How international shortages are having a local impact

NORTHAMPTON – In her 12 years with Northampton Bicycle, General Manager Leila Everett has never experienced such major shortages of bicycles and parts of all kinds.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Everett was able to put people on bikes she didn’t even have in the store in three days. In the past year, it generally took between 400 and 500 days for an online order to reach their store. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

“We hunt sharks for parts every week,” said Everett. From iron chains to gear levers, wheels and pedals, everything is sold out. “Even the bicycle manufacturers can’t get parts.

“We order everything we can find online,” she said, stocking parts because she’s unsure when she’ll come across them again.

Northampton Bicycle employees even drove to Maine to pick up used bikes that are on sale through services like Facebook Marketplace. And the relationship is not one-sided either. Everett said people from New Jersey are calling to order parts because there is no place nearby that has them in stock.

“I know there is a shortage of trucks and a whole bunch of things sit on the water,” she said. With “everything going overseas,” Northampton Bicycle’s return to normal can only come once the supply chains untangle themselves.

Congested ports, understaffed warehouses, and a shortage of truck drivers are just a few of the factors disrupting global supply chains and creating national waves that are rocking Pioneer Valley.

From bike shops to restaurants, bookstores and mechanics, supply chain bias affects sectors across the economy.

Branner Stewart, Senior Research Manager at UMass Donahue Institute, made a statement. He said that as a precautionary measure, people chose to save a larger portion of their income when the economy collapsed during the initial lockdown of the pandemic. Manufacturers then cut production to meet the lower demand for goods.

“This has distorted the way (goods) are moved around the world,” Stewart said.

Now that people are returning to their traditional buying habits, they are fueling a demand for goods that is currently overshadowing business supply. This leads to bottlenecks across the board.

Stewart stated that “the whole supply chain problem is everywhere,” citing empty shelves in grocery stores and general stores. He also said consumers will have to wait longer for larger purchases like cars that take months to ship.

“That can make the shopping experience frustrating,” he said.

Necessary substitutions

Joe Deng, the owner of LimeRed Teahouse in Amherst, Northampton, and Boston, and Honeycrisp Chicken in Amherst, understands this all too well.

“I ask customers to be lenient,” he said when it came to delivery bottlenecks.

In his fried chicken restaurant, Deng described how he had to replace his “party wings” with “jumbo wings” because nothing else was available. However, since chicken servings are measured by weight, it means customers are now getting fewer wings per order and are dissatisfied.

“It is not my decision to replace this with this,” said Deng, who uses all that is available, especially given the restrictions on orders enforced by suppliers.

“My regular supplier won’t let me order what I need,” he said, prompting him to recently expand from one supplier to three.

“A lot of my things come from Taiwan or China,” said Deng. He was happy that he had already ordered a lot of supplies in 2020 because, given the current overseas port congestion, he “cannot imagine ordering new things”.

Deng suggested that the supply bottlenecks are due to the international labor shortage that supports the movement of goods.

Shannon Ramsey, co-owner of Amherst Books, shared her own experience with late truck deliveries and lugging warehouse operations.

“You yourself had personnel problems,” she said.

She attributed the current pressure on supply chains to “the madness of people trying to buy everything at once,” a phenomenon that comes true with the annual book rush over the Christmas season.

“We’re trying our best now to stock up,” said Ramsey, because “most of the big books are printed in China.” As overseas delays limit her ability to order, she said Amherst Books is “not as nimble as in the past.” in terms of storage.

In a similar position, Joe Ryan of Joe Ryan Imported Car Repair in Northampton said that “everything comes from China or Japan”. In his experience, he has been saying “the ups and downs of parts shortages” over the past few months, but predicts that “it will get worse before it gets better”.

Ryan said that parts shortages made his job “more of a hassle” than it used to be, as he had to contact multiple suppliers in Massachusetts and Connecticut to get what he needed. Parts can take over a month to arrive at his store while he used to be able to place a call and have the same part in his store in just 20 minutes.

Michael Woodard, co-owner of Ernie’s Garage in Northampton, said brakes, tires and parts for automobile exhausts were “very hard to find”.

“I’ve never seen bottlenecks like this,” he said, noting that the situation had worsened over the past year.

Stewart of the UMass Donahue Institute said, “The most worrying part of the supply chain … is when these biases don’t resolve on their own.

“This will create some inflationary pressures,” he said, which will “constrain economic growth” and reduce the chances of a return to a booming economy.

Deng has already started watching inflation from rising chicken prices, which in turn is putting pressure on him to raise prices for consumers.

“You can only eat the cost for so long,” he said.

Will Sytsma of the Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst said its shortages have persisted since the pandemic began. “You could say it got worse because it didn’t get better,” he said.

He said he felt powerless to order parts online and said, “We have no control over what comes when.”

While Sytsma’s shop usually has 300 bikes in stock, it is currently limited to under 100. A few months ago, he said, they only had about 10.

Despite these problems, Stewart predicts that the supply chain problems that plague the economy will ease within a year as the economy recovers and international distortions adjust.

Northampton Bicycle’s Leila Everett said that “waiting times are getting a little shorter,” but cutting delivery times from 500 days to three days seems like a miracle.

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