Research scientists are steadfastly brand loyal, especially when it comes to lab consumables. Consistency is paramount and researchers want to ensure that their results are due to the science, not due to lab supply variability. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many research facilities were essentially closed off to new suppliers and smaller brands, with scientists preferring to stick with the brands they’d always used.
Then came the supply chain crisis brought on by the pandemic and everything changed. Despite having pricing agreements in place with core suppliers, many organizations saw the prices of certain consumables, such as nitrile gloves, go up by as much as 400%. In addition to such budget-killing expenses, researchers, “found that it’s impossible to stick to a particular brand because all of the main players, at some point, experience supply issues,” shares Michael Norden, head of the Stores and Purchases team at the Babraham Institute.
Marc Casals, Global Procurement head for UCB, a top 50 global life sciences firm adds,
The message from the scientist is very clear. ‘We need what we want when we want [it]’ and, if possible, at the right cost… Availability is of utmost importance [followed by] cost.
Even if the 2020 budget could absorb the unexpected skyrocketing prices from favorite suppliers, the necessary items were most likely on backorder with significant, uncertain lead times. Without having the right supplies in-house, life sciences and pharma organizations were forced to send researchers home, resulting in serious experiment delays. This is the situation many labs have been grappling with since March 2020.
With major brands in short supply, scientists have been forced to make a difficult choice – availability versus brand loyalty.
Doors that were previously shut to new suppliers and smaller brands swung open, as researchers found themselves open to compromise and considering alternative brands that were available and in stock. Using ZAGENO, a self-service lab supply marketplace, Norden was able to help the 60+ biotechs on the Babraham Institute campus quickly procure in-stock alternatives to their back-ordered staples and keep experiments running.
In the face of so much change, Norden thought he would “get a flurry of adverse comments and people just very unhappy with the products or the results they were getting. But up until this point [he’s] had no negative feedback (from) people having to use an alternative brand they've not previously used, which has been quite an eye-opener.”
How can smaller suppliers retain the new customers won by addressing availability, backorder, and lead time issues during the pandemic?
Norden notices that “researchers are generally happy with the alternative brands. And if you went back two years ago, people wouldn't have even bothered sampling them, let alone actually using them in experiments.” While more established researchers may return to previously used brands once supply chain issues ease, a huge opportunity exists for alternative brands to retain or grow market share.
Three ways lab suppliers can sustain or grow market share, during and post-pandemic.
- Follow-up with the new researchers using their products for feedback on how products can be improved. Smaller companies are often better able to respond and adapt to such feedback than larger firms.
- Host lab supplies with ZAGENO, an online marketplace that helps thousands of clients navigate supply chain disruptions by finding qualified, in-stock product alternatives when faced with backorder and availability issues. ZAGENO’s focus is to make the lab supply procurement process as simple as possible and serves as a dynamic sales channel for smaller and lesser-known brands.
- Get to know customer R&D procurement teams to learn how to improve the relationship and determine if pricing should be tweaked to encourage continued business.
The supply chain crisis won’t ease anytime soon, presenting a rare opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers of smaller brands to get their feet in the door and grow market share in a way that lasts long after the crisis is over.