Among the challenges both manufacturers and distributors face is allocating supplies to the customers with the greatest need.

Manufacturers are shifting priorities to keep pace with an economy and an ecommerce market that is in flux and deciding who—and who doesn’t—get needed products.

For example, distributor Sustainable Supply, which generates annual B2B ecommerce sales of about $25 million, carries a full inventory of about 1 million products. But about 40,000 to 50,000 products for janitorial and cleaning supplies, among others, used for hygiene and sanitation are the products most in-demand—and among the hardest to get, says Fricano.

The company has available products for many in-demand categories. But the supply of about 100 products such as hand sanitizer is running “dangerously low,” Fricano says.

‘All-out war’ for janitorial supplies

“Our janitorial supply business on SustainableSupply.com has exploded, and it is indeed turning into an all-out war for supplies,” he says. “Dealers and consumers are trying to snatch up every last piece of inventory—we’ve sold a year’s worth of toilet paper in the past three days.”

Big suppliers of hand sanitizer and related product—such as GoJo Industries, which manufactures Purell, a brand of instant hand sanitizer made of ethyl alcohol, and The Clorox Co., maker of bleach, cleaning products and many other related brands—are telling Sustainable Supply and other B2B sellers that they are prioritizing which outlets get available inventory first, such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities, he says.

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“We have some big manufacturers that are telling us it may be July before we can get full delivery,” Fricano says. “They tell us they are distributing now to those that need it first.”

Shifting manufacturing to healthcare products

Manufacturers such as Proto Labs Inc., a provider of 3D printing and other forms of custom-manufacturing, does virtually all of its sales through its ecommerce site, also is shifting production to prioritize product manufacturing and delivery for healthcare companies.  Protolabssells to customers worldwide several types of custom manufacturing that customers can order online: 3D printing, which uses digital blueprints to construct items by adding or removing materials layer by layer; additive manufacturing, a form of 3D printing used to add materials to build products; injection molding, a process by which material is forced into a mold to form a product; and CNC, or computer numerical control, a process by which machining or milling tools operate via computer programming.

“The way we interact with customers has not changed, as we are an ecommerce-enabled company,” says a Protolabs spokeswoman. “However, we are prioritizing projects which are needed to equip our medical system to treat patients with COVID-19 and providing these customers with additional consultative design assistance to rapidly get these parts produced.”

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