PPE availability and supply chain cautions

By Jason Cheskes, Above the Line Solutions

In response to requests for supply of PPE, dozens of hours have gone into examining the marketplace to provide you with solutions for these needs. We are pleased to make you aware of the following up-to-date information. We suggest you consider placing orders as soon as possible, as availability is limited and until supply stabilizes, shortages, delays and cost fluctuations are expected.  The following information is current as of April 22nd.

Eden Textiles has created washable reusable masks to help mitigate risk. Cotton masks are available in minimums of 50 and Bias versions ship in minimum 100-piece orders.  Additionally, they are just finalizing quality assurance of disposable EN 14683 (Level 2) surgical style masks, and these should be available by end of day at a cost of $1.25.

Guest Supply has created a product guide for masks, sanitizer, gloves which includes expected availability dates.

Guest Supply has prepared a product guide for critical items.

RHB Enterprises has available plexiglass protective barriers that can be used to provide protection between front desk staff and guests available for as low as $165.

We are currently working on an examination of best sourcing for eyewear protection and if you have a current need please let us know.

Beyond getting you information such as above, until the market stabilizes we will be supporting requests for PPE individually on request. Things are changing extremely rapidly, and we are happy to help based on your specific circumstances and requirements. Wherever possible, we recommend working with our established and trusted partners.

Supply Issues with PPE….. Be cautious:

Aside from those examples above, dozens of potential suppliers of these goods have approached us over the past weeks and I encourage you to be extremely cautious in considerations for such needs if not from an established supplier in terms of: price; availability and lead time; minimum orders; shipping costs; and quality assurance.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of how competition for supplies is driving up costs. Countries, states and a host of characters are outbidding each other and there are really no guarantees of shipment in some cases.  Some players are better at navigating the system than others but stories of what is happening in securing items in China are widespread.   Yesterday, Canada had two transport planes return empty from China without the PPE they had gone for.   In the meantime, there are now hundreds, if not thousands of companies and individuals attempting to re-sell PPE and sanitizer.  Sources of manufacture, authenticity/quality of goods and delivery dates are all becoming increasingly more difficult to rely on.

While there are some clear cases of “gouging” during the crisis, not all the increases seen are illegitimate profiteering, at least not in the end steps. The sheer demand and number of individuals trying to secure supply is driving pricing up to ridiculous levels. Protective masks that were available for under 15 cents apiece, are now commonly fetching well over ten times that price.  There are legitimate shortages of some materials such as melt blown fiber (needed for N95 masks) as well various types of thickeners used in the manufacturing of hand sanitizer.  As air freight is being used to bring items in at a time when those planes aren’t carrying passengers, transportation costs vs usual are enormous.

The crisis has seen an immense number of individuals and companies trying to get involved with selling/reselling, and the PPE market has become the Wild West of sourcing. As Bloomberg News reported, “The market has quickly become overrun with profiteering middlemen, bidding wars, skyrocketing prices and concerns about the goods’ quality.” 

Some examples of non-retail mask pricing offered in the last week:

ItemPricingMinimumLead Time   *as stated
KN95$3.00-$6.951000-1007-21 Days
3Ply Surgical style (uncertified- lvl 2)$1.00-1.802000-501-21 Days

One of the worst trends seen is unscrupulous suppliers that are marketing items as “in stock” and confirming orders for items that aren’t immediately available. They often expect payment at time of order before disclosing expected arrival dates.  Only later does it become evident that the stock is not only not ready to ship, but the company may have no idea when they will be able to get it in.  Some well-known suppliers have taken orders with delivery dates offered, but later redirected the items or never received them, leaving existing orders open for the future with no confirmed delivery date.  Be very cautious about placing orders where you are not able to verify that the items have solid delivery dates, and especially ones requiring you to prepay with non-familiar companies, as they can give a false impression of your expected delivery and prevents you from seeking out alternatives.  By the time these goods may become available to you, the price and the options may have changed.

Watch also for minimum order quantities. Recently I was asked about an offering for what seemed reasonable priced KN95 masks. There were a few catches… the minimum order required an $18,000 investment, shipping costs were not mentioned, and as it turns out, they had no actual inventory but “were prepared to supply based on confirmed orders”.

Key items to consider when considering ordering PPE supplies:

— How many of an item do you need vs how many are you willing to accept, and in what timeframe?

— Are you willing to risk ordering now for the peace of mind of having inventory before it’s needed? 

— Are you willing to perhaps pay more now when pricing could go down? Similarly, are you willing to wait or not order enough, and find pricing has escalated in the future?

— Is the supplier one that you have dealt with before and has a well-regarded track record?

— Are the items from a recognized established supplier or a company that has just shifted into this supply area based on opportunity?

— Does the company have the items ready to ship out and if not, until they do ship, are you able to change or cancel your order?

— If you are prepaying, is the company guaranteeing your items in terms of a timeframe?

Respected supply companies you are familiar with are in the process of working to carry inventory of PPE needs and do so at pricing that is as good as they can provide it for. 

For this reason, until the market stabilizes, we will be supporting requests for PPE individually on request. Things are changing extremely rapidly, and we are happy to help based on your specific circumstances and requirements. Wherever possible, we recommend working with our established trusted partners.

The Hotel Association of Canada has a number of resources available for operating during this time and will be updating guidance on procedures and operations and should be considered a trusted resource to follow.  https://www.hac-covid.com/information-for-hotels

If you ever have any questions, or could use assistance with any supply issue, please feel free to contact me at jason@abovethelinesolutions.com. Feel free to send an email, and we will reply quickly or set up a time to reach you by phone.  We look forward to working with you to assist you in any way during this challenging time.