The New Normal: How Shipping and Supply Chains Are Going to Affect Your Job

By Kiki
Published October 2021

If you’re like many people who are excited to get back to work, you may not be fully aware of the extent that supply chain issues have affected the industry. After all, last time you needed to buy supplies, these issues simply didn’t exist. And while we were all probably aware of the Ever Given’s infamous Suez Canal blockage, you may not know that even that was a result of trying to put too many shipping containers onto a single ship to meet the demands of backlogged trade.

So who am I? I work at a store that provides gear for the live events industry. I communicate with manufacturers like Chauvet, QSC, and ProTapes, and we’re hearing the same thing from everyone: the supply chain is not in our favor!

There’s a lot of factors that have gone into this: China’s early lockdowns temporarily slowed exports before Covid-19 was a widespread concern in the United States, delaying products and components that had already been ordered pre-pandemic. Once China increased exports again, the United States was locking down, and many manufacturers were cancelling orders not already built as they realized the entertainment industry was likely to be shut down for an unknown amount of time; inventory assets that don’t sell are not assets. 

Once they were confident enough to begin purchasing again in early 2021, everything had changed. Shipping containers had become hard to find for a few reasons. Thousands of shipping containers tumbled off of overloaded ships, and many empties that were stuck in the US early in the pandemic were auctioned off and turned into storage units and tiny houses. To make matters worse, there were plenty of Americans quarantining in their homes who had expendable income that was usually spent on entertainment. Instead they spent their income on physical items, all of which had to be shipped, most internationally. Many choose to upgrade their homes while they were stuck inside. The compounding factors of increased demand and decreased workforce have caused international shipping charges to rise as much as 400 percent. Many raw materials also increased in cost as demand rose and supply fell. A record number of ships are waiting just off US coasts, as understaffed dock workers attempt to unload the overloaded ships into ports that are already crowded. This is exacerbated by the domestic truck driver shortage that started before the pandemic and got exponentially worse since. 

What are some of the specific items that have been affected?

  • LCD screens and computer chips are in extremely short supply, and priority is going to the medical and transportation fields. This affects anything electronic, like LED lights, microphones and speakers, and system controls. (another citation
  • Copper, lumber, steel, and aluminum prices are fluctuating greatly, but all are dramatically higher than pre-pandemic prices. There is also an aluminum shortage that is making it difficult to get things like truss and clamps.
  • ProTape gaff raised their prices significantly, so expect to pay upwards of $2 extra per roll.
  • The cost of plywood road cases built overseas have gone up 45% for each road case just because moving a shipping container, once $6,000, now costs at least $22,000 (when they can even find one).
  • There are almost no new LED PARs available for purchase in the US, with no ETA on when more will become available.
  • Loudspeakers have an ETA of 2022 Q1 or Q2 at the earliest, and some companies are no longer accepting new orders until they can start to fill open orders.

So what does that mean for me?

  • Price increases across the board, even for available products, thanks to increased shipping costs.
  • Delayed shipping. FedEx does not guarantee any of their 2 or 3 day services, nor any of their freight services, so plan ahead!
  • The popularity of recording and streaming video ballooned in 2020, and the demand is still bigger than the supply. Expect long lead times for all things video.
  • Repair instead of replace is a great place to start but certain repair parts are as hard to come by as new fixtures.
  • Rental companies can’t buy new gear either, so expect to rent way ahead of time to secure the gear you need, and you’ll need to be flexible and expect higher prices as rental demand increases during the wait period for new gear.
  • The days of “I need it now” are on hold for the foreseeable future. The show might still be happening, but you probably can’t get that replacement microphone or dmx splitter by tomorrow, especially if you care what brand it is.
  • No one knows when things are coming. “No ETA” is the new normal and everything is oversold. If you want it, don’t wait for it to come back into stock; get on the waitlist so you can get it within the next year.
  • It’s constantly changing, so this list is not exhaustive! Plan ahead and be ready to get creative!

I don’t want to be all gloom and doom, but this is the current reality for many products in the live events industry, and it’s best to know ahead of time what to expect. If you can be flexible on which brand you are purchasing, you’ll be able to find most products in a reasonable amount of time. Get creative about what you actually need to accomplish your goals. Otherwise you’ll be on waiting lists as vendors wait to hear the good news that their products are officially on a ship headed for the US. In the meantime, manufacturers are doing their best to push for components, finding ways to get products into the US, and developing new products with whatever is readily available to fill the immediate needs. 

That said, the overall atmosphere is hopeful among manufacturers and distributors. We’re all just so glad to see people purchasing, because it means our friends and colleagues are finally getting back to doing what they love. We swear we’ll never complain about being busy ever again!

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