Small businesses brace for holiday hurdles amid supply chain issues

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 12:32 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2021 at 12:33 PM CST
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(CNN) - Retailers anticipate record holiday sales ahead, in the face of concerns about the supply chain. But the boom may not be as merry for small retailers as it is for the big box giants.

For Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia, holiday supply chain concerns have shaped plans for months, said owner Ally Kirkpatrick.

“My vendors were sending me the warnings as early as April of this year,” she said.

Like other small business owners who weathered the depths of the COVID-19 economy, she is bracing for how a blockbuster holiday sales outlook will collide with inflation, labor shortages and goods moving slower to shelves.

“I pull the laptop out after the kids are in bed, you know, after bath time and stuff, and I think every small business owner does,” Kirkpatrick said.

Competition with giant corporations like Amazon, Walmart and Target is always complicated for small sellers.

“I can’t compete with Amazon or some other super-high volume suppliers. I don’t buy 20,000 copies of a book, and I can’t negotiate for that lower price,” Kirkpatrick mentions.

But the gap may seem wider right now.

Major retailers ramped up e-commerce and soared to record pandemic profits and are spending big to charter ships, hire personnel and circumvent supply chain bottlenecks in a way Yinibini Baby owner Soyini George cannot.

After seven years of crafting and selling, George had barely opened his retail store in Washington, D.C. in 2020.

“Literally two weeks later, I had to shut down due to COVID. So yeah, it was a very strange beginning,” George said.

George sells a mix of handmade children’s accessories adorned with her illustrations, as well as toys and books.

“There are some things I cannot reorder, that they’re out of stock on,” she said.

Working largely alone and with help from her daughter, she bought what she could early.

“I spent the entire time period from April to now just buying as much inventory as I could get, to make sure that I was well-stocked during that time period and for the holidays,” George mentioned.

Kirkpatrick rented an annex for extra inventory, shipping and receiving.

Stress on the staff is another worry, with delays mounting or items running short.

“I’m just hoping that we are going to communicate that well enough, and that our customer knows that, you know, it’s not necessarily us dropping the ball. That is just kind of the situation we’re in,” Kirkpatrick said.

They lean on the small, personal experience, something big retailers can’t buy or sell.

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