The world has changed a lot in the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Work and school has been handled online, face masks have been the most used accessory, and travel outside borders has been restricted.
While many of those adjustments became the new normal, they have become less necessary due to individuals getting vaccinated against the threat of COVID-19. Work and school are in-person once again, face masks are no longer a requirement and travel out-of-state and out of the country has resumed.
While most things are getting back to normal, there are still some struggles. With fewer people returning to work, there are more and more job vacancies. Without the workforce, production has gone down, and many items that are produced can’t be delivered, leaving some businesses with empty shelves.
“It’s been a trickle effect for the most part, just for the fact that there are a lot of things that have not been stocked because of where the main supply is, and then there is the shortage of employees,” Sheila Sharp, of Back Mountain Service, said.
Local businesses have had issues with orders and getting what they need. For some, it’s one item, while others are seeing a change from week to week.
Sharp said tires were their big issue.
At Pocahontas IGA, manager Rob Hilleary said one week it’s a shortage of pudding, the next week, it could be pie.
“I guess our biggest thing was canning supplies,” said Roger Pritt, owner of Buckeye Home, Farm, Lawn and Garden.
“Basically, dog food is an issue,” Southern States manager Robert Lee said.
It’s been a struggle with stock in general for these local businesses, and it’s been harder in the past six months to know if an order will be filled in full or not.
“I get a list of available and not available items every week and sometimes it’s a big list,” Hilleary said. “There are quite a few items that are on restriction to where they limit you to one thing. We did get the warning about Gatorade and CapriSun. There was an aluminum shortage, so Capri-Sun and things like that we couldn’t get. Gatorade – there was something with them.”
Pritt said he has the same issue, where he puts in an order for a certain number of items, and he receives what is available.
“On average, we are missing a hundred items a week on a regular hardware order,” he said. “Last week it was down to sixty, so it looks like things are getting better. Before, it was ‘if it’s there and it’s for sale, it’s first come, first served.’ Not now. There are things that show ten available, we’ll order five and only get one.”
Lee said his orders are filled in the same manner, but he continues to order what he needs and hopes he gets enough to satisfy his customers.
“Animal health – getting vaccinations – it was awful,” he said. “It was a company back order. They didn’t have it to ship to the warehouses to send them on. Manufacturer backorder is what they called it. I don’t see it easing up. We send our order to them, and we don’t really know if we’re going to get it or not until the truck shows up. That’s not good.
“On the animal health, they’re restricted,” he added. “If you order fifty and you only get ten, you turn around and put in another order for fifty because you know you’re not going to get it.”
Lee said he tried for hours to get the right vaccinations for a customer by calling seven different suppliers.
“I called every store I could think of to get a patron some vaccines,” he said. “He had to change his whole vaccination program just so he could get covered. I’m talking hours.”
For Back Mountain Service, it’s hard to stock parts for every brand of vehicle, especially when those parts aren’t after-market.
“It’s not so much your normal maintenance like oil filers and oil, things like that,” Sharp said. “It’s parts that are a little bit bigger. For example, Dodge. We had a 3500 series Dodge that needed a pretty big part. You call the Dodge dealer because there’s no after-market part, and they’re like, ‘three months.’ Volkswagen, same way. A lot of stuff is not made here. It comes from overseas, and you are just waiting.”
Not all businesses have seen a change in getting stock. At Glades Building Supply, owner Randy Sharp said there have always been issues with backorders, but he hasn’t seen an extreme change in that since the pandemic began.
“Really, at this time, no, we haven’t had hardly any issues,” he said. “No more issues than what we’ve ever had if that makes sense. We have backorders every week. We’ve had backorders since the beginning of time. We’ve had very few limitations. We’ve always had other options.”
Sharp explained that if he is unable to get a certain item, for example, a MasterLock padlock, he has several other brand padlocks that work just as well.
The strain of the pandemic has been felt by so many small businesses that a lot of them did not survive. At Pocahontas IGA, there are several items no longer available because the companies that produced the products went out of business.
“Unfortunately with this, we’ve lost some suppliers because the businesses went out,” Hilleary said. “We lost a lot of products that won’t come back. Smaller companies that have gone away – a company that produced the little four pack pizzas, they’re gone. We sold those pizzas every day.”
Another issue arising during this time is the cost of stock, which in turn raises the prices for consumers.
“The biggest impact that I’ve really seen is the prices,” Pritt said. “Three inch conduit last year, we were selling for $19.99. Our cost is $75 now. One ten-foot stick of pipe. Anything metal or plastic, which is almost everything, has really gone up.”
Southern States is seeing the same thing.
“Let’s say I sell a gate for $100 and I order a replacement, now it’s costing me $110,” Lee said. “Then I sell that gate for $110, now it’s costing me $120. Let’s say I make ten dollars on that gate. I’ve got to take that ten dollars and spend it on merchandise. It used to be, everything was pretty stable. You sell this gate, you buy more and you don’t have to use what you’ve made to buy that product.
“Not anymore,” he continued. “You’re using your capital to buy inventory. You’re using your margins that you got on this particular product to buy another one.”
Lee is most concerned about his propane customers who will be filling their tanks for this coming winter.
“It bothers me,” he said. “It really does because we’ve got a lot of customers – our gas customers especially – that are in their eighties. They’re on a fixed income and now gas is up. Propane, is sixty cents higher than it was last year at the highest, and we haven’t even started.
“It goes up a couple pennies every day,” he continued. “I kind of drag my feet. When I get to that nickel, I’ve got to move it up. It’s an ugly scene. Especially when you take a homeowner who calls and they’ve got a five hundred gallon tank and they need two hundred fifty gallons and you’re paying sixty cents more a gallon. It adds up in a hurry.”
The past several months have changed the way local businesses prepare for upcoming seasons. Now with winter on the horizon and Christmas in sight, businesses have or are about to make purchases to be ready for the demand.
Buckeye Home, Farm, Lawn and Garden is prepared for winter with one item – sleds.
“I ordered them in July,” Pritt said. “A lot of people laughed at me, but now there are none available, and we’ve got a couple hundred of them. Now when we see something – whether we need it or not – we order it because we figure, at some point, they’re not going to have it in the warehouse.”
Rumor is, there is a turkey shortage and Thanksgiving may be different for a lot of families, but luckily Pocahontas IGA is set.
“We’re full on turkeys,” Hilleary said. “We’re working on Christmas now to make sure we have enough hams for Christmas.”
The old saying goes that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but unfortunately, some local businesses don’t know just how long this stock issue tunnel is.
“I’ve been doing this for thirty some years,” Lee said. “It’s been the last eight months – the first go around, it was pretty calm and steady – and now, for the last eight months, it’s been hell on wheels. It would be different if it was just one category, but it’s all the categories in the whole store. I’m painting you an ugly picture, but it’s real.”
Now, more than ever, it is important that people shop locally and support the businesses that have worked hard to meet the needs of the community in good times and bad.