The headlines are omnipresent: From China to California, the world is experiencing serious supply chain problems that are not going away anytime soon. The effects of Covid – forcing factories to close and the nausea of ââmany manufacturing and transportation workers – have disrupted the global economy.
But what does that mean for the smallest small businesses? We spoke to three women who started their own businesses, either during the pandemic or before the world as we knew it changed. These interviews have been edited and condensed for the sake of clarity.
Amanda Klingenberger, founder of Lindenplatz, a curated gift shop based in Fort Wayne, Indiana
About the problems she is currently facing
We try to source our products from the USA whenever possible, but sometimes this is not possible. It’s an ongoing saga. Things you don’t even anticipate – we can’t wrinkle [gift box] Paper, because a large part of it comes from China and there is currently a huge paper shortage. Even if we get it, prices go up or there is a huge delay.
How she looks for solutions
We plan far ahead. My boxmaker is in Indiana and sent an email last week saying we will now look to February and March before we can get boxing. We ordered our boxes in May so I have 2,000 boxes in my garage.
To the coming holiday season
We designed all of our Christmas gifts in August and used what we had. [We used] a red mug popular with Pottery Barn and they told us they weren’t going to sell it anymore so we spent months redesigning this gift. PF Candle Co. has stopped shipping smaller jars that we bought. Whenever possible we try to work with small businesses. This year in particular, I noticed that the inquiries for holiday orders were made much earlier.
Use collective bargaining tactics
We already charge a premium for our gifts; I don’t know our customers could take an increase. We started working with a GPO [group purchasing organization] to try to use this to bring our prices down. We found a GPO called Una that is working with small businesses to try and get a FedEx contract to cut down on our shipping. I hope this comes through every day now. Everything we can do to cut our costs.
Keta Burke-Williams, co-founder of Aspen pharmacy, a non-toxic fragrance e-commerce company based in New York and Ohio
To be one step ahead of the curve
We buy in small quantities [of glass bottles and recycled paper for packaging] just to keep the overhead low. That means we can’t buy a billion units for 10 months and just sit on it. For us, this delicate dance means planning, but also trying not to buy too much so we can make sure we can keep bringing perfumes to people.
About communication with customers
We communicate a lot with our customers to make sure they understand that there can be longer waiting times. The worst feeling as a consumer is when you order something and never get an update, but when the company updates you at least you know what to expect.
Looking for the right partners
Since we’re a small company, we don’t have much control over our manufacturing partners. We are lucky to have found good partners, but as a small company you feel like you have less control. This is why it is especially important to be mindful and understand how that [supply chain] Process can affect us.
Katrina Bell, founder of The copper bell, an online soy candle store based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Trying to get their candles on time
Most of my distributors and suppliers are based in Canada. So you are the ones who carry out the huge import from China or the USA for the wax and the glasses. I’ve spoken to my sales rep at this sales company and it’s like playing with a broken phone. You are at the mercy when things can finally disembark and sail across from all ports.
How that affects your business
The glasses were a few months late which meant I had to scramble and find someone here [in Canada]. I probably paid double the price to get a couple of glasses just to prepare for my next candle season. And so my profit margins are shrinking because I’m paying more than I expected and I’m still waiting for those few thousand dollars in glasses that I paid for.
About managing expectations
There’s this idea that if you’re only supporting local businesses, they won’t be affected by the supply chain, but it is very much. We have such a global supply chain – everyone buys something everywhere, even if it says âMade in the USâ or âMade in Canadaâ. It is touched by all of these delays. But you have to keep going, don’t you?