As Christmas nears and folks check off their wish lists, a number of local shops are reporting strong sales, even as they grapple with supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.
Little Ladybug, a shop in Gainesville that sells everything from shoes to wooden toys, is on pace to record its strongest year ever, said owner Carole Hudgins.
“Our sales are not down at all because of the pandemic,” Hudgins said. “If anything, they're better and I think that is due to the fact that we have been a local business for 27 years.”
But it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing. Like others, a number of her products from overseas are stuck on shipping containers, with shoes being the main casualty.
“I would say the hardest thing has been shoes,” she said. “We carry a lot of shoes, and they're all made in Italy and Spain. We don't have as many shoes as we would normally carry because they just couldn't get them here, so we're hoping that's going to change.”
Experts say that talk of factories and shipping containers sometimes obscures the human element at the heart of supply chain woes.
“Supply chain is more of a human issue,” said Mohan Menon, head of the department of management and marketing at the University of North Georgia. “It's about labor.” The factories, trucks and ports remain. What’s missing is “the human factor to actually get it up to full scale operation.”
Janice Rogers, office manager at House Dressing Interiors in Gainesville, said supply chain issues have been “extremely frustrating,” and they are still waiting on a shipment of items they ordered six months ago. They have had the most trouble getting sofas, chairs and dining tables.
“As far as supply chain issues and what you read about, the reality is probably worse,” Rogers said. Nevertheless, they’ve had a “very good year,” partly because people want to support their local businesses.
“We’re finding if you can shop local, people are wanting to support local businesses, even though it's so easy to order things online,” Rogers said. “We’re grateful to be in a community that supports local business.”
For many, shopping locally is also more convenient and reliable.
“A lot of the local stores have done well, and partly because they had less of a supply chain issue because of local sourcing,” Menon said. “If I'm not able to buy something at Target, I might say, ‘Well, forget Walmart or Target. Maybe I'll go to my local place and help them out.’ … And this is the best time for these smaller companies to come out and try to incentivize customers to buy local.”
“We’ve really hardly skipped a beat, I think because we are local and we're easy to get in and out of,” Hudgins said. “People have shopped early because I think they've been scared by the media saying, ‘You better shop early,’ and they have.”
City Christmas lights are also popular this year.
“This was the most in-demand Christmas we've seen in a long time,” said Luke Jensen, owner of Holiday Designs, a Christmas lights company that sells to local businesses and works with municipalities. “This was our busiest season ever.”
Jensen said drive-thru light tunnels have been popular this season, as well as the giant Christmas trees at shopping malls and city centers.
This means that revenues are up compared to previous seasons. “But so are our costs,” he said. “Just because revenues are up doesn’t mean profits are up.”
He said the cost of labor, insurance and materials has increased. The cost of steel has tripled since January, and wire for the lights has been “one of the hardest things to get.”
Menon said the global supply chain is improving slowly but surely.
“There is some sense amongst the manufacturers, some level of confidence that the worst supply chain issues might be behind us,” he said. “There is some consensus that it will probably get back to normal in 2023.”
Trucking, however, will likely continue to be a problem for some time.
“That is going to take a lot more time to solve,” Menon said. “The American Trucking Association estimates that right now there's a record shortage of 80,000 truck drivers.”
Adam Kinsey said his Christmas tree farm, Kinsey Family Farm, has a lot of trouble finding truck drivers to transport their trees, adding that freight costs have gone up by about one-third this season. His farm grows about one-fifth of the trees they sell, and source the rest from other farms around the country.
“I wouldn’t say it was catastrophic, but it certainly was not easy to get trees here,” Kinsey said. “There were some trees we just didn't get because we just couldn't get a truck driver. The farm that was selling them had the trees and they were cut and ready to roll, and we were ready to get them and we just could never get a driver.”
In many cases, this meant that customers who wanted a 10-foot tree had to settle for a seven-footer instead.
Despite the lack of truckers, a dearth of tall trees and an increase in freight costs, Kinsey said sales “were much higher” this year than during previous Christmas seasons, up about 5% to 10%.
“Our farm has actually benefited, as far as business goes, from the pandemic,” he said. “Nobody likes a pandemic … but there are some positives that did come out of this pandemic, in my opinion anyway, and that is that people are doing a lot more family oriented activities, as well as a lot more outdoor activities.”
He said the nursery side of his business has improved as more people take to gardening.
“I’ll bet you artificial tree sales are way down,” he said. “And real tree sales are on the increase because people are like, ‘You know what? We're doing something as a family outside where we feel comfortable and safe.’”