Supply chain disruptions trickle down to Wrangell stores

It's like nothing they've ever had to deal with in business.

Supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic have made it harder and more expensive to get groceries, building supplies, appliances and even flowers, causing Wrangell businesses to wait sometimes more than a year for deliveries.

COVID-19 has had crippling effects on the U.S. economy, decreasing the amount of workers and increasing the amount of time it can take to receive goods and services. In a report issued by the White House earlier this year, the Biden administration said, "In recent months the strong U.S. economic rebound and shifting demand patterns have strained supply chains in other key products, such as lumber, and increased strain on U.S. transportation shipping networks."

"I ordered (an appliance) in September of last year and I'm still waiting for it," said Amanda Johnson, saleswoman and bookkeeper for Johnson's Building Supplies. "Some stuff, I'm being told, if you order it now, you're not seeing until 2023."

Along with delayed deliveries, Johnson said the business is being limited on the number of models that can be ordered at a time.

The backorders also cause a slowdown in work time, she said. "I spend about an hour a day checking emails, checking on products for customers. That's an hour I'm emailing, phone calls and hold time ... trying to track it down. It consumes a lot of our time."

Jim Jansen, chairman for Lynden, the parent company of Alaska Marine Lines, said deliveries to Alaska are being made in a timely manner once cargo is received.

"Cargo from the Lower 48 to Alaska is moving reliably, once it becomes available for shipping," Jansen said. "The long ship delays at the major ports are not happening on the Alaska lanes. Driver shortages have created serious challenges, but service disruptions to Alaska are minimal."

One product that hasn't been difficult to obtain is lumber, said Harley Johnson, owner of Johnson's. But it hasn't been cheap.

"There hasn't been a hiccup in obtaining, purchasing dimensional and plywood. It's just that through the pandemic and last year, fall into spring, the prices went so high they were five times as high in the spring and summer of 2020," he said. Lumber prices have only recently started to come down, Johnson said, but have started trending upward again. He advises those with projects that might be starting in the spring to stock up now before prices increase.

Another problem the Johnsons have faced is damaged goods.

"When people have been waiting four months for a countertop to come in, and then the countertop comes in damaged, making that phone call to that customer is difficult," Amanda Johnson said.

Harley Johnson said factories will sometimes push through blemished items to see if the end user will accept it. If the customer sends it back, it will lead to longer wait times.

Damaged goods are a problem the staff at Wrangell IGA is quite familiar with.

"If we don't receive something or we receive something with damages, our shipping time takes double the time it takes to get product here than it does anywhere else," said Alan Cummings, an employee at IGA. "And (distributors) will try to get away with everything they can without reimbursement until the day you call them out on it."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, IGA has seen similar delays, higher prices and damages like Johnson's Building Supply. It's also harder for the grocer to get the brands that customers want.

"It's more work on our end to keep the shelves full," said IGA co-owner Caroline Bangs. "We have to go searching around for new product because our old product is discontinued or not in stock with our supplier, so we have to find an alternative. Since COVID, there's less variety to choose from."

Some manufacturers, like Campbell Soup, have told retailers it will be discontinuing certain items and focusing only on its best-selling products.

"There's no end in sight," Bangs said. "(Suppliers) are just trying to do their best with what they've got. The lack of employees is contributing (to problems) also."

IGA's supplier, based in Centralia, Washington, had an outbreak of COVID-19 at its warehouse in August, forcing it to shut down for a few weeks.

Higher demand and short supply have also led to higher prices, Bangs said. She pointed out a case of nitrile gloves that went from $20 to $76. Increased product costs and higher freight costs have forced the grocery store to up the retail costs on many items.

Sourcing products locally - something not every business has the option of - has helped other businesses keep costs down. Mya DeLong, owner of Groundswell, has been able to purchase candles and jewelry from artists in the Southeast. "I think because I do try to source locally, and just being fluid and flexible has helped," she said.

DeLong also sells flower arrangements. She's kept costs down by substituting similar flowers, like white lisianthus instead of white freesia. "I'm able to get that same look and feel." She said the floral industry has seen a massive run on white roses this year after most weddings were canceled in 2020. Prices have also gone up on flowers like roses, daisies and tulips, which come from places like Ecuador and Holland.

Vases and other flower containers have been one of the items DeLong has had trouble getting, so she has encouraged patrons to recycle glass and ceramic vessels.


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