How to overcome metal inventory disruptions.

If your must-have metal products were out of stock a lot over the last year, you’re not alone. Tight market conditions made it difficult for many service centers to maintain their metal inventory, leaving countless manufacturers high-and-dry.


Yet, while this was a global problem, not all manufacturers suffered in the same way. While many were blindsided by sudden low inventories, others were given plenty of notice of potential shortages—and were able to adapt accordingly.


Why the disparity? Well, it all comes down to inventory management. Some service centers are great at it; others, not so much. And, when it comes to the latter, those internal shortcomings can end up costing you, the customer.


So how do you know if your service center was genuinely a victim of the market or simply needs to fine-tune their internal processes? Here are a few things you can look at:


First, a good service center should contact you before issues arise and offer you sound alternatives to help you work around inventory shortages. If they’re merely calling to inform you that your product isn’t going to arrive on time—or worse, waiting for you to call them—chances are, their inventory management could use some work.


Second, this likely isn’t the last time your service center is going to fall victim to market shortage, so what lessons did they take away from all this? A good service center will learn from the experience and implement measures and controls to avoid suffering the same fate twice.


When in doubt as to the root cause of an issue, try the “five whys” technique. The way it works is pretty simple: If you didn’t receive a delivery on time, ask why. When your service center answers—say, for example, “the truck broke down”—ask them why the truck broke down. Once you ask why five times, you should be able to figure out whether the issue was a service center problem—such as poor maintenance of their trucks—or an external problem (e.g., a delay in overseas deliveries).


If you find the underlying cause is, in fact, due to an issue out of your service center’s control, it’s likely worth giving them another chance. But if it was an internal issue, and if they failed to be proactive or explain how they plan to remedy the problem in the future, that may be a sign it’s time to move on.