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By Mike Scott
NEMOnews Media Group
Remember last year’s shortages of toilet paper, cleaning supplies and PPE?
Those same problems continue, and experts say it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Many factors have driven the supply chain shortage, which was magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of many manufacturers worldwide, shipping issues, and a shortage of manufacturing and warehouse workers, as well truck drivers to deliver the products are all factors in the growing number of shortages.
Local businesses, schools and hospitals are feeling the impact.
“At the beginning of the pandemic we had a very difficult time getting supplies and inventory into both the store and lumberyard in a timely manner. We had to find other vendors and other avenues to get the product our customers need. After a year it’s gotten a little better,” said Nick McCarter, manager at Nick’s Farm and Home in Kahoka.
It’s not just retailers that are affected.
At Scotland County R-1, Food Service Director Judy Thomas provided the following report:
Bread and milk supplies are through their own local distributors, so currently they are good. However, many items through our food/supply vendor are limited. Paper products are next to impossible. Such as styrofoam bowls for soups, cereals, etc. Many meat items are not available, So, the vendor subs something different. I re-order many items every week, struggling, in hopes, they have a few available. Many times, they only have a few available, so I try to get ahead of that problem, by ordering ahead.
Also, in a school setting, we get commodity food every year. That, too, has been delayed, so the food distributors are having to pick up the slack, for all schools. Making certain items that are high in demand, limited.
At Clark County R-1, the school’s food service vendor, OPAA!, is unable to order bread, and having to buy it locally. In addition, the High School’s dishwasher is broken, and there is an eight-week delay for parts, or a 12 week delay for a new unit. Students are eating on paper plates.
Scotland County Hospital in Memphis is having problems keeping necessary medical supplies in stock.
“We have had lots of supply chain disruptions over the 18 months, said Travis Onken, Materials Management Supervisor at Scotland County Hospital.
“Generally speaking, whenever there are national shortages on medical supplies, the distributors put allocations on the amount of product you can buy during that time. Sometimes that quantity isn’t even enough compared to your typical monthly usage, not to mention during times of high usage. When this happens, it is not like you can just go to another distributor to buy the product from them as they also have it on allocation. So if you haven’t bought that item from them before, they will not let you start so that they can keep the supplies they do have for their existing customers,” said Onken.
During the peak of the PPE shortages, the hospital resorted to buying on Amazon and other websites, sometimes three to six month in advance.
“Prices also soared on these items as we, and any other hospital, were often paying 10 times the normal cost of supplies. Manufacturers had to quit making non PPE products and start producing PPE because the demand was so high. Because of this, we are still seeing back orders and extended lead times on things like needles, syringes, catheters, wound dressings , oxygen supplies and pretty much anything else that hospitals use frequently. It is not uncommon for us now to check for alternative items to purchase five or six times before we find one that is available, which is not something I’ve ever experienced before.” Onken added.
At Rose Hardware in Memphis, owner Scott Westhoff said, “We have been having issues with the supply chain since around June. We have the advantage of being in a co-op of member owned stores (Do it Best Corp.) so that gives us the same buying and allocating power as the big box stores. The more persistent issues are in our electrical department with the availability of electrical wire, nail on and old work PVC boxes and some brands of breakers.”
Some of their shortages are weather related. PVC shortages can be attributed to a hurricane in Louisiana that destroyed a factory that produces resins,” Westhoff said. Paint shortages are tied to the freeze in Texas early in 2021.
“We have experienced just as many shortages with American made products as we have with product that is linked to China or has to travel to our country on a ship,” Westhoff said.
“We have enough different brands and versions of products available to us through Do it Best that we are usually able to substitute or a like item to bring in when our regularly stocked items become unavailable. We count ourselves lucky that we have the ability to do that and still meet our customer’s needs,” he added.
“Our biggest problem is furniture, said Jeff Behrens of Gerth & Baskett in Memphis. “Most of what is made in America is really just assembled in America. Fabric, from everyone from LaZBoy to Ashley to the small guys like BestCraft comes for China, and has for several years. Foam almost exclusively comes from overseas. Our upholstery suppliers are saying 4-8 months on new order. I have orders that were placed almost a year ago that still have not come. Gerth & Baskett usually has over 100 recliners and 40-50 sofas with an order time of 4-6 weeks. Now I have a fraction of that now. And add on top of that the 25- 40% increases in freight charges, furniture is rare and expensive.”
Behrens continued, “For floor covering, the most popular item is the engineered flooring that is waterproof and looks like wood or tile. Almost all of that is made overseas. Its prices have risen almost 20% since the spring. The only thing we haven’t seen too much production disruption in is carpeting, which is still made in America. But the increase in freight has caused its price to go up as well.”
Travis Mathes, Manager of Member Services at Lewis County REC, echoed the problems.
“We are having the same types of problems. We are asking everyone to be patient with us, and if you are thinking about building a new home, grain bin, etc. in the next 12 months, that will require new or upgraded electric service, to contact us now to assure we have the inventory to build your service. We are also running into the same problems with equipment and trucks. If we order a new bucket truck or digger derrick today we likely will not take delivery until mid to late 2023,” Mathes said.
“We sell and service trucks,” said Carla Ball, owner of Ball Volvo GMC in Kahoka. “Our lot is almost empty. Every day, someone asks if we are going out of business because they are used to seeing the lot full of used trucks. We aren’t. Our parts department spends hours every day searching the nation for parts to get the trucks customers have in our shop to be repaired. We repair all makes of trucks so we never know which truck part we might need. These trucks are put to work daily and every hour they can’t run costs their owners time and money. New trucks being manufactured are also delayed because of parts and labor availability.”
“We don’t expect this to change for the better anytime soon. So, availability of many things is going to get worse. It started years ago with the outsourcing of manufacturing. It became a death knell for work ethic during the shutdowns due to COVID,” she added.
Local convenience stores are also facing the sames kinds of problems.
“We have been having problems getting everything from daily items we sell to supplies and equipment/parts,” said Brad Ayers of Ayerco. “Many of our vendors have cut their portfolios down to focus on their main brands. Hershey, Swisher, Deli Express just to name a few.”
Ayerco has also faced construction-related shortages.
“We just built a new store in Louisiana. We had delays on getting several main components of the store such as tanks and dispensers. We eventually got them but their lead time had nearly doubled. We are still waiting on shelving for the store,’ Ayers said.
“We also just found out yesterday that a couple small open air cases we ordered are being permanently canceled because the manufacturer cannot get the parts to build them,” Ayers added.
“Basically everyone we talk to is dealing with the same situation. They cannot find workers which is leading to product shortages on orders then they don’t have drivers which is leading to delays in what products they do have available. All of this is leading to price increase up and down the supply chain on every product,” Ayer said.
Sometimes, it’s just the little things that businesses have problems finding.
“We were concerned about this around the end of July,” said David Alderton, President of Peoples Bank of Wyaconda. “We stocked up heavy on everything. The only thing I am unable to get is customer Christmas gifts. I usually try to give out a Christmas present to each customer in addition to calendars, and the normal candy we set out. I am unable to get anything other than candy and calendars.”