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Maine business owners deal with supply issues

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 4:38 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - As the holiday season officially gets underway, consumers have been told to buy now and buy early to avoid shipping delays before Christmas.

As global supply chains continue to feel the impact of COVID-19, those delays can even be felt in the small businesses in our communities.

“The supply chain issues are real. They are substantial. We’ve got a variety of problems with people coming back to work and staffing these various functions. We’ve got canisters on boats that we can’t get onshore and unpacked. We’ve had problems with domestic production,” said Steve Cunningham, Husson University economics professor.

It’s no surprise that shipping delays and supply chain issues are wreaking havoc on large-scale retailers all around the world.

Local businesses in Maine are not immune to those impacts.

“We’ve seen our orders cut back deliberately by our distributors by upwards of 25 to 30%, and that’s not including the items that they can’t already get,” said Sarah Morneault, Tiller and Rye co-owner.

Morneault says they source their inventory from over 300 Maine farmers and artisans. She says their business is split 50/50 with local and national suppliers.

“So, while we’ve seen cost increases across the board, the local increases have been single digit increases where we’ve seen all of the things coming from the other side of the United States and the rest of the world, double digit increases,” said Morneault.

Those products coming from across the country are taking longer to get to their destinations, and the price to get it there is only going up.

“And it could be the materials coming from abroad. It could be transportation, it could be labor, but nevertheless, whatever the reason is, it’s an impediment, and it stands in the way of being able to really with certainty predict what the season would be like the workforce is a challenge that we see all around us,” said Dana Connors, Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Susan Nordman owns Bliss in Ellsworth.

They offer free shipping nationwide for purchases over $50.

She says they’re spending at least 30% more on shipping those items and are continually looking for ways to limit those costs.

“We do not order on demand anymore. Whereas before, you could really, like, if you ran out of something, you could just order it again, and that is not the case any longer. You really have to plan it out, and the lead time is a good 12 to 18 months,” said Nordman.

Leslie Harlow is a part owner of Trio in downtown Ellsworth.

She says her vendors gave her a heads up this summer that there could be some delays.

“All companies I’m dealing with were really good at informing us about what’s going on. I have found a little bit of a challenge last week or so because I’ve already had to reorder a few things, and it’s something that’s made on another continent, like I have these really cool wool socks,” said Harlow.

Word is spreading and this holiday season is moving to a “buy now” attitude.

Cunningham says this could do more harm than good.

“Now they’re saying if it’s there, I’m going to grab it, and that’s sort of opening the door to more inflation,” said Cunningham

With shipping delays and supply chain concerns worldwide, Dana Connors with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce says he’s optimistic about small businesses this holiday season.

“So I think you’re seeing an accelerated a heightened awareness of the value of buying local and buying now because of the threat of lower inventory,” said Connors.

While these businesses aren’t dealing with the magnitude of delays of bigger box retailers, many owners tell me it’s more important to shop local now than ever before.

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