How Interior Designers Can Cope with the Supply Chain Crisis

If you are an interior designer, there is no doubt you and your clients have been affected by the disruption in the global supply chain. From furniture to appliances, many of the items you have specified for your projects, whether commercial or residential, have had longer than usual lead times.

In this article, we offer tips on what you can do to minimize the impact of the supply chain breakdowns on your projects, from managing client expectations to having a back-up plan for completing the work that needs to be done.

A Brief Summary of the Supply Chain Crisis

Clearly, the global crisis has affected not just the interior design and building industry, but many other sectors as well, including transportation, publishing and food supply. But as an interior designer, you are most concerned with keeping your clients satisfied while avoiding delays in their project and the resulting unnecessary disappointment.

There are many moving parts to the “supply chain,” including raw materials, logistics and labor. Even a small breakdown, such as the shortage of foam to make refrigerators and sofas, computer microchips for cars, or even adhesive for shipping labels, can have a domino effect. Here are the factors that are contributing to the current supply chain crisis:

  • Increased demand for certain items due to the pandemic
  • Rolling blackouts in ports and factories
  • Labor shortage due to worker sickness and refusal to be vaccinated
  • Pandemic-linked shutdowns and layoffs
  • Shortages of longshoremen and truckers
  • Lock-downs in Shenzen and Shanghai
  • COVID safety checks and restrictions at the border

Now we are also dealing with the worldwide effects of the war in Ukraine, which might possibly aggravate the already-existing disruptions for years to come. Sea and air freight schemes are being disrupted, delivery of critical products to European manufacturers are being delayed, and certain products are almost impossible to obtain.

Even in the absence of global pandemics and wars, the supply chain can also be affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis in any part of the world. Then there are cyber attacks, which are no longer uncommon and can wreak havoc on a manufacturer’s ability to keep the ball rolling.

It seems that there is no end to the supply chain crisis in sight, so interior designers, along with other professionals, must learn to cope with the problem.

Is There Anything Manufacturers Can Do About the Supply Chain Crisis?

The popular and cost-saving practice of “just-in-time” fulfillment, whereby merchants place their orders with suppliers only when their customer places an order with them, may have to be replaced by reverting to older practices along with new ways of stocking, so key supplies are always at the ready.

Some manufacturers are being forced or chose to switch suppliers, especially ones that are closer to their own facility. On the bright side, this could possibly lead to rethinking sustainability and favoring smaller suppliers who maintain eco-friendly practices and use recyclable materials.

Many companies urge improving communications throughout the supply chain, and managing their customer demand by substitution and reallocation.

But the important question is what you can do to minimize the impact of these problems on your interior design business.

Strategies for Handling Supply Chain Disruptions

First, don’t be discouraged! Flexibility and creative thinking are key. There are several steps you can take to prevent clients from being disappointed and work being delayed, or even avoid dependence on the supply chair altogether.

Be Transparent with your Clients

Many interior designers choose to bring up delivery issues and long lead times at the very first meeting with their client. While the tendency is to blame the messenger where there are unforeseen delays, letting your clients know even before you take on a job that delays should be expected will go a long way to keep your relationship on a positive note. If necessary, be prepared to show a skeptical client proof of the cause of the problem.

Now is the time to set up a computer system that will automatically send updates to all your clients on a weekly basis. A quick online search of interior design software options will present many possibilities.

Finalize Your Design Specifications as Quickly as Possible

You’ve probably had clients with such busy schedules that they are impossible to pin down. Or ones that can never make up their minds. You are best advised to work with your clients with the goal of making specification decisions as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In the current climate, you should also encourage your clients not to make substantial changes in floor plans or material selection after the work has begun. This could have an adverse effect on your entire project moving forward.

Consider Quick Ship Programs or Purchase Items that are in Stock

You can help ameliorate the situation by choosing only items that are available on a quick-ship basis, which typically has an 8-week lead time. Techniques for sourcing items with immediate availability include showroom floor sample sales, antique dealers and sourcing from places you may not have thought of before, such as vintage shops and second-hand stores.

Stick with domestic products, rather than importing from overseas, and try out some local shops and vendors. Keep in mind that delays in delivery of furniture purchased abroad can be as long as 36 weeks.

We know some interior designers who use local millworkers and upholstery shops who can produce custom items in a matter of weeks. You might consider giving a face lift to your client’s existing sofa, wing chairs or bar stools by having a local fabricator reupholster them with an exciting new fabric or leather.

Strengthen Your Network of Vendors

The more vendors you establish a good working relationship with, the better. Include out-of-state suppliers in addition to the local ones you typically use. Having a wide network of trustworthy vendors can help you deal with supply delays by enabling you to search for what you are looking for from multiple vendors.

Arrange Your Own Shipping

Hire a logistics expert to assist you in delivering your product on time if its production is running late. You’ll pay a little extra, but it’s a good investment to avoid delays and risk having an unhappy client.

Substitute, Substitute, Substitute

Just like real estate agents whose motto is “Location, location, location,” interior designers should adopt “substitute, substitute, substitute” as their mantra. Some larger interior designer firms are even providing customer service specialists who make selections that are not at the mercy of the supply chain. Whether it’s a concierge service or a dedicated employee, it can be a helpful alternative when there’s no time to wait for weeks, if not months.

As an interior designer, you should be able to provide stellar interior design services, along with versatile business management skills. When you factor in the delays and disappointments caused by disruptions in the supply chain, you need to add even more skills to our toolbox: client hand-holding, problem-solving and crisis management. We hope this article has helped you be prepared to keep your clients happy when your work is disrupted by problems with the supply chain.

Adjustable Contracts:
Besides facing troubles with the client’s work, supply delays can also lead to issues with the contracts, especially the stipulated timelines and costing. Hence, it is necessary to include adjustable clauses in the contract.

Supply delays can increase the final cost of the product that you have to pay, and not including the same in the contract means you may be paying the extra cost out of your pocket. So, be smart about it and ensure that your clients understand the terms.

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