Insite Software had the opportunity to sit down with Schilling Supply Company’s general manager, Marc Gloede and marketing leader, Amber Kaiser, on March 11 to learn how Schilling Supply, a fifth-generation, family-owned wholesale distributor of janitorial, paper, packaging products and other facility and industrial supplies, is tackling the disruption they are facing from COVID-19.
Here, Gloede and Kaiser share how day-to-day operations at La Crosse, WI-based Schilling Supply are impacted, how the team is responding and how the company will continue to do everything in their power to put their customers’ needs at the center of their universe, even at the height of a pandemic.
Insite Software: In a general sense, how has the Coronavirus outbreak impacted your day-to-day operations?
Amber Kaiser: Many of our suppliers who manufacture sanitizers, masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment have instituted supply pacing programs, which impacts us and our customers. There is a very high demand for these kinds of products right now, so we’re seeing a fluctuation in the industry.
Marc Gloede: To Amber’s point, we’ve certainly seen fluctuation. We’ve been hosting several purchasing meetings. We’re reacting and trying to come up with new sources for these products. But we’re finding the same thing everywhere. Manufacturers have put their inventory on allocation and are protecting their current business first, which we are very respectful of. We’re doing the same thing. Daily, we ensure we’re allocating our inventory first and foremost to current customers. We are making sure we aren’t just serving brand new customers that found our products online and decided to order 300 cases of hand sanitizer because they can’t find it elsewhere. Though we’re doing the best we can to serve new customers during this time as well. So over the past week, Coronavirus impacts have been at the forefront of everything we’re doing at Schilling.
Kaiser: I’ll just add that at Schilling, we’re a generational, family-owned company. We have long-term relationships with many of our customers. It’s been really great to see the industry evolve and watch Schilling evolve along with it. I’m proud that we’ve found ways to serve our customers through new channels like eCommerce. We’re still able to continue serving our customers in traditional ways, but now they have even more opportunities to interact with us. We’re enabled through our digital channels to continue serving our customers even in times like these. As we try to make the best of the evolving situation, we’re prioritizing deliveries for long-term customers and of course healthcare professionals. We’re certainly trying to do whatever we can for everybody else too. This is impacting everyone and we have to put our best foot forward.
Insite: It sounds like the team at Schilling is doing everything in your power to bend over backward and serve your customers. As a result of you re-allocating time and resources to these areas of your business, are you seeing impacts on other aspects of your business as well? How has it impacted the supply chain or logistics?
Gloede: The biggest thing that is impacted right now is planning for projects. We’re always trying to make improvements and often it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day. So when something like the Coronavirus drives us to allocate resources and time, we have to neglect some of those other projects. Logistically we’ve been doing okay. But it’s definitely impacted our route efficiencies because we’ve had an influx of orders. In fact, this week we saw our most web orders ever recorded in one day. People are finding our products online and ordering them. It is throwing our routing in the afternoons into a bit of a tailspin. We have to determine whether we are going to be able to fulfill, route and deliver the influx of orders. It does create a bit of panic and urgency.
Insight: Are existing customers the ones placing the orders or are we talking new business here?
Kaiser: All of the above. It’s definitely a mix of our current customers and new customers. At Schilling we wear multiple hats already, but to see everyone come together during this time and collaborate to best serve our customers speaks volumes about the strength of our team. That’s engrained in our mission anyway, but to see it pulled together under this kind of pressure is really neat. The care we have for our customers makes me proud to work here. We’re communicating promptly and effectively with our customers. We’re providing guidance and referring customers to the CDC. And, of course, we’re making sure our own team stays healthy so we can continue to best serve our customers.
Insight: It’s clear you are doing what you can to serve your customers well. You mentioned you’ve gotten more web orders. Are you also seeing increased phone or fax orders? If so, how are you keeping communications going when you may have to deliver news that you can’t fulfill certain orders?
Gloede: Our customer service team has been doing an excellent job. While orders are being placed, they are communicating potential ordering challenges. They’re letting our customers know upfront that we have certain limitations. For the most part, our customers have been really understanding. When we do short shift product, our customer team reaches out to all the customers and lets them know what was shorted on their shipment, why it was shorted, when it will be delivered and so forth. We don’t have all the answers and we can’t prepare for everything, but we are certainly trying.
Insight: How has this impacted your relationship with your suppliers?
Gloede: Many of our suppliers are doing a fantastic job. Some of them will provide a weekly report that outlines what we are allocated, which is really helpful. We understand that many of our suppliers have to protect their current business. The only thing that holds times like these together is mutual trust. When H1N1 hit, we saw the same kind of impacts to business. We saw mass panic, many distributors were looking for ways to source new items and there were many supply shortages. We are doing our best to do what’s right for our customers and we expect our suppliers to do the same thing on their side. We are all in this together.
Insight: Great, so let’s shift gears a bit to talk about digital. How has e-commerce, for example, helped you during this time?
Kaiser: People continue to find our products through our website. In general, customers really like our site. They can get all their products in one place and order online. The website helps us communicate and provide the information our customers are looking for. But more importantly, we’re blessed with a really great team that’s doing everything they can for our customers during this time.
Insight: So you’ve seen a spike in sanitation products, masks, wipes and other personal protective equipment. Any move in demand for other products?
Gloede: I don’t mean to call it panic buying, but there’s a bit of that going on right now. Everyone is fearful that the supply chain may be impacted by COVID-19, so it seems like everyone is ordering more of everything. But it seems that there is a specific demand for products that are sanitation-related like towels, tissue, wipes and chemicals. Those products are skyrocketing. But it does seem like there’s an overall trend up for nearly all our products. People are stocking up.
Kaiser: It will be interesting to watch how ordering changes as the media coverage slows down and panic levels decrease.