When the Covid-19 pandemic reached New Zealand shores in March this year, Kiwi-based Electrical Supply Corp, General Manager, Steve Priest says he and his employees were given 48 hours to, “go home and stay home.”
The New Zealand response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, that saw New Zealand borders closed to all non-residents from 19 March 2020, and the country eventually launched into a nationwide lockdown on March 25, was a move that could have brought many electrical supply businesses to their knees.
Steve and his team, however, used the time to further propel Electrical Supply Corp into the digital age, define their business goals and refine the business based around their customers’ needs.
As a company, Electrical Supply Corp has been evolving over four decades. Starting in 1980 the company was established in selling electrical control products. It quickly expanded and was established to import and sell cable accessories to electrical wholesalers nationwide.
Today Electrical Supply Corp imports and markets leading tradesman's products and brands, mainly supplying electrical wholesalers, plus selected Original Equipment Manufacturers, and specific industrial companies.
They employ 45 staff and have sales representatives based around New Zealand and import product from more than 11 countries throughout Europe, America and Asia.
Steve says Covid-19 has caused the company to evolve further and the pandemic is driving three key trends.
The drive for more electrical supply companies to use digital platforms, how they are dealing with the emerging issue of getting products into New Zealand following Covid-19 and a focus on more collaborative working arrangements with both suppliers, supply chain partners and its customers.
“The issues and trends we’re seeing here in New Zealand are a bit different to the rest of the world and I’m not sure they understand the position we’re in here.”
Electrical services were deemed an essential service during the lockdown in New Zealand, so Steve was able to get his warehouse team working in bubbles (teams of people defined to reduce the risk of spread of Covid-19) in their warehouse, picking urgent orders and ensuring they were dispatched.
“While many people were sitting it out at home, we recognised how much our digital ERP systems were capable of and the functions we just hadn’t been using because we hadn’t been placed in a position where we had to use them.”
Steve says that many of the customers Electrical Supply Corp works with are well versed in using digital ordering systems, however, some of the New Zealand business are not and he believes in a focus on the businesses that aren’t using digital processes in order to help both their and our businesses and processes.
“Electrical supply wholesalers and customers should be looking at the intelligence they can get from their systems because data is king,” says Steve.
During the lockdown, Steve and his team also reviewed the company website and their ordering system. The website redesign was coupled with a move to get all their products, including compliance documentation, on to their website.
“We do still have customers that will want to use paper-based information and we will certainly still print catalogues, but we now have it all online, including all the compliance documents needed with certain electrical products.”
As lockdown restrictions started to lift from April 27, 2020, and life in New Zealand resumed some sense of normality, Steve says his employees and the business were ready to go.
“By the time we got back to work, we were just ready to go and in a better position to cater it to our different levels of customer ability and needs.”
But it was while ordering replacement product, as the rest of the world started to go back onto their own Covid-19 driven lockdowns, that Steve says they started to see further issues arise.
“The biggest issue for us that New Zealand is facing now, is the supply chain lag and the lack of product reaching our shores on time, caused by Covid-19.”
“While life has returned to a level of normality here in New Zealand, we’re now dealing with the flow-on effect on supply chains caused by Covid-19.”
“Our issue is getting products. Everyone is busy but our conundrum here in New Zealand is we can’t get enough product to fulfil all the work that is going on,” says Steve.
His company was waiting on up to nine containers of product that should have arrived into NZ since September.
Steve says, as a result, Covid-19 has also started to change the way electrical wholesalers are communicating with both their customers and their distribution chains.
“We’re now saying to our customers we need them to let us know what they will need in 6-12 months-time, so we can get ahead of this rather than chasing it. We’re now also having weekly meetings with shipping and freight forwarding companies so we can manage the lag.”
Steve says currently at times goods are being unloaded in Tauranga because they cannot manage the loads in Auckland. It is then being rail freighted to Auckland and put on trucks to Hamilton.
“It’s taking up to five-seven days longer to just to get here once it has arrived in the country.”
Steve has discovered the key is a more collaborative approach with both suppliers and customers and understanding what everyone’s intentions are as “the perfect storm in the supply chain” looks to continue well into 2021.
While people have largely resumed almost-normal life in New Zealand, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on manufacturing nations including India, China, and the wider EU/UK, causing issues with product supply.
Steve says most of their product comes from China and Europe. He is aware of overseas suppliers that currently have raw material and no staff, or others that have staff, but no raw material.
In other cases, there are products which have been held back by countries to ensure they can supply their own markets first, like a sanitising/cleaning cloth they import from the United Kingdom which the British Government said it wanted held back so it could order it in bulk during the pandemic.
Covid-19 has meant fewer ships are coming to New Zealand which has also led to a reduction in available shipping containers. There have also been strikes at the ports in Australia meaning ships destined for Australia and New Zealand are in some cases skipping New Zealand altogether.
Airfreight is not looking much better. Since March 2020, international flights have reduced from 600 a week to 120 and driving up costs exponentially and many countries are still struggling with containing Covid-19. And while China is up and running again, Bangladesh the world’s second-largest manufacturer is heading back into lockdown.
This is all being placed against a booming economy in New Zealand where demand for consumer goods is said to be up 20 to 25 percent.
“While we’re back at relatively normal activity and everyone is underway in New Zealand, getting products is proving very challenging and will continue to be,” says Steve.
There are positives on the horizon too, says Steve. While the New Zealand market is unique, they are also creative and focused on their customers.
Electrical Supply Corp can carry out kitting where they can adapt products for their customers to meet the New Zealand market’s needs if products aren’t arriving as needed. They have also purchased an industrial labelling machine to ensure any products coming into New Zealand that do not meet our labelling requirements are able to be stickered to meet our customer needs.
Steve says they also used the time during Covid-19 to acquire a new business to complement our current product offer, giving them distribution for the LEDvance brand/products in New Zealand.
“I think the real learning in all of this is “flexibility” is a new norm,” says Steve.
World Electrical Forum - 16 December 2020