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2021… the year that should’ve been shot 😡

At the end of 2020 we posted this little cartoon on our socials and then, like everyone else, we held our breath as the clock ticked over into 2021. Despite the trepidation though, we’re pretty sure no one expected the year we’ve just had.

Besides the very obvious social,  medical and humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, COVID has impacted every business in the world… in ways that no one could have predicted, in ways that businesses themselves had no experience of, and in ways that often left customers feeling frustrated and angry. Here at Grip HQ, the biggest and most obvious change for our customers was the fact that our despatch time on orders blew-out from “next-day”  to over 9 weeks. So what happened? And what are we doing about it?

We first opened our doors over 25 years ago and we’re proud to say that since day one, GripSport has always experienced nice, steady, sustainable and responsible growth. But 4-5 years ago the demand for our racks really ramped up so we started planning an investment in a new, dedicated manufacturing facility, new automated and robotic machines along with the people to drive them, new engineering and design specialists and the doubling of staff in our warehouse, despatch and sales teams. We had planned on starting all of this at the end of 2021, but COVID’s response to our plans was… “The hell you will”… and then forced us into doing it all 12 months ahead of schedule and in the middle of a a pandemic.

And we really didn’t have a choice. Demand for everything with the GripSport brand on it went through the roof as Australians decided (almost as one) that they were giving up on international tourism and investing in domestic travel instead… along with their bikes. And no matter how hard we tried, we simply couldn’t keep up with that demand, mainly because our suppliers found they couldn’t keep up either.

We’re talking about the businesses that supplied our raw materials, those doing our laser cutting, zinc plating and powder coating, the businesses selling us nuts, bolts, welding consumables, PPE, our product stickers/brochures/labels, rubber, plastic caps etc, product cartons/boxes, even silly little things like cleaning rags… everything!  Everything that we needed to buy and everything we needed “done” for us went into “short supply”… “hard to get”… or “don’t make me laugh” during 2021. Remember the toilet paper shortages?

The only way we could even get close to ensuring we had enough of what we needed when we needed it, was to order in huge quantities and keep what we need “on hand”. Which sounds really simple except for the fact that those big orders took months to start coming in and when they did they were often drip-fed to us over subsequent months on top of that initial wait because our suppliers were trying to keep other customers happy too. And by then, by mid 2021, the wait time on getting our orders out the door had well and truly blown out and it’s been a catch up game ever since.

It also became very clear to us that we didn’t have the room to store all this “on-hand” material & supplies. We certainly didn’t have the room for the equipment and people we needed in order to get the wait times down, so the big expansion planned to begin at the end of 2021 was pushed ahead by 8 months and we moved to our new digs, put in all the new equipment and went on a hiring spree mid year.

And normally you’d expect that to pretty much be the end of it… with all of the above put in place we could apologise to our customers for the long delays, we could instigate overtime for everyone, everyday, we could get all our new whizz-bang machinery and production schedules up and running  and we could start getting those wait times down. Which was working right up till OMICRON raised its ugly head and mimicked its big brother by saying “the hell you will”

So where does that leave us right now? Here at the start of 2022 when we thought we had it all sorted? Well we are getting the wait time down, but nowhere near as quickly as we’d like because COVID’s latest party trick (Omicron) is that it can completely decimate a workforce even if no one in the workforce actually gets the virus.

This is what is sometimes so hard to explain to frustrated customers… that while the last thing we ever want is to keep people waiting, the reality of the last few months is that despite everything we’ve done and put in place, COVID rules and regulations about testing and isolating have meant we’re lucky to average 50% of our staff in at work on any given day.

Add to that the fact that every business we rely on for materials, services, maintenance, repairs, parts, components, deliveries and freight are all going through the exact same issues, then it’s probably easy to understand that right now, in these COVID days, it’s almost impossible for us to reduce our production times. And if we do manage to get those times down, as we did in the weeks leading up to Christmas, then there’s always some new COVID trickery ready to trip us up.

In this case the COVID trickery came from two of Australia’s largest freight companies (the two freight companies we happen to use every single day to deliver our orders right around the country).

One of them informed us that because of COVID staff shortages they were adding a minimum of ten business days to their delivery times. They would still collect from us (which was big of them 🙄), but they expected every consignment to sit around in their depots for up to two weeks. We immediately started transferring all our freight over to the other company but within an hour they were on the phone too, telling us their depots were already full and that they weren’t even going to be able to pick up from us for at least two weeks.  

So here we are in January 2022. We kept our Christmas break to the bare minimum of only the main days… we started the overtime again from day-one… we still have a lot of our workforce away every day, but we’re looking for new production, assembly and warehouse staff all the time in an effort to compensate for that. And our freight companies are collecting from us again.

The bottom-line is we are doing everything we can to work through this mess that is COVID and we can’t thank our loyal customers enough for all their support and patience. Despite COVID we will get there. Despite COVID we’re already reducing the wait times. And despite COVID people will get their racks… and when they do we’re pretty confident they’ll think it was worth the wait.  

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