For decades, providing laboratories with their equipment and consumables has been a labor-intensive business that relies heavily on human capital.
Lab suppliers and distributors engage scientific consumers through in-person meetings to introduce them to the latest technologies or negotiate better pricing on lab consumables they currently buy.
These face-to-face meetings would take place at annual conventions or trade shows and random, but frequent, visits to the lab via a national network of sales professionals.
Enterprise sized laboratories entered exclusive contracts with multi-billion-dollar lab distributors and created embedded lab equipment sales specialists to streamline ordering and savings.
A website was not necessary to be successful at lab equipment sales since the bulk of ordering was done by purchase orders or bank transfers.
Before the pandemic, a lab equipment supplier might have a website for informational purposes or a rudimentary e-commerce platform for occasional credit card purchases.
It was not uncommon for online lab equipment shoppers to use a lab supplier’s website as a calculator to estimate costs and guide shopping behavior to the company that appeared to offer the best overall price.
Trust is the most important element in any transaction.
When it came down to making important and expensive purchases, lab scientists were confident relying on people they knew instead of a website full of pretty pictures which might be operated overseas with no follow-up support.
A few visionary lab supply companies saw untapped potential in online lab equipment sales and invested heavily to create user friendly platforms designed to instill trust and confidence.
This would prove significant as the pandemic upended the lab supply industry in early 2020.
The explosion in molecular diagnostic testing coupled with a race to develop vaccines and COVID mitigating interventions overwhelmed the lab supply chain.
As supplies of basic laboratory consumables like cell culture and PCR plastics dwindled, panic buying and hoarding, further exacerbated the marketplace shortage.
Empty shelves in university stockrooms sent scientists online in droves seeking out alternative suppliers to keep operating.
Large pharmaceutical and biotech companies said: “contract be damned!” and scrambled to onboard small, unencumbered lab suppliers they located when searching online.
For the first time, companies like Stellar Scientific were invited to participate and play an outsized role in supplying these mega-corporations in their moment of need.
Word of mouth quickly spread the news where hard to find lab supplies could be sourced reliably.
Increased demand for products drove small suppliers to begin sourcing goods overseas and this transformed them from drop-ship fulfillment centers to importers with large inventory.
With variant Omicron triggering a new round of border closures and renewed mandates, it’s anyone’s guess when lab equipment sales will return to their pre-COVID form, if they do at all.
Will Pittcon or vendor exhibits at major conferences like AACR or ACB deliver satisfactory ROI to justify the trouble and cost associated with live shows?
Will government agencies like the NIH reopen their buildings to allow for casual “walking the halls” so that sales reps can expose scientists to the latest innovations?
The following can be said with certainty:
The supply chain is far from recovered and shortages of basic lab supplies will persist well into 2022-2023
Global suppliers are focused on supplying labs wherever they can fetch the best price for their goods, and that isn’t always the USA, sorry to say.
Smaller biotech companies and universities are particularly vulnerable to the supply crunch.
The hottest collection of shoppers with intent to buy is to be found online.
The winners of this round will be those online retailers who can successfully execute the following:
A) Maintain an acceptable supply of basic lab consumables and equipment. Drop shippers will dry up and vanish.
B) Manage customer expectations both pre and post-sale with timely and accurate information about inventory levels and ETAs
C) Deliver exceptional customer service via online chat, quick and easy ordering including the ability to submit purchase orders online.
If your laboratory is struggling with lab equipment sales in a pandemic world, do what thousands of labs have done and reach out to Stellar Scientific for relief.