It’s the season to shop early and be prepared to compromise.
That’s what Hamilton-area independent toy store owners are telling their customers ahead of another holiday season marked by yet another supply chain issues.
“If you have one item in mind and this has to be the one, buy it now,” said Lisa Evans, owner of the Chickadee Kids Company in Burlington. “You just don’t know if it will be on the shelves and it’s likely retailers won’t be able to restock it.”
Like any other sector, the the toy industry is feeling the pinch of the supply chain crisis caused by the pandemic, said Kai Huangassociate professor of operations management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University.
Shipping has slowed and production is catching up with demand, with no often invisible corner in the way between manufacturers and consumers spared from COVID-related woes.
“Like the pandemic, it is global,” Huang said. “It affects every country and every aspect of the supply chain.”
But the issues cropping up for this holiday season aren’t new, Evans said. Inventory shortages began to emerge last January, but intensified throughout the summer months.
The product that was ordered in July still hasn’t hit Evans’ shelves and likely won’t until December. Some of its suppliers cannot obtain shipping containers or their ships are waiting at the port to be unloaded.
Other items are simply not available at all, she noted, while the stock she has obtained can be described as “a drip”.
“These shortages are simply unprecedented,” Evans said. “It’s never been like this before. It’s not just one supplier or one region of the world. It’s at all levels. »
The supply chain crisis has also been felt by major Canadian retailers, such as brain toyswhich has two locations in Hamilton as well as another in Burlington.
In a statement to The Spectator, a spokesperson said the company placed holiday orders “six to eight weeks earlier than usual, knowing there would be delays ahead.” They also worked with their longtime suppliers to find “expedited shipping options” to ensure their shelves would be full.
But when it comes to local stores, ordering ahead and in large quantities presents a different set of challenges, said Rebecca Bamford, owner of child citizen on Locke Street South.
Every dollar spent needs to have a plan behind it — or money that could be spent elsewhere and on other products could sit on the shelf for months at a time, Bamford said. But space for this inventory is also in short supply.
“I don’t have endless amounts of storage and capital to be able to hold things for that long,” Bamford said.
Evans said in their store that their margins have tightened further during the pandemic as restrictions have left their doors closed for most of the past two years. Even if they had wanted to order more to prepare, the money is not necessarily there, she said.
“We don’t have the bank account to buy these large amounts of stock while paying our rent and paying our staff,” she said.
Bamford said the supply chain shortage is particularly disappointing after last year’s holiday season, which saw families stay home and not get together as they normally would. This year should look more normal, with a majority of the population vaccinated and people preparing to gather.
“We expect shopping and gifts to be even greater,” Bamford said. “But then not having the goods is a cruel paradox.”
To ensure everyone gets what’s on their list, Evans and Bamford said they had to explore new brands to fill in the gaps. While some have been “surprising,” according to Evans, there’s always a risk that they won’t resonate with customers who have a certain giveaway at heart.
“You just don’t know if they’re going to see it as an equal comparison to something they would otherwise want to buy,” Bamford said.
The two store owners said they now encourage customers to buy early if they can and to be “flexible” with their expectations, especially if they decide to shop locally.
“Keep an open mind,” Evans said. “You might just find a hidden toy that you probably wouldn’t have found before.”
And while issues with the supply chain aren’t expected to resolve anytime soon, Huang said buyers and retailers should see things improve next year.
“I don’t expect them to be resolved immediately,” he added. “But we’ll be in a much better place.”