By Andrew Lwowski and Lee Shappell
If there’s nothing in the Christmas stocking this year, it doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody has vaulted atop the Naughty List.
Disruption of the supply chain is more likely the problem. Goods are in short supply. It is difficult to find things – even that lump of coal to put in the stocking of somebody who truly has been a stinker.
Reports have circulated for weeks that the bulk of this country’s Christmas is sitting on ships off the coast of California due to backups in the harbor because there are not enough trucks to haul products to warehouses or stores.
It’s a problem that seems to have hit the big chains harder than the mom-and-pops, but several South Tempe and West Chandler small businesses report that they, too, are feeling the backlash.
Artificial Christmas trees, food and restaurant supplies, anything with computer chips – especially electronics and automobiles — sporting goods, even turkeys are in particularly short supply. And there’s the dreaded return of the empty shelves of toilet paper and other paper products during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most fingers point to the pandemic, which led to factory shutdowns around the world. As the pandemic eased, many people simply chose to walk away from their jobs.
From factories in Asia to the heartland of the U.S., production and shipping have been reduced drastically. Many shelves are empty. Retailers are getting nervous over dwindling inventory. Prices are rising.
Against that background, the market in the U.S. is hungry. Demand is high. Projections indicate that Americans are likely to spend more than in recent years for presents this holiday season, if only they can get their hands on them.
Wrangler News|wranglernews.com spoke to small-business owners in South Tempe and West Chandler to assess where they stand for the holidays:
1860 E. Warner Road, Suite 108, Tempe
Florals and gifts
Renee’ Potter, owner
Fred’s Flowers has been servicing consumers for more than eight decades, starting with a gladiola farm in Indiana. It is named for Fred Culp, a floral designer who began the retail side of the family flower business.
In 1986, Kathy Rogers, Fred’s daughter, opened the family’s second shop in Tempe. Renee’ Potter, Kathy’s daughter and a fourth-generation florist, became owner of Fred’s in Tempe.
Potter was born and raised in the floral industry, and she said the supply-chain shortage is among her greatest challenges.
“It has impacted my business in several ways,” Potter said. “Our fresh products come from flower farms. Many of these farms are short on employees to harvest products and also to transport fresh products in a timely manner. Flowers grown in South America are imported through the Miami airport. This leads to transportation issues here in the United States. Flowers are either flown from Florida to Arizona or travel across the country on refrigerated trailers.
“Most of our hard goods are imported on the West Coast and, well, we all know the port stories.”
Potter said that includes Christmas supplies that are sitting in ships off the coast.
“This has left retail florists scrounging for all kinds of supplies, like vases, easels for funeral arrangements, silk flowers for the holidays. Many of my local distributors here have had to look for new manufacturers for many products and we have seen an increase in supplies and flowers coming from Mexico.”
Fred’s Flowers is focusing on fresh flowers and evergreens for the holiday season rather than on gift items.
“Our customers are very wise and understand the restraints many of us are facing,’ Potter said. “They have been very open minded about substitutions and alternate options for containers and keepsakes. We will be able to meet our customer demand as long as we stay prepared, organized and positive.”
Potter, however, acknowledged that she is having difficulty filling positions.
“We have been working with a skeleton crew for the past year,” she said. “We are working long hours with minimal to no days off at some peak times. My part-time staff has been working full-time hours.”
While the holiday season is big for florists, it is weddings and funerals that drive the industry year-round.
“Many, many of the brides who had to postpone their weddings during the past year or two have chosen to get married this fall,” Potter said. “October and November are peak wedding seasons for us normally. This fall, we have had twice as many events. This takes additional staff to set up weddings and events onsite.
“Thankfully I have a few seasonal holiday employees that have stepped up to help make this a successful wedding season. December is one of our biggest, busiest months of the year. Holiday parties are back in full force.”
McKay’s True Value
4939 W. Ray Road, Chandler
Hardware and home products
Gary McKay, owner
In June, 2018, Gary McKay chucked his days as a traveling hardware wholesaler, owner of a landscaping business and once even a volunteer firefighter in Michigan to buy and re-open a hardware store that now is McKay’s True Value.
