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Most of us have some type of holiday horror story, whether its the family member who vomitted on your new carpet or, in my case, the never ending saga of trying to track that critical holiday shipment.  Please understand that I have a huge appreciation for the technology behind the madness, and yet these stories will always reveal the weaknesses in the system.

My story begins with the Santa list.  My 2 sons conspired to create a 10 page list, yet they both agreed that there only 2 items that were really desired.  First, the Ben 10 Alien Creation Chamber for my younger son, and then, of all things, a simple Jack in the Box for my older son (he was feeling nastalgic for some reason). 

The Creation Chamber turned out to be one of the hot toys of the season – everyone was sold out, with the exception of E-Bay for a 10X premium (you people should be ashamed of yourself).  My wife managed to track down a Target store in California that had 3 in stock, yet they would not hold any of them and they would not allow us to buy one over the phone.  Fortunately, my brother-in-law lived nearby and drove to the store at 10 pm to secure one of the coveted toys 2 weeks before Christmas.  Phase I completed.

This brings me to my first point.  Why was this toy in such short supply?  It certainly wasn’t the fault of the chemical industry – we had enough plastic in inventory for every boy and girl.  Every time a toy is purchased at any of these stores, it is scanned and the inventory is reduced – why is replenishment so difficult for surge demand?  Chem companies don’t get that type of notice – we don’t have the luxury of bar codes scanning consumption.  Every year, there will be some toy that is in short supply – is the true replenishment cycle that long?  Maybe so – toys produced in China do have a long boat ride, and we certainly won’t be air-freighting…

Phase II begins.  The toy is now in a box with other toys on Santa’s Big Brown Sleigh and heading to the East Coast.  3 days tops.  Of course, 8 days go by and no box.  The tracking begins, delayed by the storm that swept across the nation (event management capabilities at work), still on time to get here 2 days before Christmas.

Segway time.  The Jack in the Box was ordered on-line 2 weeks before Christmas, also with ample time for shipment.  The weekend before Christmas, the Jack in the Box still hasn’t arrived, and is now BACK-ORDERED.  Why wasn’t it back-ordered when I first ordered it 2 weeks ago??  So, back to another on-line toy store for an expedited, overnight delivery.  As a back-up to the back-up, I contacted a local toy store (a true independant) – ironically sold out of jack in the boxes.  They take my name and number and will call if a new shipment comes in before Christmas.  The expedited, overnight shipment does not arrive.  The independant toy store calls back and actually did receive a shipment.  Toy #2 secured, with 2 more backups still on their way in the mail. 

Stories collide.  We tried to intercept the rushed, expedited shipment of the Jack in the Box to avoid the shipping charges (which were more than the actual toy).  However, Box #1 was intercepted, not toy #2.  Now, there is no sign of Box #1 – despite the tracking number, no-one can tell us where it is.  Now, the Hot Toy (Ben 10 Alien Creation Chamber) cannot be found.  Christmas Eve, I see the Big Brown Sleigh at the neighbor’s house and rush outside to what’s the matter.  It is not on her sleigh, she tells me,  but she did call other sleighs in neighborhood.  I tell her the WHOLE story and hit the sympathy chord, so she goes the extra mile.  After 3 phone calls, she did locate another driver who had had a siteing of the hot Box, but still wasn’t sure of its location.  I walk away with a sad heart, knowing that disappointment is on its way.  2 hours later, the door bell rings – she arrives at my doorstep with box in hand and we quietly exchange parcels (a tray of cookies for Box #1).  Without her efforts, no technology would have helped.

The challenge is to understand the dynamics of the supply chain, including the laws of demand and supply, tracking capabilities, and event management.  In the end, it comes down to the brother-in-law who was willing to run out to the store just prior to midnight, Santa’s helper in the Big Brown Sleigh who went thru other neighborhoods to help me out, and of course a plate of cookies.

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  1. Bernhard Escherich
    Raymond,

    I enjoyed reading your stories as they reflect my experiences in the last years.

    Just one short remark: The shortage of a preferred toy is no fault but a good marketing strategy from my point of view. If a toy is hot and difficult to get all our kids want to have it. Therefore I think the comparison with the chemicals is difficult as your industry has not trendy products to offer – as far as I understood.

    I wish you a happy new year and good luck for ordering the thanksgiving presents in time -:)

    Best regards,
    Bernhard

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    1. Raymond Adams Post author
      I guess there is a certain marketing strategy that could drive growth by creating a shortage.  I don’t really understanding the dynamics well-enough of how a toy becomes THE toy – it’s not thru direct advertising.  I think it is more of dumb-luck, and then the strategy falls into place.  Very true that chemicals does not have any hot, trendy products to offer!
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