Published On: Wed, Jan 31st, 2024

Is our long-distance love affair over?

Bohle’s Managing Director Dave Broxton asks if our reliance on the Far East for cheap products is coming to an end.

It would be easy to dismiss the unfolding drama in the Red Sea as an unfortunate episode if it were not for the experiences we shared in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic when the global supply chain almost ground to a halt.

And let’s not forget the unfortunate plight of the Ever Given container ship that got wedged in the Suez Canal in March 2021, causing global trade to back up in the Red Sea.

You don’t need a long memory to remember the sky-rocketing prices for shipping containers, the heavily delayed cargo (which including component parts for the glass and glazing industry), and the impact this had on companies and their ability to fulfil their promises.

It begged the question: ‘has our relationship with cheap imports finally come to an end? If you can’t depend on lengthy supply chains, why should your customers trust you?’

And aren’t we asking ourselves the same question as ships are diverted via the Cape of Good Hope, which can cost more than US$1m in extra fuel, according to reports – all because Yemen-based Houthi militia are attacking commercial ships travelling from the Far East to Western Europe via the Suez Canal.

Yesterday, pandemic. Today, geopolitical conflict. Tomorrow…?

When things go wrong, the cost benefit of cheap imports disappears. And if you can’t deliver goods, your customers lose money because they can’t manufacture and install products.

Today, our modern supply chains rely more on the smooth and timely movement of goods than on the headline low prices.

This is precisely why Bohle invested heavily in its own product design and manufacturing capabilities in recent years, especially when it comes to glass hardware. It’s no secret that cheap Far Eastern fittings are available, but if products or components are delayed for weeks or even destroyed, the initial low costs morph into very expensive reputational damage and loss of business.

Some companies will look at the post-Brexit situation in Europe and argue that the hoops importers must jump through in order to bring in goods from abroad is equally prohibitive. The associated carriage costs, paperwork, management time and, in some cases, customs duties can be time-consuming, frustrating, and expensive for companies that don’t have a dedicated import department.

We have taken this negative and made Bohle a strategic import partner, because we move huge volumes of goods from our large warehouses in Germany on a weekly basis; we send vehicles over to collect those goods and bring them into the UK. We handle all the paperwork, we handle all the customs duties, and we hold strategic stocks in the UK, which we can then distribute to our customers without unnecessary paperwork.”

More importantly, Bohle fulfils the functions of manufacturer, importer and distributor, which removes headaches for companies relying on imports, as well as offering improved lead times to customers.

When we get demand for products, we can adjust our manufacturing output and inventory to meet that demand. We avoid the situation waiting for weeks and weeks for a product manufactured in China or the Far East.

We are very resilient when it comes to the supply chain, and we can pass that reassurance to our customers, some of whom have bought from Europe and found difficulties with carriage, with customs, and things getting stuck at the port.

We urge our customers to talk to us about what their needs are. We will always place goods into stock for a customer with regular needs so they are never more than 24 hours away from getting the product delivered to their door.

Ultimately, as an industry we have relied on cheap imports for too long. We have even factored in the failure of cheap imports into our costs. Times have changed and we are in a far better position to support our industries, and offer greater opportunities with quality products with better margins, if we look for trusted supply partners that can be relied upon closer to home.