It's Summer! Is Your Supply Chain Ready For The Holidays?

Too early to worry about the holidays? Not for your supply chain.

Summer Christmas
Supply Chain Summer. Getty Images

Black Friday and Super Bowl Sunday are the two leading candidates for America’s Next Official Holiday (although my kids are making a strong push for April Fool’s Day). And while the Super Bowl wins with its hype/circus/ratings/cold cut platters (plus a football game buried in there somewhere), Black Friday can’t be denied as a sporting event unto itself, with its share of media hype. It’s also a day that retailers, distributors, and suppliers all over the world circle in red, every time we flip the page to a new year.

Black Friday launches the holiday shopping season. It turns balance sheets from red to black. And it takes months of preparation to get right. Is your supply chain ready for this year’s Black Friday right now?

Think it’s too early to worry about Black Friday? Let’s do some backwards planning:

Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving. This is the day when the hordes and their credit cards will descend on retailers – and your product better be on shelves (and not go out of stock).

Two weeks before Black Friday. Your product needs to be at retailer’s warehouses or distribution centers. Everyone needs these two weeks to get their shelves stocked and ready for Black Friday. That means that your product – if it’s sourced outside the U.S. – needs to arrive on American shores no later than early November.

If you’re manufacturing in a LCM (low-cost manufacturing location – China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc.) and you want to ship to the U.S. by air, it’s not like you getting on an Air China flight in Shanghai and arriving at LAX 14 hours later.

Your products need to transit from your factory to a local freight forwarder.  If your product isn’t being shipped by parcel (Fedex, UPS or DHL), you’ll need to let your freight forwarder know that you’ll pay extra so that your shipment isn’t consolidated with other freight. (This can save you a day or even up to a week – because consolidated freight requires waiting for products from elsewhere to arrive and fill up an air container.) Oh, and another thing you need to consider… you’re not going to be the only company trying to get its products on those flights.

Those pre-Black Friday flights book quickly. In fact, you might want to contact your freight forwarder months in advance to secure space on those flights. Between getting your product to the airport and then onto a plane and then off the plane and through customs – and then into the various warehouses and distribution centers – to arrive at your customer in time for Black Friday, you really need to be finished with production in September.

September! That’s when your holiday products should be QC’ed, boxed up, and ready to be plucked off your factory’s loading dock. And that’s if you air freight everything. If you have to ocean freight your product (because it’s too big or too heavy or to save money), add 3-4 weeks to that. Will your factories be finished producing your holiday orders in August?

How long does it take your factories to produce your entire production run for the holiday season? 4 weeks? 8 weeks? 12 weeks? Don’t forget – if these are contract manufacturers, you won’t be the only company looking for production capacity. Just like the battle for freight capacity, you might want to buy capacity at your factories ahead of time. And secure those raw materials, too!

Your factories need to start making your holiday orders in June, at the latest!

Have you placed those orders yet?  Have your sales and marketing teams finalized your holiday line-up? If not, go stand on someone’s desk and explain the timeline. Then go back and stand on their desks again tomorrow. And the day after. Until you’ve got those orders placed.

Optimized supply chain – i.e. getting your customers what they want, when they want it, and accomplishing that by spending the least amount of money possible – requires very careful management, especially around the holiday season. Which kicks off around May 1.