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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

"Pandemic Paradox": Pivoting to "On the Fly"*

From toilet paper to refrigerators, to cars, a spike in customer demand has sent manufacturers scurrying to find parts for the products their customers demand. Polaris Inc., a Medina, Minnesota manufacturer, has found creative solutions to supply chain challenges. How was Polaris able to shift as demand increased and the supply of critical parts shrank? What is there in the makeup of a company that gives it such flexibility?

In what some call the "Pandemic Paradox," demand for Polaris's products has spiked during the pandemic as people sought new types of recreation. The company’s biggest sellers are all terrain vehicles (ATVs), utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), and snowmobiles, motorcycles, and boats. Polaris and other manufacturers had previously operated with just-in-time delivery of parts and components, leaving them exposed during the pandemic because they had limited backup supplies.

Moreover, the pandemic has caused many of the parts factories Polaris relied upon to shut down or operate at reduced schedules. Staffing Polaris’s factories has also been a challenge. A shortage of critical microchips, plastics, and other essential materials has affected not only Polaris but also car manufacturers and even appliance manufacturers. Furthermore, when the massive Ever Given container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal in March, 2021, it disrupted trade routes for six days, further exacerbating Polaris’s parts and chip shortages.

Polaris responds with "on-the-fly" manufacturing

Polaris had previously eliminated "underperforming" suppliers, but they also took other steps:

  • Polaris stopped producing four-seat models and shifted to two-seat or three-seat utility terrain vehicles (UTV) because of a shortage of foam padding.
  • Their engineers designed gauges that use other, more available, chip sets.
  • They built without the scarce parts and added them later.
  • They shipped some vehicles with missing parts, later sending parts to dealers for local installation.
  • Polaris increased production capacity at various plants in order to meet demand.

For manufacturers of everything from toilet paper to snowmobiles, shortages of critical materials, components, and products have made it hard to meet customer demand. As a result, companies have had to find creative ways to pivot quickly. To do that requires acquiring up-to-date information about economic trends, suppliers, customers, and competitors. It also requires creative problem solving. Management, workers, distributors, and customers must be flexible. But, most of all, it requires having good products and establishing excellent relationships with your employees and with suppliers, distributors, and especially with your customers. Above all, it requires that companies be truthful with all stakeholders.

*"For Polaris, Parts Decide What Gets Made," Bob Tita, Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2021, p. B1.

Actionable Business Insights

Copyright © 7/21 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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