Businesses struggle with supply chain issues

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Dave Bentley and his daughter Laura Olinger are on the lot of Bentley Brothers in Albion, where obtaining tractors is getting more difficult, due to supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 31 August 2020 at 9:11 pm

Some local businesses have seen record sales

The recent pandemic has raised havoc with business owners across the country, especially in  terms of product availability, but in some cases, businesses are reporting record sales.

At Medina Lumber, owner Tom Snyder said recently that some lumber and hardware is in short supply or not available at all.

“People who want to build things right now may find the lumber they need is not available,” Snyder said. “For instance, 16-foot deck boards went from $14.29 before the pandemic to $25.99, by July and now have skyrocketed to $38 each. And I can’t even get them, or they are taking forever. Also, our hardware vendor is running low on paint, screws and fasteners.”

There are long delays with treated lumber and the price has tripled, Snyder said.

Tom Snyder, owner of Medina Lumber and Hardware, stands in his warehouse next to an empty bin, which should be full of deck boards. Since the pandemic, there is not only a shortage of lumber, but prices on lumber, such as 16-foot deck boards have gone from $14.29 to $38 each.

Grocery stores may have been the first to notice a short supply of some items in the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March. Paper products and sanitizing items, such as Clorox disinfectant spray and baby wipes vanished off the shelves for weeks, getting bought up as soon as they arrived at the stores.

While those items are more available now, shoppers may notice other items in short supply, such as table napkins and toilet bowl cleaner. In many stores right now, there is still a limit of one per customer on certain products.

With produce in full supply right now, it appears more people are canning, as jar lids are out of stock in every local store. A Walmart employee said they haven’t had any lids in weeks, and as soon as a shipment comes in, they’re gone.

“The same concerns fall across all vendors,” said Kathy Sautter, public and media relations manager for Tops Markets. “These partners are also dealing with new Covid practices within their facilities, which has and/or could mean less associates working at any given time, thus leading to less production, coupled with many associates who have not returned to work and/or lines being shifted to other products. This has caused items to be out of stock, allocated or suspended. Toilet bowl cleaner is no different, not to mention that several suppliers are also large suppliers for medical facilities, schools, etc.

Restaurants and bars are among the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic, limited to takeouts and then limited capacity inside the businesses. They are still only allowed to operate at 50 percent seating capacity.

Scott Robinson, president of the Medina Area Partnership, said it is estimated that 85 percent of restaurants across the country will go out of business. Batavia has already seen the closing of Pizza Hut and Bob Evans.

While some businesses are suffering, others are booming.

Take the automotive industry, where George Bidleman has been in the car business for 38 years. He is owner of Orleans Ford in Medina and Bidleman Chevrolet in Albion, part owner of Hartway Motors in Medina and an owner of a Chevrolet dealership in Honeoye Falls. During the month of June they sold more than 280 vehicles at Orleans Ford, the best month he has had in all his years in the business, he said.

Someone suggested people are buying vehicles because they don’t feel safe traveling by plane or bus anymore.

Orleans Hub was also told sales have been brisk at appliance stores, to the point where they are getting out of stock.

Several attempts were made to contact Main Street TV and Appliance in Medina, but owner Chris Fenton could not be reached.

Jaye Sullivan, however, owner of Blissett’s Specialty Shop in Medina, said she could attest to the shortage of appliances, as she went to Main Street TV and Appliance to buy a new stove.

“They told me I’d better take the floor model, because they didn’t know when or if they could get any more,” Sullivan said.

An associate at Home Depot, however, confirmed difficulty in getting certain appliances, especially dishwashers, freezers and refrigerators.  They aren’t even able to order some lines, she said. She attributes the problem to the fact that most appliances are made on an assembly line, similar to cars. Now that workforces are down to a quarter of what they were, the people aren’t there to make the products.

Sullivan is also having trouble getting merchandise for her store. While she has had no trouble getting bridal or formal wear, she said she is having difficulty getting kids’ clothing. She thinks for the most part, it is a workforce problem.

“When we had to shut down in March people were laid off, and they didn’t come back to work,” she said.

Sullivan added another problem is getting products which have to come from Canada, with the border now being closed.

Steve Pies, vice president of Max Pies Furniture in Batavia, confirmed while it’s tough to get product right now, the pandemic has affected them very positively.

“I think because people can’t travel right now, they’re putting their money in their homes,” said Pies, who is a fourth generation owner of the business started in 1905. “We did some good things during the pandemic. Even though we were closed, I would come in and unload trucks to make sure we had product when we could open. Typically, tax season is the Super Bowl for furniture stores, but we had to close then. Since we re-opened June 1, it’s been crazy.”

June was also a record month for Bentley Brothers in Albion, where Laura Bentley Olinger said they are now having trouble getting parts and tractors.

“We have Kubota tractors ordered, which are sitting in Georgia waiting for a part from Japan,” Olinger said. “While our Kubotas are made in Georgia, the components still come from Japan, so the tractors sit there, waiting for one piece.”

Olinger said this problem isn’t going to fix itself tomorrow.

“In three or four months, what are we going to sell?” she asked. “That is what is most worrisome to me. However, Kubota assures us we will be back to normal by the first of the year.”

Olinger thinks the reason sales have been so good is because people couldn’t spend their money on vacations, so they are using it to buy things for their homes. She said the stimulus checks are a big part of why people have money to spend.

Several business owners said the extended unemployment checks may have been lifesaving for many families, but they have caused hardship for many employers. A businessman in Albion said his work was backlogged for weeks because his employees didn’t want to come back to work while they were still eligible for the checks.

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