Supply chain disruptions have N.B. entrepreneur scrambling to meet demand

Posted on November 25, 2021 | BY ALEC BRUCE | 0 Comments

Too much business is a problem most small enterprises only wish they had. But New Brunswick entrepreneur Martha Bell has a few words of advice for her peers: Be careful what you wish for.

Since COVID-19 disrupted global supply chains, demand for her wire easels and rings for flowers and wreaths has grown almost faster than her ability meet it. With merchandise-laden container ships stranded off both North American coasts, Bell Wire Products Ltd. of Florenceville-Bristol has become one of the few uninterrupted purveyors of the humble, yet endemic, artifacts at this time of the year.

 

 

“Normally, customers are able to get this stuff from Asia,” explains Bell, who co-owns and manages the company with her husband Scotty and employs eight to 10 people year-round. “Now, it’s pretty tough to get containers. So, they’re getting their easels from me.”

Bell reports that her business volume (she annually ships hundreds-of-thousands of products up and down the Canadian and U.S. seaboard) is up between five and tenfold in just the past few months as floral retailers and Christmas wreath wholesalers from Ontario to British Columbia scramble to fill orders. “You know, you can’t really gear up for something so unexpected,” she says.

According to a recent Forbes article, “When it comes to the current state of the global supply chain, weakness is everywhere. Massive dislocations are present in the container market, shipping routes, ports, air cargo, trucking lines, railways and even warehouses. The result has created shortages of key manufacturing components, order backlogs, delivery delays and a spike in transportation costs and consumer prices.”

Bell says that while the dislocation is in some ways “wonderful” for her company, it’s also nerve-racking. “It’s like that old expression when people start up a website: The great fear is that no one will buy or everyone will buy.”

 

 

To keep on top of the easel market, for example, she says, “I have to have a specific grade of steel, and specific amount of it. And I have to have paint for it. So, everything that goes into it has to be brought in, and in business inventory kills you. But what can we do? But we have to take a chance.”

Then there’s labour. “What we’re finding is that when there’s been a COVID exposure, parents are staying home with their children,” she says. “I’ve lost two or three employees because they’ve had to stay home. If you can imagine that we make 1,000 easels a day, and we lose two weeks production from an employee, you know, do the math.”

Still, she adds: “I like to think our customers are not going to take a chance on something coming on the ocean in six months. They’ll just decide to spend a little more money and buy right here from a manufacturer they know in Canada.”

Till then, Bell will concentrate on keeping a fine balance, which is essential when you’re walking a high wire.

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