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Is It Done Yet?

Good, bad or indifferent, distributors have a lot to say about lead time.

In a random survey of distributors conducted this summer, some serious concerns were expressed about product availability, production capacity and lead times on the part of manufacturers. While manufacturers typically forecast demand for their products, then size production capabilities to meet the expected demand, sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and they end up with either excessive capacity and inventory or lengthened lead times. As industry orders accelerated in the Fourth Quarter 2010, many manufacturers have not been able to ramp up quickly enough, and distributors are still feeling the effect almost a year later. The Third Quarter 2011 ended with an economy in disarray—again—and a lot of fear about the months ahead.

So what does it all mean for manufacturers trying to put product in their distributors’ hands? Look to the next page, and they’ll tell you. But first, here are some comments about lead times from distributors who asked to remain anonymous.


“We were quoted six to eight weeks. At the time of order, delivery went out to 16 weeks. We still met the customer’s needs, but had to go to another vendor to do it.”
“We’re loyal to our supplier base. Sometimes they make mistakes, and we try to live with them and die by them. Not to say it never happens, but very seldom would we outsource to another company.”
“Customers come with specific timelines; those constraints may create difficulty using one supplier if that supplier cannot meet those time constraints.”
“Nobody likes a distributor to use another source. But when it happens, the supplier should welcome us to go and secure that business with whatever resources are available to us. As a last resort, they know it’s in the best interest of their company to allow us to be successful on the project no matter what, because if we maintain our profitability, we’re going to be around for the next opportunity.”
“Our good suppliers ask and require us to give them every available opportunity to service our customers.”
“Some suppliers are good at providing order acknowledgements that have rock-solid ship dates, others are not. They send one date initially but never update it. So it’s our job to make sure the customer is taken care of and make sure we continually monitor.”
“Customers are taking longer to make decisions but are demanding quicker turnaround.”

“We have issues, especially with racking manufacturers. But they are getting better.”
“How can some manufacturers provide product in five days and others take eight weeks or more?”
“We don’t stock product, and we lose jobs when we run up against a competitive stocking distributor.”
“We anticipated longer lead times so we added more inventory.”
“We have to constantly go back and ask the manufacturers if they’re still going to meet the scheduled ship date.”
“Lead times in the material handling world are weird. When things slow down, many suppliers increase their lead time. Other industries never increase lead times, because the customers demand lead time always be the same. It’s not really acceptable to go from a four-week lead time to an eight-week lead time. It’s very difficult to sell that to a customer.”
“The most important thing a manufacturer can do is be correct with estimated lead time. If they change the time once or twice after the order has been placed, we now have a very upset customer who thinks we lied initially to secure the order. Not good at all.”
“Having a lead-time issue validates our thoughts on the products we order. They’re popular. That’s good.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association