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When Suppliers Go Dark

The other day I was talking with the rep for one of my suppliers. I mentioned that a bunch  of their products had disappeared from their product line without much

Krista76 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

notice. I wryly commented that this must be because the supplier was in Japan, and that the company had been moving their suppliers from domestic and Japanese supplier to Taiwan and China sources for quite some time.  “Just decided not to use their stuff any more, eh?” I said.

“No, ” he replied “after the tsunami hit Japan, they went dark. Nobody knows what happened to them. They’re just..gone”.

I felt awful.  But that aside this was a demonstration of how fragile companies can be.  It doesn’t take much to end us, and with that some products may be gone forever.

Spectrum Scientifics is pretty small. Only one owner and one manager. If something were to happen to the owner the company would probably not be able to go on.  But we are just a retailer. With the exception of a few unique products that we assemble ourselves ther are other sources for our products. Maybe not as local to some, maybe with not as good pricing, certainly without as good service. But they are out there.

But when a small supplier goes dark it can be a very uncertain thing. Even in the age of global supply sometimes the manufacturers are just a couple of guys with an injection molder or a machine shop – or while the company is large the contact person with the USA is just one person. (sometime the person is an unneeded middleman, but that’s for another post). When the company goes dark it can be very hard to find out what happened. Unless you have a base of operations in that country you can’t just have someone go over to the company and see what happened to it. Even if you do have an operation in that country, you might be asking someone to make a huge cross-country trek to check on the supplier of one item.

Domestic companies are hardly immune. Many supplier in the USA are just a family business or even just one person. We’ve actually had the experience of having one of our suppliers go dark on us – twice. But in this case we were lucky to have them come back:

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This Knight Double-Sided Planisphere is an item we have carried for years. We consider it to be one of the best on the market with a good solid plastic body (waterproof) double-sided, a built-in compass, and more. It was made by Knight Visions which was basically just one person.

In January of 2012, we placed an order with Knight Visions for more of the Planispheres. We had sold all of what we had during the holiday rush and were anxious to get more in stock. We sent the order by fax, and waited.

The order did not show up. We called, faxed, and found that the lines were disconnected. The company had gone dark.

This was a concern, being a purveyor of telescopes not having a planisphere is like being a gas station that doesn’t sell maps, or a car repair place that doesn’t have tires. There are other planispheres out there, but they were either inferior, or inferior and made by a company we didn’t want to deal with.

Then in March we got a call from the owner. It seems he had some medical issues that had prevented him from running his business. But he was back and started filling orders again. We went back to selling the planisphere and breathing a sigh of relief.

Then we placed our order for the 2012 holiday season, and there was a delay. “uh-oh”, we thought, and this time we weren’t completely wrong. But we got a call, and it was from the owner’s wife. Sadly the owner had passed on.

But the wife had taken over the business. Perhaps after the medical issue earlier in the year he had taken steps for her to assume the mantle of the company. In any case we were soon supplied with more planispheres. We gave our condolences for her loss, but at the same time were glad that such an excellent product was not being allowed to fall by the wayside.

Other companies have been known to “go dark” in other ways. At our first toy fair (2008) we found what we thought was an excellent construction toy. At the time they had a huge booth, lots of great products, and excellent pricing. We bought a few and they sold pretty well.  But then their prices went up. The next year they still had a booth at the Toy Fair, and they had pushed their way into distributor catalogs who carry multiple toys from several manufacturers. Some of our toy reps also represented the company. But sales had fallen dramatically for us, so we ceased carrying them.

And then as if they took a lead from us they seemed to vanish. The next year at the Toy Fair they were nowhere to be found – the distributor companies stopped carrying them.  When I asked our toy rep he just shrugged and said he had no idea what happened to them.

But yet they are still around. Their website is still up. They’ve added projects and even a few new products. But beyond that they have no presence. Mind you we could make an effort and hunt them down, but unless you desperately want a product this is not what you do. You’re supposed to get materials from them without having to beg.

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/slimcoincidence/510388968/”>Krista76</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

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