McKay, who independently owns and operates his store, makes his living selling household tools and supplies. Electrical supplies have been difficult to get, he said, as have re-orders of Christmas-related products like artificial trees and lights.
“We’ve been getting plenty of electrical boxes that Home Depot hasn’t been able to get,” McKay said. “But caulking, a lot of the caulkings that are used on a daily basis have been hard to get. It’s weird things like caulking guns. But ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, used in injection molding) has become an issue because it’s the resin that they make it with that has been in short supply. So, anything like construction is getting difficult.”
He said he did his best to stock up during the summer on Christmas-related products.
“I mean, some of the Christmas stuff we didn’t get, and when we sell what we have, we’re not going to be able to re-order like Christmas lights and stuff,” McKay said. “Usually we can order a couple of times before Christmas, but a lot of the lights we’re already sold out. It’s short supply and we ordered early, back in spring, on a lot of this stuff to make sure we had an adequate amount. But it’s getting to be short supply.
“It’s made it challenging to try to keep the shelves stocked. You’ve got to be able to look around and adjust accordingly, look at other options. It’s not always the same thing that’s short. This would be out for two-to-three months, then we’ll get it back in. Then, this will be out for three months and we’ll get it back in. Then it’s something else. It’s never the same things. It’s challenging.”
Great Harvest Bread Co.
1730 E. Warner Road, Tempe
Bakery and restaurant
George Walston, manager and son of owners Ward and Leslie Walston
The Walston family is dedicated to making their bakery your local, family-owned mom-and-pop bakery. For 13 years, they’ve been grinding their wheat berries daily and baking everything from scratch at Great Harvest Bread Co.
George Walston said that the supply-chain shortage has “impacted us in really weird ways.”
“There’s just these weird things here and there, like all of a sudden butterscotch chips are two months out, or, it took us a month to get 32-ounce plastic cups,” he said. “It’s just these really weird things here and there that seems like there is no rhyme or reason for what is out of stock. We’ve been having to work our way around it.”
Great Harvest does not source from the large food provider that many Valley restaurants use that are seeing shortages. Consequently, it has been able to keep its food products in good supply, although prices that it pays for them are up.
“Generally, the paper and plastic stuff to wrap the products or serve things in are a lot tighter to get,” Walston said.
The Waltons are heartened that demand for their products is up “quite a bit” this year.
“We don’t foresee any issues, there just might be a change in products here and there that will run shy of not having as much as last year and the year before,” he said. “Nothing too dire.”
Great Harvest is having difficulty finding employees, however, Walston acknowledged.
“Yep, right now I have the equivalent of two full-time jobs I have been looking to fill for about a month,” Walston said.
Freely Taproom & Kitchen
1730 E. Warner Road, Suite 11, Tempe
Bar and restaurant
Paul Gillingwater, owner
Don’t get Paul Gillingwater going on supply-chain issues. He had to kick back the opening of his Freely Taproom & Kitchen several times from its anticipated August launch. He finally opened the bar in late September while awaiting arrival of delayed kitchen supplies for the restaurant, which finally opened in November.
Gillingwater, who grew up on a California vineyard and worked with O.H.S.O. Brewery + Distillery in Scottsdale for a decade, said it became a nightmare trying to get his new place open due primarily to shipping delays.
“We had a cooler issue, all of our furniture, everything. We were impacted a lot by the warehouses, actually,” Gillingwater said. “If it’s just like normal FedEx packages, we’re fine. But anything freight, it’s the freight and pallets that are problems. All the furniture has been sitting in freight pallets for months because they don’t have drivers to get it from the freight terminal to the warehouse.
“Furniture and anything stainless steel like the kitchen equipment is difficult. The world-wide stainless-steel shortage hurt anything custom made.”
It set him back six to eight weeks.
Now fully open, he is beginning to see the demand for his type of establishment for which the surrounding neighborhood has clamored. Many customers walk or ride bikes, he said.
“We’re having a steady increase in customers every week. We’re doing sales and we’re also doing specials. That’s been helping,” Gillingwater said. “We’ve been coming up with creative ways to increase our business through specials.”
If there is a silver lining, Gillingwater said, it is that he has averted staffing shortages that are walloping the food-and-drink service industry.
“We are completely full-staffed,” he said. “In the beginning of November, we saw more traction of applicants.”