For those of us in the healthcare supply industry, Covid 19 has been a watershed event. Not in the least because a tiny microbe has managed to imprison millions of us inside our homes, disrupting supply chains and damaging economies; not in the least because it has exposed our inadequacies to meet the challenges of a pandemic;and not in the least for how thousands have come together to help millions affected by the disease.
Rising unemployment and migrant crisis maybe unseen for many of our generation, but the paradigm shift in the healthcare supply industry has been the overnight 'influx of suppliers' of Covid-related equipment. From the neighbourhood kirana shop to auto dealers, from photographers to hotel owners, today anyone with the slightest sense of enterprise claims to be a 'medical products distributor' of masks, gloves or Sanitisers.
While this appears to augur well for the country, in effect it is not. Without questioning the time-tested practice of pivoting a business as per market relevance and need, it may not be a good idea for too many newbie traders being in the healthcare supply business.
Unlike Burberry or Ferrari which undertook factory retooling to completely pivot their core business to manufacture masks and protective clothing to answer a national calling, in India the scenario is quite different. A major part of this segment of nouveau-traders have no previous experience and knowledge of the complexities of the healthcare supply system, and are in it to make for their personal calling to make a quick buck. While there is no harm in earning money, the problem in India is that this unorganised section of traders, who have zero investment / liability in terms of inventory, warehousing or logistics, are the ones calling the shots and determining market dynamics, by hustling : buying at one place and selling off at another with miniscule margins by playing at volumes. Since there are no investments, any money made is a profit ; this is in stark contrast to regular Importers/ Distributors who have invested in inventory, marketing, manpower and logistics and have to now compete with these traders at unenviable pricing. The worst part is that while the former invariably deal in cash or through personal bank accounts, regular Suppliers have to pay taxes to the Government and stay compliant to appplicable laws.
A major fallout of this price disparity is that invariably Manufacturers are forced to compromise on quality standards. That we have freely available in the market boxes of gloves which claim to have 100 pieces inside but in actuality contain 70, 80 or 95 gloves, rarely 100, is an indication of the traditional Indian psyche of choosing Price over Quality, even if it concerns our health.
The big question is,Is there light at the end of the tunnel ?
The answer is a Yes.
Covid 19 may have made traders out of a lot of people but the rising number of Corona cases daily has led to more and more customers demanding quality stuff. And unlike consumer or FMCG goods, where one can choose vastly differing products in quality and price, the difference in quality will be less skewed in products like Sanitisers, Masks, Gloves and similar products, as a certain quality has to be benchmarked for sustained sales of products. At MedSamaan, it has been our constant endeavour to provide Customers with assured-quality products as our experience is that Quality is a much more effective tool in guaranteeing brand loyalty and customer retention than Pricing.
Expertise developed through experience gathered over many years cannot be washed away by nouveau-traders; eventually the high strictures of quality and typical challenges associated with healthcare supply will dwindle interest and such people are likely to go back to their core busineses or occupations. The need of the hour for healthcare Suppliers is to be Patient, and to keep on delivering, keeping the Customer's needs in mind. Government intervention can go a long way in protecting interests of the industry but even if it doesn't happen, history is replete with instances of market correction. That is the day when we shall see an exodus of traders from the healthcare supply industry, and regular players again building a sustainable and profitable ecosystem. Till then it's a patient (no pun intended) 'Stay Home,Stay Safe' for India's regular healthcare Suppliers.