Planning for Fall & Winter During an Inventory Shortage
As a homeowner, you’ve likely spent at least some of your time these past months perfecting your outdoor space for relaxation. With people across the country stuck home for this extended period of time, many are finally getting to check projects off of their long-neglected to-do lists. With this focus on home improvement came an inventory shortage that we’d like to analyze, to help you understand what to expect for shopping during the Fall and Winter seasons.
What Caused the Shortage
The short explanation for this unprecedented inventory shortage was that demand was incredibly higher than supply. A complete explanation, however, requires we look more in depth at two key obstacles: supply chains and pandemic closures and regulations.
Limitations of Supply Chains
One product is likely to have many manufacturers, contributing to a larger supply chain. Shown is just a single manufacturing facility.
There is sometimes a misconception that a product is made entirely by a single manufacturer, but that very rarely is the case. In fact, a single product can require a handful, if not dozens, of manufacturers to bring it to life. Let’s use a fire pit as an example. The exterior shell of our Edge fire pits are made of stainless steel, and are equipped with a chrome key valve flange and key for turning on and off gas flow. Each of these is made by a different manufacturer.
The interior burner and fittings contain a large number of stainless steel and steel fittings, such as whistle free flex lines, burner pans, and fire rings. Each of these components is manufactured by a different company, bringing the total involved manufacturers up to at least five.
If, of those five manufacturers, a single one is unable to procure the required stainless steel, steel, or chrome to produce their component, the entire fire pit will be delayed. Normally, manufacturers keep excess inventory to ensure they never run out, so this rarely occurs. However, no one was prepared for a pandemic.
Pandemic Closures & Regulations
Many retailers and manufacturers have temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making signs like these commonplace.
From the beginning, states have each handled the COVID-19 pandemic a little differently, but especially here on the West Coast, we kicked off April with mass closures of manufacturing plants and retail stores. Only essential businesses were permitted to stay open.
As the months have gone by, manufacturers have been slowly able to re-open, with heavy restrictions in place. Most notable being limits on the number of people in a given space. This, of course, leads to a significant decrease in capacity for production, so though demand continues to rise, supply lags far behind.
In addition to this, international shipping has seen increased restrictions and longer delays, as countries worldwide alter policies to do what they deem necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within their borders. So, with understanding of how supply chains function—both nationally and internationally—, any product that uses even one component from overseas may likewise be delayed or marked as backordered.
How It Effects Fall & Winter Shopping
All sorts of industries have seen an inventory shortage, and the fire product industry expects the shortage to continue. Grocery stores were the quickest to be hit.
Great, you may say to yourself, but do supply chains and pandemic regulations affect shopping during Fall and Winter? They will, unfortunately.
There’s no clear roadmap to the end of this pandemic, and we all know too well how fast things can change. So, though we hold onto hope that a vaccine will be developed soon, and our world will go back to normal as much as it can, we recognize that we just don’t know. It’s with this worldwide uncertainty that we encourage consumers to plan ahead with their shopping.
During Summer, outdoor products such as fire pits and patio furniture flew off the shelves, leaving would-be buyers with estimated lead times weeks, if not months, in the future. As the weather turns cooler, the same thing will happen with indoor fireplace goods and outdoor patio heaters. These popular products will be at the forefront of homeowners’ minds, and so will begin the mad rush to get an order in before inventory is depleted, because—as before—demand will greatly exceed supply.
With this, we recommend that if you’re thinking of tackling that fireplace to-do or wanting to enjoy the outdoors a little longer with your own patio heater, make that purchase now. Do all the research you can, reach out to our sales staff, and ask the questions you need to find the right product now, before everyone else.
What Should My Expectations Be?
Shipping warehouses across the nation are facing an influx of orders. Automation and machines, such as these fork lifts, help speed along processing.
Despite lead times being longer than usual—due to the supply chain delays and pandemic regulations outlined above—customers are still quite eager to get their products as fast as possible. We totally get it! It’s exciting to work on home projects, and especially satisfying to check big to-dos off of your list. But the delays we’re facing now are real, have been happening the majority of this year, and will no doubt continue for many months to come.
The best way to set reasonable expectations for yourself is to remain patient. Expect that your order may be delayed but know that it will ship as soon as possible. The entire Starfire Direct team is on your side, and we are working diligently to get your order out as fast as we can.
If you're having a party, or have a hard deadline, the best thing to do is to order as soon as possible! However, don't be surprised if your delivery date gets pushed back a bit. Delays are an unfortunate reality right now, so we absolutely recommend giving yourself as much extra time as possible. If you need a product in a month—or two—, order it now to ensure it arrives with time to spare. In our experience, some customers may feel that the only way to ensure their order is shipped quickly is to call, email, or chat us routinely, day-after-day, to “expedite” their order. Respectfully, we ask that you please don’t do this. We assure you that we are already doing everything we can to quickly process your order, be that working with our warehouse team or talking regularly with our manufacturers and their shipping departments. The more frequently we are asked for updates from customers, the more bottlenecked we become. There are only so many hours in the day to communicate, and only so many staff members to make calls and send replies, so the best way you can help us is simply to have patience and trust that we’re doing everything we can to ensure you get your product quickly.
Our goal has been, and will always be, providing you with the perfect product alongside a fantastic shopping experience. Through these trying times, we will continue to work around the clock to keep our site updated with the most accurate information on inventory availability, lead times, order shipping status, and more. As we navigate these challenges and strive for an even better customer experience, we appreciate your understanding and patience.
Let Us Help
These past months we’ve become intimately familiar with the inventory problems plaguing our customers, and it is with you in mind that we recommend purchasing soon. As you consider your options, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions. Our team is more than happy to help you find the right product for your space, to ensure you time spent home is as enjoyable as possible.
Please reach out to us by filling out our contact us form here, live chatting us on our site, or by giving us a call at (866) 578-8538. We look forward to working with you!
Main Image: Semi-trucks and other ground transportation continue to be the primary shipping method throughout the United States, while sea-faring shipping carriers and air transportation bring products in from other countries.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Starfire Direct's Product Manager, Emily manages the ecommerce team responsible for all of the products on the website. When not working, she enjoys tending to her many indoor plants, spending time curled up with a good book, and going on adventures with her dog, Sophie. She is an NFI certified Hearth Design Specialist.