Kevin O’Meara, vice president, integrated supply chain for Shaw Industries said that the company has been able to move labor concentrations around from plant to plant where the need is highest in order to make customer response time as quick as possible.

“Vertical integration is critical. Try to control your own destiny as much as you can,” he advised, as Shaw continues to invest in and grow their domestic manufacturing base. But they’ve also maintained a solid network of global suppliers by implementing systems that allows each side to communicate more effectively, which in turn has helped to protect the supply of various raw materials coming into Shaw plants. It’s allowed them to launch a quick-ship program set to hit 110 SKUs by this month (October) with just a two-week lead time.

Trust in your GC suggests Laverne, who said those HKIT works with have a steady finger on the pulse of sourcing timeframes and cost implications. “We also rely on our vendors and manufacturers to guide us on options for specifying domestically-produced furniture, products and materials with reliable and confirmed manufacturing systems.” Similarly, Proefrock says these challenges have given HOK the opportunity to create relationships with local sources they may not have explored otherwise. Cast a wider net and put more time into resourcing and researching products through tradeshows shops, sites and locales that you might not have considered.

Some have suggested the shipping problem be approached from a community standpoint. Denise Alexis, founder and principal interior design at Desi9n1-1 advocates for a container-sharing system, possibly overseen by ASID or IIDA, that would allow designers to more efficiently order from overseas. “I would source more from overseas if we could do bulk orders,” she said. “Hospitality contractors are ordering ahead and storing product so that they have it on time, but that’s not a sustainable formula for the future. Let’s figure out a better way for vendors to communicate with the design community in regards to what they need, and use blockchain technology to mobilize these unique and sustainable pieces we're missing out on," Alexis urged.

In that spirit, we'd like to keep this conversation going. Check our social media pages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to sound off on the problems you have experienced with both domestic and global product and material sourcing and what solutions have worked for you and your firm or business. Also stay tuned for a follow-up to this article where we’ll speak to experts on how to properly structure contracts that will get you paid fairly for the extra time many of you are spending on unforeseen issues such as coordinating delivery dates, combatting damaged products, discontinuation of certain collections, value engineering and beyond.

Let’s get you back some foresight and, most importantly, shake off some stress.

About the Author

AnnMarie Martin | Editor-in-Chief

AnnMarie has been covering the commercial design space since 2005 and has been on the editorial staff at i+s since 2011. Her style and vision has helped the brand evolve into a thought leader in purpose-driven design and cultural movements shaping the way we live and work. She returned to the role of editor in chief at the start of 2023 and her journalism and fiction writing background have helped to craft bi-monthly issues that don’t just report the latest industry news, but tell a cohesive tale of some of the biggest topics facing designers today.

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