Out of flowers? Flour? Businesses contend with supply crises | The Tribune

192
Out of flowers? Flour? Businesses contend with supply crises | The Tribune

When heavy rain pelted Central America, Shane Pliska couldn’t get shipments of taupe-colored roses he needed for clients’ weddings. “Of course, this was the season when everyone wanted champagne- and gold-themed weddings, and the champagne part was all taupe roses,” says Pliska, owner of Planterra, a commercial florist and owner of a wedding venue where the decor is all about flowers and plants. Pliska, whose company is located in West Bloomfield, Michigan, could have substituted other flowers but wanted to deliver customers’ first choices. So he and his employees tinted white roses by hand. Supply shortages can be the bane of a small company’s existence. Severe weather and disasters can cause shortages, as can a manufacturer shutting down or stopping production of ingredients, components or raw materials. And shortages can force owners to be creative in finding substitutes or workarounds to mitigate damage to revenue and customer relationships. Never miss a local story. Sign up today for unlimited digital access to our website, apps, the digital newspaper and more. SUBSCRIBE NOW Shortages can hit companies of any size. Hundreds of KFC stores in Britain had to close in February when they were unable to get shipments of chicken and other supplies. The problem started when KFC switched to a different delivery company that couldn’t handle the volume of food the company needs at its 900 British outlets. But small businesses can have an advantage over larger ones in a supply crisis, says Sunder Kekre, an operations management professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. They don’t have the bureaucracy of large companies, and that gives them more flexibility in coming up with a solution, he says. Small companies are also better able to stay in touch and negotiate with customers. “You might convince them, ‘You don’t need it now, why not get it in two weeks,'” Kekre says. When Hurricane Irma forced Miami International Airport to shut down in September, flower shipments from South America — which supplies the majority of roses, carnations and chrysanthemums sold in the U.S. — couldn’t arrive. But the floral industry is set up for such contingencies, and distributors quickly arranged for shipments from other parts of the world. Pliska got flowers from Kenya in that case. “When I get a shipment, I can see all the airline tags from different places,” Pliska says. Rob Starr had to adapt after the business that produced talc used in his pottery company’s clay had to stop making it because it contained asbestos. After a long search, Starr found another supplier for The Potting Shed with a similar talc — but it didn’t fare well in the kiln. “Fortunately, he was a big fan of The Potting Shed and went to work on reformulating with the new talc,” says Starr, whose company is located in Saxonville, Massachusetts. Starr also had an extended search for a new supplier for picture frame parts. The vendor he used shut down in 2004, and Starr couldn’t find one that […]