Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across all industries have felt the financial burden of trying to operate in an unprecedented time.
Not only have owners and employees been forced to abide by enhanced safety precautions and deal with consumer hesitancy, one of the most basic necessities of functioning has been greatly affected: the supply chain.
Go into any grocery store and there will certainly be an item that you plucked off the shelf every week prior to March 2020 that isn’t as readily available — and might not be week after week.
The same can be said for home-improvement stores like Belletetes, with nine locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts including Peterborough and Jaffrey.
Mike Shea, president and CEO of Belletetes, said just about every aspect of the building supply industry has been affected. “I can’t really think of anything that’s not in short supply or with longer lead times,” Shea said.
In addition to lower supply availability and hiccups in getting products, Shea said price increases have continued. So has demand.
“It’s just costing more and more to get them,” he said.
He said there are a number of factors that have gone into the disruptions in the supply chain. Weather conditions over the last year in the South, between hurricanes and tropical storms in Louisiana and the deep freeze in Texas, made the availability and production of raw materials more difficult, causing long delays.
“A lot of industries were put in a position of trying to play catchup,” Shea said.
Another reason is what Shea called a national trucking problem, as there just aren’t enough trucks and drivers to meet the demand.
It has led to forced limitations on certain products, Shea said.
“It’s eased up some, but we’re still on allotments with drywall. We can’t get the shingles we want in a timely fashion,” he said. “Because we’re limited in what we can buy, we’re limited in what we can sell.”
Things like hardware, steel fasteners and paint are feeling the squeeze, resulting in low fill rates. Fiberglass insulation is hard to come by, special order windows are anywhere from six- to 24-week wait times, and cabinet makers are out 12 weeks or longer.
“They don’t have enough product, and they can’t produce it fast enough. And there’s not enough employees,” Shea said.
And it has led to concern, meaning Belletetes is bulking up orders when possible to maintain inventory.
“Often we don’t know until the truck gets here what’s missing, what we’re not going to get,” Shea said. “If we order 30 items, we maybe get 20.”
John Kaufhold, owner of Peterborough Marble & Granite Works, said both sides of his business, landscape products like pavers, granite posts and steps, and memorial monuments, have seen an increase in demand since last spring. And he is not the only one in the industry with increased demand. Subsequently, it has forced Kaufhold to adjust his timelines simply because of a longer delay in getting materials.
“It caused our suppliers to have an increase in orders,” he said.
When Vermont put a halt to manufacturing plants operating at the start of the pandemic, Kaufhold said his distributors got behind, and they’ve been playing catchup ever since.
“Orders that used to be two to three months are now six to 10 months,” he said. “If I have to get something out of Vermont, whether it be an imported stone or domestic stone, it’s at least six months. In July we had to start telling customers we cannot guarantee a special order for this year.”
He does have a good amount of inventory on site so orders that can be filled using those materials can be done faster.
For pavers and wall stones that come from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania “they’re going to tell me three to four months before I can get it,” Kaufhold said.
“So we have to order that much farther ahead,” Kaufhold said. “It’s not difficult; it’s just frustrating because you can’t satisfy the customers right away. It hasn’t really hurt sales; it just pushes things back.” Most jobs now are being scheduled into next spring, partly because of the delays along with the looming ground freeze in the coming months.
Another material that has become a little harder to come by is what Kaufhold referred to as sandblast stencil, which is a rubber material that comes in big rolls used in the lettering process.
“We haven’t run out, but at times it’s been back-ordered a couple weeks,” he said. Other companies haven’t been as fortunate, leading to some calls to Peterborough Marble & Granite in search of some. “We’ve always tried to order ahead and keep stock months ahead.”
Doni Ash, owner of Shattuck Golf Course, Lab ‘n’ Lager in Keene and Dublin Tap, said issues with the supply chain have been evident in all aspects of the business.
Ash said they ordered golf clubs, both demo and to sell, and golf balls in January. The golf balls finally came in mid-August but were supposed to be there in April. He ended up canceling the club’s order because by the time they would arrive the season would be over. T-shirts and hats ordered in July took months to come in.
“Everything golf related took months,” he said.
He needed a part for one of his mowers and finally found it online — used — in England, and the shipping costs were higher than that of the actual part.
As far as food for the Taproom goes, Ash said he’s never quite sure what is going to arrive after placing an order.
“Almost every week there’s a substitute for a different product,” Ash said. That’s if something shows up at all.
For over a year he has been given a different substitute for chicken wings, and the price per wing has almost doubled. Since he has kept his prices the same, Ash estimates he loses about $3 per order.
“It’s definitely not convenient anymore like it used to be,” he said.
When items don’t arrive, Ash said they are left scrambling to find certain products, resulting in trips to grocery stores.
“Every day you walk in and it’s something new,” he said. “It’s hard to put a menu together.”
Michelle Freeman, co-owner of the Dublin General Store, said every week it’s been random as to what doesn’t arrive.
For a while, it was certain drinks because companies couldn’t get the glass or plastic to bottle. Bacon has been a continuous problem for a reason she can’t explain.
“Sometimes I don’t know if it won’t come in or the vendor will give me a heads-up,” Freeman said. “It’s a game of cat and mouse.”
She said if something is unavailable for a week it’s usually not a big deal, but longer wait times are more difficult as she will not substitute the products they have been using for years.
“I don’t want a lesser quality,” Freeman said.
She expects the disruptions are due to distributors not keeping as much product on hand, as well as some issues on the production side.
“I think every industry is feeling it,” she said. “But we don’t get worried. We just take it a day at a time.”
Tony Panagiotes, owner of the Peterborough Pizza Barn, said deliveries have been an issue with distributors changing their ways. And product availability is not what it used to be.
“We order the same chicken tenders we’ve ordered for 20 years, and we can’t get them,” Panagiotes said.
Tim Steele, founder and CEO of Microspec in Peterborough, said what used to take one to two weeks to obtain raw materials is sometimes taking as much as six to eight weeks. He said they have stocked key raw materials in case of issues with supply.
“But if it’s a new raw material we have to get, then it’s a problem,” Steele said.
Bill Peterson, vice president of human resources at Monadnock Paper Mills Inc., said the company monitors all of its critical chemicals and raw materials quite closely and is in constant contact with suppliers.
“We’re spending a lot more time on it than we were a year, year and a half ago,” Peterson said.
He said they have been able to react accordingly to any issues with shipments and upped their stockpile when necessary of certain materials.
“What we produce, getting it out the door in a timely fashion is critical,” Peterson said.