Hold on to your supplies, whether needles and thread, yarn, fabric, or templates. The supply chain bottleneck means getting necessary tools and stock is taking longer than before.
The bottleneck that is throttling the economy comes from a perfect storm of circumstances. COVID slowed down factories, especially in China where many supplies are made. The pandemic initially depressed consumer demand, but that reversed when stimulus checks hit bank accounts.
Container costs and shipping costs have increased as traffic has swelled. When goods are shipped, however, they can’t get through ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA, where 40% of goods are handled. Once the containers dock, there aren’t enough truckers to deliver them.
“It’s system wide,” said Rob Strauser of Midwest Textiles and Supplies. He’s the vice president of sales at the Missouri-based firm, which is a wholesaler for embroidery and quilting supplies.
“There’s raw material shortages for some of our vendors because China was down for so long,” he said. “Once (supplies are) at a port, it’s going to sit there for who knows how long. And once it gets off ship, then it’s finding a transportation method.
“It’s just a huge backlog from top to bottom,” he said.
The top-to-bottom hold up indicates no easy way to get goods moving again. President Biden urges keeping the California ports open 24 hours a day to avoid empty shelves during the holidays. But skeptics say that’s a stop-gap measure that won’t solve the crisis.
Still, there are some strategies smaller companies can use while waiting for a more durable solution.
Diversify suppliers, if possible: Instead of relying on a single source for materials, reach out to two or three. Business consultant Martin Staples suggests companies might split business between an overseas supplier and an American supplier.
“You give a smaller portion of your business to a U.S. company, to fill in the gaps,” he told a reporter from the International Business Times. “It might be more costly, but the supplier can be a lot more responsive.”
Stock up on inventory and supplies, if you can afford to: Strauser said several of his customers are doing just that, ordering four to five times the amounts bought at the same time in previous years. But over-ordering isn’t a solution if the materials simply aren’t available.
“We have a backlog now, like we’ve never seen in our industry or in our company’s history,” Strauser said. “We can’t get supplies in from our vendors because they can’t get supplies for raw material goods in from their side.”
Buy local, if possible: Instead of importing from overseas, try to find an American manufacturer. Andrew Weinstock owns Edley Fabrics, which sells tulle, veiling and crinoline. He says the company has several million yards of yarn on hand, so it’s able to fulfill orders in a timely fashion.
“We have a factory in New York. We fill up a UPS or FedEx truck, They take this stuff, and it’s distributed around the country.“
Most of all, be prepared for the long haul because experts say the supply chain slowdown isn’t going to ease anytime soon. The Supply Chain Resource Cooperative at the North Carolina State University predicted the stoppage would last until early 2022. More recent predictions are more dire, with industry analysts looking at shortages until 2023.
Afi Scruggs is our staff writer. Afi is an award-winning multi-platform journalist and author who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Her articles and columns have appeared in the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, The U.S. edition of the Guardian, USA Today, and Essence magazine and on washingtonpost.com. Her audio segments have been broadcast on national NPR programs as well on local affiliates in northeast Ohio. She’s also written three books: Jump Rope Magic, published by Scholastic; a genealogical memoir, Claiming Kin: Confronting the History of an African-American Family; and an essay collection entitled Beyond Stitch and Bitch: Reflections on Knitting and Life. The New York Times Book Review called Jump Rope Magic a “magical, spunky book.” Afi learned to knit when she was 7 years old and to sew when she was 9. She’s forever working on reducing her stash.