News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Supply chain woes hit Sisters businesses

If you own a business in Sisters that sells “stuff,” it’s a particularly frustrating time. Merchant after merchant told The Nugget how much they envy their colleagues who sell services, like insurance. None has likely been more affected than LakeView Millworks in Sun Ranch Business Park, a fixture in Sisters for years selling custom doors, windows, trims, and window coverings.

They have been living with the problem for the better part of a year while Sisters Country has seen an explosion in construction.

“It’s not just the headaches of scheduling and pricing products that in one case — doors — have had seven consecutive monthly price increases, it’s having to face customers that is the hardest,” said Kelly King, co-owner. “We are in the business of delivering — not disappointing.”

Contractors have been lamenting since the start of 2020 the difficulty in getting building materials, appliances, and fixtures. Such shortages and logjams have been a big factor in rapidly rising home prices in Sisters, up more than 13 percent since January. In last week’s edition The Nugget reported the dedication of two new Habitat for Humanity homes — homes that were 12 weeks behind schedule, due almost entirely to supply chain problems.

Concrete is about the only thing not tied up on a boat in Los Angeles or stuck in a warehouse or mill struggling to find workers to fill orders or drivers to deliver the finished products. Even our two bicycle shops have been impacted measurably. Casey Meudt, who owns Blazin Saddles, has had to make drastic changes in managing his business.

Part of the problem both here and across the U.S. is sudden demand surge. When consumers with disposable income could not nor would not spend their money on travel or gym memberships when COVID hit, they turned to high-end purchases like home exercise equipment and bikes.

Smaller shops like Meudt’s and Brad Boyd’s Eurosports don’t carry large inventories due to store sizes and working capital. And, as Boyd said, “We all got too comfortable with the 25-year trend in just-in-time inventory.” The supply chain was so well oiled that Boyd or Meudt could be assured of getting any bike or part in three days. Now Meudt is ordering bikes for model year 2023, sight unseen — not even a photo — hoping they get delivered a year from now.

But it’s parts that are hurting Blazin Saddles the most.

“Most manufacturing is in Taiwan and Thailand and other Asian countries hardest hit by a COVID,” Meudt said. “Just when demand was skyrocketing, production was plummeting.”

He and Boyd say it could be years for the problem to work itself out.

The supply chain, as it is called — production, shipping, storage, and delivery — is only as strong as its weakest link. It is now a prime topic of everyday conversation in Sisters, with consumers being told they will not get exactly what they want for Christmas if they don’t order now. That may be political posturing, an exaggeration or ploy by sellers to get even more spending.

Such fear-buying exacerbates the problem. Costco is back to limiting how much toilet paper you can haul out of their stores.

There is no one weak link. They are all at the breaking point. Katie Van Handel of the eponymous auto repair shop in Sisters gets constantly changing delivery dates for critical parts. Typically, their shop would get parts the next day from Portland.

“We used to be able to say with confidence when a car was brought in when it would be ready. No longer,” she said, with the voice of somebody not in the habit of having to deal with unhappy customers.

Waiting for your bike to get fixed is aggravating. Having your car stuck in a repair shop can be a severe financial hardship if it impedes getting to work.

Sisters Feed & Supply is another example where shortages and delays abound. For two months the store was out of turkey tendons. The popular treat for canines and felines may appear as a luxury yet it makes one wonder: Did we stop raising turkeys? Indeed, shops like this are facing sometimes disgruntled customers demanding to know the unknowable or why this or that is late or why a bag of feed went up a dollar.

Sisters Ace Hardware has 40,000 SKUs (stock keeping units). If they have only eight of any one SKU on average, that’s one half million “things” in the store. It seemed like a logical place where the supply chain crisis would be on full display.

“We’re not being hurt by it yet,” said owner Daly Haasch.

As those words were coming out of her mouth a customer left the store unable to buy a galvanized garbage pail, of which Ace had been out of stock for weeks, with only a hope that they’d be resupplied in the next three weeks. Haasch nodded to herself that maybe her initial statement was too optimistic.

“Our biggest shortage right now is spray paint,” Haasch said, “and we’re worried about getting enough Christmas tree lights.”

Paul DeLeone, manager of Baxter Auto Parts, said, “It’s been OK so far, but we’ve already been warned to expect shortages and delays coming soon. The first two will be filters and motor oil.” He elaborated: “It’s not the oil per se. It’s the additives that are blended with the oil.”

Those occasional empty shelves at Bi-Mart or Ray’s are not necessarily the blame of the supply chain debacle. It’s just as likely to be the lack of employees to keep the shelves replenished. More than half the businesses The Nugget interviewed for this story said lack of workers is the far larger problem.

Ray’s does report one chronic shortage: Lunchables, which they have not had for over two months. Moms and campers know how serious this is.

Relief? Experts who called it a temporary problem back in May, are now pointing to next year —if all goes well.


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