‘Tis the season for….. gift cards?

Why are so many of our skillets out of stock?  When are they coming back? Will they arrive before Christmas ?

If you haven’t heard by now, the entire world is experiencing a crisis in supply chain demands as businesses both large & small grapple with labor shortages, uncertain product availability, and manufacturing delays at every single level. Our tiny foundry up north in Wisconsin has not been spared the agony of any of these crippling uncertainties, yet they remain loyal to us by keeping our purchase orders active, albeit the delivery dates are pushed out as far as 6-8 months past their regularly expected due dates from this past summer.

For us, this makes estimating product availability & ship dates a shot in the dark at best, as the situation in the foundry fluctuates from day to day.  The optimism of us getting closer to receiving our ordered inventory relies on how many workers at the foundry came in that week, or which replacement parts for critical production machinery were available, if at all.  For months, people who regularly worked in the front office at the foundry have opted to go out in the plant to help the floor keep things moving with a skeletal crew member count. It’s made us all sweat more than just a few times, wondering how to manage and overcome this compounded dilemma.

When the severity of this problem started to rear it’s ugly head late this Spring (2021), I decided we needed to start looking for comparable foundries who might be able to fulfill our orders and alleviate our first manufacturer of some of the backorders piling up. Finding another manufacturing partner as good as our original, means we needed to seek a foundry who was first even willing to consider doing cookware, and then have similar enough equipment to fit the specific pattern tools that we’ve already created (and invested heavily in), in order to feasibly run our production.  On top of this, they needed to be able to handle our order volumes as well as the high bar for an aesthetically good looking, superior quality casting. It’s a hard match, to say the least.

Across the course of about 3 months, I vetted and called 7 different qualified foundries, and shipped pattern tools to 2 different foundries to begin sampling for production feasibility. In some cases, in order to run samples, we needed to do something quite drastic! Our patterns weren’t exactly fit for each foundry’s equipment, so we had to cut up some of our patterns and mount them onto a totally different plate so that it would fit inside of their equipment.

Doing this was both costly and risky. We can easily spend thousands of dollars changing our patterns, only to run samples and have the realization that the foundry’s outcomes aren’t what we all hoped for, and they can make the decision at that moment to discontinue running that part for the long term. That would leave us high and dry without inventory and a pattern tool that has been modified from my original foundry, needing further investment to change it back to where we started.

Tough situation, huh!?  Yeah,… it gets even more complicated.

Navigating expectations with any new business requires a deep understanding of their processes, abilities, sweet spots and interests to find a meaningful and realistic mutual benefit for everyone involved. Foundries don’t exactly need the extra work right now, but what they can use are customers & their customer’s customers, who can be flexible, understanding and supportive during this time of inflation & production delays.  Keeping communication open, frequent and clear is the foundation of any long term relationship, and I have definitely learned a thing or two already about setting realistic expectations.

I’m happy to report however, that we are off to a good start with some of the new sample runs with these alternative foundries, and I believe fiercely in finding a positive spin to the mess that we’ve all found ourselves inside of.  This inventory crisis has forced us to think outside of the box, reach out & form new relationships, and I positively expect great results just from this effort of diversification alone. It will only make us more agile & potentially open up a new fruitful relationship with yet another amazing Wisconsin based manufacturer, while not overwhelming the one that we have now.

When it comes to in-person, hand made, beautifully decorated physical gifts for special occasions, – especially holidays- my heart goes all into making that happen. But this year if just going to look different for everyone, and that means being creative with how we can supply our favorite people (over 100+ independent stores and YOU, the direct customers!).  I will do my utmost best to stay connected in a real way, despite digital gift card downloads, emailed notifications on re-stocked items, and out of stock disappointments.  It sucks that 5 of our 9 most popular items are not even in our warehouse right now, but the good news is that we have new partnerships on the horizon, and our new location to help us serve a larger vision for the company as we grow into our 10th year ahead.

So- Happy Holidays!?!  I hope more than anything that everyone stays close & healthy & connected to their loved ones this winter, despite a different looking and maybe smaller pile of gifts under the tree. We hope it’s not about the size of the box, but what’s intended inside, and that everyone can breath a little humility with us to just be patient as the world catches up to the demand.

Tell us what you think about digital gift cards, restock sign up lists and all that techy stuff!  Do you dig it? Do you refuse it?  Do you forgive it for now but hope for a return to how it was before?  I love to hear from you directly, so don’t be shy!  Email me directly at Team@AmericanSkilletCompany.com to dish your thoughts.