Global Supply Chain Disruption During COVID

Global Supply Chain Disruption During COVID
Michele Karwoski

Global Supply Chain Disruption During COVID


Many of you wonder, or have asked, when will we receive shipments of saddles, boots, helmets or horse care?  Last year deliveries were slow; now there are products that don’t have any delivery time frame.

Let’s talk about the global supply chain. 

Last year we had trouble getting horse shampoos, salves, liniments, leather wipes - many items that came in bottles with sprayers, flip tops or pop ups.  I spoke with many vendors and here’s what I learned:

The factories that manufacture the products had switched to making soap and/or sanitizers for human use.

Also, we don’t think twice about a bottle, lid or sprayer, however the manufacturers do - the bottle may be made in the same country as the contents, but the sprayer or lid may come from a different country.

Look at helmets - some helmets are made in the same building/country as their R&D or Administrative offices, but the plastic clips that hold the chin straps in place may come from another country.

Leather - boots, saddles, strap goods.  The leather/hides may come from one country and sent to another country for tanning,  The tanned leather then is shipped to the factory where it is made into boots, bridles etc.

As a retailer and curious person, I want to know where things come from and how and where they are made.   A bridle from a company in the UK or Germany may use European leather, but the stitching together of the item may take place in India where there are very good craftsmen for stitching leather.

Once the product is made and packaged to ship to the US, or any other country, the products are put in a very large container and put on a freighter.   The ship sails to a port in the destination country where it is offloaded and transported via truck or train to the US warehouse. Once the product arrives at the warehouse, it is received in and stocked and ready to ship to the retailer.  Once we place an order (or have an item on backorder) warehouse staff pull the various items, pack them and ship them out to us, we receive the items into inventory and make them available for you.

Next, let’s walk through the production of a product that we stock, for examples bridles – first, the cow is slaughtered for meat and its hide.

Hides are then sent to the tannery to be prepared for use as a strap good.

The hides are chosen and brought to the factory where they are cut via a pattern to the various pieces needed to make a bridle.

Someone stitches the pieces (mostly by machine)

We haven’t even talked about where the thread and hardware come from (think raw materials turned into thread or buckles, and what country that they may be made in).

Someone inspects the finished bridle.

Someone tags and bags the pieces (the tags and bags must come from somewhere)

Like items are boxed together.

Space is booked in a container.

Boxed items are sent, via truck, to the port and loaded into a container.

The container is lifted onto the freighter.

Once loaded (or overloaded), the ship sales to destination port.

Once the freighter arrives, and can get into the port, the containers are off loaded.

Boxes for same destination (Company/Warehouse) are then moved via truck.

So, if there is a COVID outbreak in the country that the hardware or thread is made it, the supply chain is drastically slowed or stopped.

If there is a COVID outbreak at the rendering facility.

If there is a COVID outbreak at the tannery.

If there is a COVID outbreak at the factory.

If there is a COVID outbreak in the trucking.

If there is a COVID outbreak at the ports.

With social distancing, factories, manufacturers, ports and trucking companies have had to spread out or send home workers slowing production.

Ships are sitting at sea because they can’t get into the ports.  Due to labor, trucking and container shortages, closed ports and jammed warehouses, severe congestion has developed at most open ports.  As of the second week of September, there are approximately 36 cargo vessels waiting to offload at the Port of Long Beach in California (see image).  Even if manufacturers overcome all the odds and have product ready to ship, often there aren’t any empty containers because they are sitting at sea waiting to be offloaded (and reloaded).  Additionally, the cost of space in shipping containers has soared – one of our vendors recently reported that their costs have risen from $2,000 to $20,000 to $25,000 this year.

Another vendor emailed: 

“To put the shipping in perspective at $3500 for a container of helmets the retail value of the freight was $5.20 per helmet.

The last container out of Taiwan was $25,000 thus the retail value of the freight was $18.18. A difference of $13.18 added to the cost of your new helmet.  Due to freight alone a $59.95 helmet would now cost $73.25.”

 Additionally, some of the countries that manufacture many of the goods we take for granted have had such serious COVID outbreaks that people are dying, and manufacturers can’t produce fast enough or have had to close.  In fact, when having this conversation with one of our long standing vendors he commented:

“We got a call from an Indian manufacturer of our spur straps.

He said that he had good news and bad news for us.

Ok what is the Good news.  “ The guy that made the spur straps died “   What ????  That is good news?   “ Why yes, as we have someone else that can make the spurs”.  Oh, ok then, my goodness what is the bad news ?  “ The buckles need to be welded and to do the welding you need an acetylene torch which requires oxygen. However there is no oxygen available as it is all being used by the hospitals so we cannot ship”.

So often we never think of the human component to the products that we purchase, when in fact the people that are involved in every aspect of the supply chain are the most important components.

We work with over 50 companies/manufacturers so that when you walk into our store, you have a nice variety of products to choose from.  We spend a considerable amount time trying to source things as simple as stirrup irons or hoof picks, in addition to saddles, boots and helmets.   We keep in touch with our vendors and sometimes they can give us expected dates (in the past we could almost always get ETAs), but we don’t want to keep bothering them. Every time we call or email a company it may take someone off the manufacturing floor to answer the question, and this is counter productive because we are taking them away from producing.

Over the last eighteen months our global supply chain has been severely affected by COVID, resulting in delayed orders and limited product availability.  We work tirelessly to provide you, our customers, with the products that you desire in the time frame that you need. As much as we would like to be able to provide you with the products that you want at a moment’s notice, it is often not possible.

As we rapidly move toward the holiday season, please keep the supply chain disruptions that we are facing in mind as you plan your holiday ordering.  We will do the best we can to accommodate your needs, but the more lead time that you give us with special orders will ensure the chance of being more successful and will be greatly appreciated.

The upside to this is we have developed new relationships with several companies giving us the opportunity to supply you with different brands!

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

And remember-be safe and be kind!

Michele Karwoski







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