Shortages, supply chain disruptions and rising demand have made it much harder to procure PPE.
Experts believe market conditions aren’t likely to return to normal any time soon. Businesses that need PPE — including manufacturers, health care providers, restaurants and more — will need new strategies to adapt to current supply chain conditions.
1. Diversify suppliers
Depending on the same few suppliers can introduce unnecessary risk to your operations.
Individual suppliers can sometimes struggle, even when the market is good, which may limit your business’s ability to source PPE. Companies in the same region may be vulnerable to local shortages, infrastructure failures and poor market conditions. Clustered suppliers can also be susceptible to short-term crises like natural disasters. Businesses that work with multiple suppliers in danger-prone areas may frequently find themselves without needed items.
Working with a range of suppliers worldwide can make the company supply chain more difficult to manage — but will provide a business with better access to essential items.
If an audit of your business’s supply chain reveals a dependence on a handful of companies, or those clustered in the same few areas, it may be a good idea to diversify your base.
2. Build stronger supplier relationships
However, it can be disadvantageous to work with multiple suppliers if it prevents a business from building strong relationships.
For example, a company that always buys from the cheapest available vendors is likely to lose out on the benefits of consistently buying from the same supplier or intentionally developing a strong business partnership.
A supplier with a strong relationship with your business may be much more likely to offer advantageous contract terms, communicate frequently, provide advice on supply chain operations and be more transparent.
3. Purchase from international suppliers
In some cases, diversifying your supply chain may not be enough. Current suppliers of N95 masks, no matter where they are located or the number of companies your business works with, may not be able to provide the PPE you need.
Looking to international suppliers can help businesses manage shortages. They may be designed to meet different PPE standards, but they’re often an effective substitute for PPE that meets American requirements.
For example, KF94 and KN95 masks meet Korean and Chinese standards, respectively, on mask filter performance and testing. KF94 masks filter 94% of particles and KN95 filters 95%. They may not meet the N95 American standards, but they can be an effective replacement when not mandated by law or required by industry standards.
Going abroad for PPE can be a valuable strategy when domestic options aren’t available.
4. Identify and eliminate data silos
Miscommunication, a lack of transparency and data silos can all make effective procurement much more difficult.
Sharing information between departments will help a business ensure that all employees involved in procuring, sourcing or managing PPE will have the data to make informed decisions. New technologies, like AI and IoT, can help provide additional insight into supply chain operations and increase the information the team will have access to.
In the best-case scenario, employees in charge of procurement will also understand the different kinds of PPE available and what their business will need.
For example, staff in a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab will need much better protection than workers in a BSL-1 lab. Employees in charge of procuring can benefit from understanding the level of PPE staff will need.
5. Manage waste
In addition to securing a steady supply of PPE, it’s also important to manage how it’s used. Waste of PPE in daily operations can easily increase the amount a business’s workers need.
Auditing business operations to identify how PPE is used and discarded can help a company identify and eliminate potential waste. This will make it easier to procure enough PPE for normal operations.
6. Control distribution
Finding ways to manage PPE distribution — like through reclamation programs and automated dispensing equipment — can also help make a business’s PPE consumption more manageable.
Distribution control systems can reduce the potential for waste and misuse, potentially making PPE sourcing and management much easier.
7. Expand PPE stockpiles
A stockpile can be expensive to maintain, but having PPE on hand will make shortages and supply chain disruptions easier to manage.
Businesses with storage space available for a PPE stockpile should build up or expand their supplies.
8. Build risk management into supply chain operations
Supply chain transparency is often limited and the scope and scale may make threats harder to predict. As a result, modern operations need to be built from the ground up with risk in mind — otherwise, effective risk management may be difficult to achieve.
Supply chain risk management strategies — including regular audits, the development of crisis management plans and transparency-boosting initiatives — can help a business more effectively identify and manage supply chain threats.
9. Plan for fraud
Fraud in the marketplace has become much more common due to the growing demand for PPE and ongoing shortages. PPE with false or spoofed certifications, low-quality products and scams are all threats buyers should plan for.
Working with reputable vendors that seem informed about the products they sell is a good way to prevent PPE fraud. Companies that appear to have deep knowledge of their product, suppliers and the overall supply chain are less likely to be taking advantage of their customers with low-quality or fraudulent products.
Awareness of scams and fraud in the market can also help prepare businesses to effectively source legitimate PPE.
10. Avoid deals that look too good to be true
Businesses can also reduce the risk of fraud and scams by avoiding deals that appear too good to be true.
Vendors that offer PPE at far lower prices than the market average or have items in stock when others don’t may be trying to take advantage of desperate buyers.
When PPE is hard to come by, vetting vendors that offer uniquely good deals can help businesses avoid fraud, scams and substandard products.
How businesses can navigate a challenging PPE market
PPE remains in short supply due to ongoing manufacturing and supply chain disruptions. Businesses that need it are likely to face procurement challenges into the foreseeable future.
Procurement strategies that prioritize long-term supplier relationships, risk management and diversification can help businesses navigate these challenges.