When the pandemic hit, perhaps no suppliers were more heavily impacted than those who carried PPE. Industrial Distribution recently sat down with Gary Cohen and Matt Block of Magid, a manufacturer and distributor of safety supplies, to discuss the supply chain impacts and what we can expect moving forward.
ID: Obviously there have been a lot of kinks in the supply chain, especially at the start of the pandemic. What have been the biggest takeaways?
Gary Cohen, Director, Strategic Sourcing: I think the biggest thing we took away was diversifying quickly. We had to do that in order to meet our customers’ needs. Our supply chain base could not meet the current needs plus the added needs of a pandemic. So we worked hard to get our hands on more supply. But you have to be careful too. There were a lot of people popping up saying they sold PPE. At Magid, we realized, there's a fine line to diversifying quickly. You can't just buy from anybody.
Matt Block, Director of Health and Safety Services: I'm on the customer side, so I spent a lot of time in industrial environments specifically. I think, from the customer's standpoint, they're really kind of forced into dealing with supply chain kinks. A lot of companies had to, early on, assess the workplace and really understand their needs versus wants. As an example, the two items that were hit the hardest right from the beginning were N95 respirators and disposable gloves. And in each case, those are quite often used just as a convenience item, used on a voluntary basis. So it was focusing on analyzing what their PPE needs were and separating the wants.
Gary talked about diversifying your supplier base and really evaluating the suppliers' quality control process. As demand increases, every distributor and every manufacturer wants to fill those needs. And it's really critical that they're not just selling something just to fill a need and that they have a safety and quality control process in place.
GC: Don’t just buy from anybody. We were failing 80-plus percent of masks in our testing at the beginning of the pandemic. We prevented a lot of bad masks from coming into this country.
ID: How else has Magid had to modify its approach to solve some of these customer issues that were cropping up?
MB: We set up an entire COVID task force just to make sure that we could handle what was about to come. That was obviously controlling our inventory, but also making sure that our customers’ needs were being met, even if it wasn't necessarily with the stock, at least it was with updates. When this hit, everyone really worked hard to react. Everybody wants as much as they can get immediately. And we had some difficult conversations with customers.
But what started out to be a difficult conversation, ended up being very favorable. They’re seeing that we're really partnering with them because of that process, that we did the right thing and we’re thinking long-term. We could have sold them almost an entire warehouse probably immediately and made a quick buck, but then two or three weeks later, when those customers come back and they need more, then you have nothing. So we wanted to make sure that we kept our current customer base happy and that we could maintain that for as long as we needed to.
ID: What should we expect to see relating to PPE sourcing as we emerge from the pandemic? Are there any permanent changes that you anticipate?
GC: I would say the need for face coverings is obvious. There's going to be a much higher demand. Another thing I think that was a trend before COVID that COVID just pushed over the edge was the e-commerce side of our business. PPE is now a household term. It's not just for industrial or factories. So our e-commerce side of the business has exploded. It was doing really well before, but that just took it to another level.