Food, vehicle parts, toys, bicycles and snowboards — if you buy some or all, there’s likely been a strain on bringing that beloved item or household necessity home.
Global news outlets report a range of issues, including an increase in demand during the pandemic, more COVID-19 protocols at docks and ports, and manufacturers’ plants, limited supplies to make said products, and a fraction of drivers and freight workers compared to previous years.
Sequim is no exception, with some sharing the impact to their businesses.
“It’s been hit or miss (for orders),” said Dave Kunze, the Co-Op Farm and Garden’s assistant store manager.
That includes shelves of missing paints, canning supplies, personal heaters, and more.
“It’s not like we don’t want them,” Kunze said. “We’ve been ordering them.”
Stock has either taken a considerable amount of time to ship, he said, or been back-ordered. For example, some gates ordered in June were received in the middle of October.
“What we get is half or sometimes less of what we order (of various products),” Kunze said.
And some of their orders average about two months to arrive compared to previous years’ five to seven days.
“It’s been incredible. We are amazed at how long it has taken to get things,” Kunze said.
Susan Baritelle, owner of Dungeness Kids Co., says she’s experienced similar woes with orders coming one to two months late.
“It’s gotten progressively worse over the 18 months of COVID,” she said.
“Some vendors are doing better than others, but some vendors provide only a fraction — half or less — of previous orders.”
While her store is full of toys, books, clothes, shoes and more, Baritelle said she’s asking vendors what is in stock and ordering anything that is on hand.
“That’s only going to make it worse come Christmas,” she said, with many items on back order, and potential restock for her and other stores unlikely.
Those once common items, such as belts, hoses, oil filters and more at A-1 Auto Parts, are becoming harder to find with suppliers, says store owner Kevin Bell.
“Warehouses are out of everything,” he said. “It’s been hard to find parts.”
To meet demand, Bell said they’ve had to be creative, order online sometimes and “eat the profit.”
“We have to bypass our usual channels sometimes,” Bell said. “Luckily we kept a lot of overstock … But a lot of suppliers have inventory not being processed because it’s sitting in a shipping yard waiting.”
Sam Chandler, co-owner of Ben’s Bikes, said his staff has “been aggressively ordering stateside and overseas.”
“We made a decision when the (pandemic) started, we’d stock up on everything we could from the beginning,” he said. “We’re just lucky, I guess.”
“There are shortages in the industry,” he added, “but luckily for us not with comfort bikes.”
Chandler said there are many readily available options for leisure riders, such as pedal assist and recumbent bikes, but if locals were looking to buy mountain bikes it’d be a harder find.
To try to counter COVID impacts and rising costs, Chandler said he introduced a repair business and opened the shop to consignments.
“It turned out to be very beneficial and is keeping us busy,” he said.
At Mervin Manufacturing in Carlsborg, CEO Anthony De Rocco said they’ve been impacted across multiple fronts — including “how we order and receive raw materials to keep our factory humming and how we ship and receive both the products we make in Sequim and our sourced finish goods which are mainly snowboard bindings and accessories.”
Built with environmentally friendly materials, De Rocco said they’ve had to be more aggressive and earlier to order raw materials leading them to be “more bullish on our forecast as we cannot run out of some unique materials (such as resin, hardener and steel edges for each snowboard and ski) that would cause immediate shutdown.”
De Rocco said they started placing material orders last October/November and will continue under that for the 2022 production cycle. The factory lost two manufacturing days last May due to delayed container deliveries from Europe, he said.
To counter that, the business now will “keep a safety stock of some materials at a few key suppliers that if required we can air in pallets to keep us open,” De Rocco added.
“We have had to rely on this backup plan a few times over the last six months at a very high cost to us as a company but it is something you just have to eat (with air cost vs ocean),” he said.
“The overall cost of the supply chain has also been hit very hard,” De Rocco said.
That includes the cost of their materials plus shipping containers’ costs going up 10 times more than recent years, he said.
“To say the least, it has been a wild ride the last year and will continue to be quite chaotic for the next year,” De Rocco said.
Mervin Manufacturing also increased its workforce, he said, to meet the increase in orders as “now we are seeing the same great and increased demand as we enter this winter and next spring deliveries.”
Retailers say they’re taking on higher costs too, because of supply chain issues.
Chandler said his bike vendors have passed on “extraordinary” increases in a few months with an increase upwards of 20 times his previous freight costs leading him and shops across the country to raise prices.
“Everyone is; that’s the nature of the beast right now,” he said. “Bicycle shops across the country run on fairly small margins.”
For auto parts, Bell said manufacturers are raising prices, but he’s committed to staying stocked and not raising prices. He said if he were to go with a cheaper product it would require him to change brands.
“If we do that, it’s a lesser quality,” Bell said.
At the Co-Op, Kunze said wholesale prices have gone up on almost everything with some extreme examples, such as grass seed going up 45 percent.
“The cost is more than we sell it for,” he said.
Their freight charges have shifted too, Kunze said, with some raising the rates and/or implementing charges and mandating minimum purchase totals.
For Baritelle’s store, she’s raised some prices as her expenses increased about every month from vendors adding new expenses onto orders, such as freight surcharges.
“I’m already ordering for spring and seeing price increases,” she said.
Kunze said customers are understanding of the delays.
“We know they’re frustrated,” he said. “We are too not being able to meet a need.”
With the delays, Baritelle said locals may need to think about Christmas earlier than normal. She also encourages customers to be understanding of shopkeepers’ situations.
“All retailers are being pulled in so many directions,” she said. “There’s so much more to handle right now with the supply chain and COVID.”
But a silver lining is that she feels more people are making a point to shop local.
“They don’t have to wait on something to be delivered, and it really helps the community,” Baritelle said.
At Ben’s Bikes, Chandler said bikes remain a healthy option that use less fossil fuels as gas prices go up.
“As we look forward to the future, I think it’ll be even more bike friendly,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to go back to a new normal or the old normal. It’s going to be a complete change as bicycles become more of a means of transportation.”
When purchasing, De Rocco encourages locals to consider buying American made.
Along the same buy local sentiment, Emma Jane Garcia, market manager for the Sequim Farmers & Artisans Market, said buying from a farmers market is a great way to support local businesses.
While products are locally made and/or grown, some of the products they use to distribute or make items may be impacted by the shipping strain, Garcia said.
“Larger (corporations) may be struggling but have so many options and funds to support themselves,” she said. “Whereas (at the market) it could be the end of a business or a product if they can’t find that (needed item).”
The Sequim Market is closed for the regular 2021 season (it reopens May-October 2022), but it hosts two winter markets from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, and Dec. 18, at the Sequim Civic Center Plaza.
The Port Angeles Farmers Market is open year-round Saturdays, Garcia said, and local producers also offer some products at local retailers, such as Sunny Farms and Agnew Grocery and Feed in the Sequim area, and Country Aire Market and McPhee’s Grocery in Port Angeles.