Handling COVID-19 with an international supply chain

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Personal note

This post started out as a small segment at the bottom of an email I was writing to my customers about a new product Hamtun is about to launch, and why COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus) shouldn't effect them.

By the time I'd finished it was longer than the email itself, so I thought it deserved a post of its own. It's easier and more sensible to link to this for people that are interested than it is to to copy this huge message in to every email I send over the next few months.

But first, before I get in to details, let me just say that I hope you and your friends/loved ones are coping with the outbreak as well as possible and you're healthy and well. In my lifetime and during my privileged and sheltered life, this has been the first really big event to have had any serious effect on me day-to-day over a long period. My kids have been scared, my income has been hit and my life has altered hugely.

There are a few good things to come out of it. I've loved seeing my kids all day, every day. I've learned how to make my business more efficient to cope better with things such as my own illness in the future. Our whole family has come together really well.

But the negatives, especially for those that have had family members badly effected, hugely outweigh all of that. My heart genuinely is with you all, it's scared me and I can only try to imagine how others who are less fortune have coped.

But I'm not a writer, I'm not a big thinker, and I don't get my thoughts out well even when I do (occasionally) have them! Nobody needs or wants a great big article from me on what this means for the rest of the world or what it could mean for the future. I don't know, and I'm not qualified to talk about it. So from here, let me keep this to the point. What's happened that's had an effect on Hamtun, how I've dealt with it, and how I see the next 6 months going.

COVID-19 & Hamtun 

Without a doubt our supply chain, like all others, was slowed by the breakout of COVID-19. However we were mostly lucky, our main delivery for the period arrived just before Chinese New Year and so missed the worst of the shutdowns. The only issue we had was a theft at a facility that meant we needed some of our spares slightly sooner than expected. Once our factories were back up and running, they were promptly delivered.

As of now as I write this in early April 2020, our Chinese suppliers are back up to speed and goods are arriving with us as expected. We've received product since the re-opening of the factories that has passed our internal checks at the same rate as pre-shut-down. We're happy that our factories are back up to speed, and the quality remains as high as ever (and if you've seen Kraken H2 reviews, you'll know they're great..!)

However right now our UK based warehouse is on reduced capacity. That means stock is being checked in and then shipped out slower than usual. Thankfully well over 90% of stock was out before the slowdown hit, but it took a while to get our last few boxes of products through the system.

For future big projects we've got 6+ months to get them back up to speed (pre-order, production, QC, shipping etc gives us that time) so, while I can't see the future, unless something else substantial happens between now and then, we're happy our watch building, QC and shipping processes are solid and ready to be used.

On government advice, we're also all working from home at the moment rather than heading to offices. Hamtun was built from day one to be a remote-work business, the physical office in Southampton mainly exists as a place to meet clients and to store stuff. We only have the one full-time employee at the moment (I'm Ross and I'm on TwitterInstagram, it's nice to meet you!) but have a few part-time people that we use for specific pieces of work (3D design, QC, some email/social media work, specialist design, materials testing etc). All of our systems and processes are cloud-based and designed to be used by people working together around the world.

The only gaps in our processes were a few QC situations and a couple of things related to moving stock from place-to-place. This situation has highlighted them and given us the chance to cut out a potential breaking point. For example a few old spare parts for one of our 2016 watches only existed in the office, but now they're in the warehouse and ready for shipping when needed.

Suppliers

We talked above about our suppliers and our supply chain in general. Most are overseas, and the biggest one, which tend to be most critical to our product, are up and running again and have delivered product since COVID-19 hit.

Of course as a last resort we always keep a fallback supplier in place for every single aspect of a project. From leather straps to documentation through to shipping, there is a backup company in another location ready to step in and take over. In-fact we actually swapped shipping partners during the Kraken H2 project to our fallback as our previous one wasn't able to handle the volume we needed to ship at the speed we needed it to happen. So now they're our default and we have a new fallback. That's how we operate.

The next year

While I obviously can't say with 100% confidence that COVID-19 is slowing down, as I write this things in China (and especially Wuhan where this seemed to have started) are getting much better. Wuhan lockdown is ending after around 2 months, and our factories (nowhere near Wuhan) are back at full speed.

So making product is not worrying me, things are currently working in our supply chain.

Obviously it's going to take the rest of the world a little time to get back up to full speed, but with the timescales we work to, that's not something that hugely concerns me as a business man (as a human, it's not so great!). I plan to continue launching Hamtun pre-order campaigns as before, on the basis that even if I launched one today it would be 6-8 months before I'd expect to deliver it. That's a long time, and plenty of time for the remaining issues to be resolved. I'll be building in plenty of slack in to timescales based on both the results of the virus and on experiences of delivering future projects.

But for Hamtun it's business as usual. We have a product roadmap that we'll be sticking to. It would be irresponsible to delay things and risk the future of the company. I have people relying on me for work, suppliers waiting orders, and just as importantly I have existing customers relying on me for warranties. I can't support a warranty if the business has closed down.

So 2020 will see 2 Hamtun launches. One of them is the GMT Kraken that you've been begging for since I launched the 3-hander, and the other is a stunning Nanok titanium with a load of changes that I'm looking forward to announcing. Some of you have even seen them already as the prototypes are doing the rounds. 

TL;DR

So in summary, for those that can't be bothered to read all of that:

  • I hope, genuinely, that your friends and families are well at this time. That's the most important thing
  • The Chinese end of our supply chain is back up to full speed and ready for orders
  • The European end of our supply chain is all running, but at slight delays
  • We don't expect to ship our next big order until near the end of the year, by which time things should be back up to speed worldwide
  • Our release schedule remains untouched. We have responsibilities to our suppliers, colleagues, and customers. Hamtun will be launching pre-orders like usual, including the Kraken GMT soon!
  • Thanks for your support during this tough time
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