The swinging pendulum of demand may have seemed stuck to one side for the last several months as the prolonged pandemic resulted in an elevated need for N95 masks. But it is starting to fall and leading to inventory imbalances, according to Fastenal. In just six months, the company has gone from restricting certain SKUs to healthcare customers only.
In the early months of the pandemic, hospitals and other non-traditional customers for Fastenal came knocking, in need of masks and janitorial suppliers. The company deployed its 200-person sourcing team in China to find new suppliers. But as the pandemic stretched into the summer, distributors that traditionally serve those buyers increased their supply of these items.
"We made a big investment in products to support the marketplace in the early part of this year ... and I think there are folks in our organization that are looking at our [personal protective equiment] inventory and saying, 'geez, we have a bunch' and they're scared about it – nervous about it is probably a better word," Florness said.