In early September, sisters Jenny Frederito and Erin Siepel had a customer walk into their toy store with something they didn’t expect to see yet: a Christmas list. An hour later, that customer walked out of Learning Express Toys & Gifts in South Reno with six large bags filled with more than $500 worth of gift-wrapped toys. For Frederito and Siepel, that sale officially kicked off the summertime holiday shopping preseason. “I think people are hearing the information trickling out about supply chain issues and it’s starting to get in people’s ears that shopping early is going to be more important than ever this year,” Frederito said. “And I feel like the more people see somebody getting a Christmas gift in the store, it kind of triggers others to go, ‘maybe I should grab a couple of things.’ “We’re starting to see it more and more as the weeks get closer.” For more than a year, the toy industry has been bolstered by purchases from families stuck at home during the pandemic. Disposable family income shifted from movie theaters, amusement parks and restaurants to toys, as parents looked for ways to keep their kids entertained.
Learning Express Toys & Gifts in South Reno has a warehouse full of products that it ordered back in July to avoid shipping delays caused by the pandemic. Courtesy photo
With the COVID delta variant, the trend has continued. Toy sales across the U.S. surged to $11 billion during the first half of 2021, a 19% increase from 2020, according to the NPD Group. But mounting challenges are rattling the industry — including factory shutdowns, computer chip shortages, and clogged ports — as it prepares for the crucial holiday shopping season, an eight-week window that can account for more than half of a retailer’s annual sales. As a result, stores like Learning Express, which opened in August 2020, are seeing the kind of uptick in demand that typically doesn’t come until late fall. In anticipation, Frederito and Siepel started ordering toys for the holiday season back in July, rather than wait until October as they would in a normal year. “We have a warehouse that we’re storing all of the product and filtering it through the store as we go,” Frederito said. “The strategy was to order now and get it now to avoid any of those shipping delays later.”
Still, Federito and Siepel said they get daily emails from vendors notifying them of shipments stuck in ports. Consequently, over the past month, they have been paying surcharges to cover soaring shipping costs of the products they order. “That’s hard being small and local,” Siepel said. “We’re trying to be competitive with our pricing against the big box stores. But I think we did a good job and have some full shelves through the holidays, which is the goal.” ‘A VERY LEAN YEAR’ Over in Midtown, Carter Bros. Ace Hardware owner Tim Carter had long taken for granted his ability to order whatever he needed and then watch the goods fill his store. That’s no longer the case. In early fall, Carter’s hardware store is smattered with empty shelf spots. It’s been that way for months, no matter how many times he places an order.
Tim Carter, owner of Carter Bros. Ace Hardware, mans the checkout counter at his business in Midtown Reno on Tuesday, May 5, 2021. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW
“There are a lot of different products that we have space for on our shelves, and we have a price tag, and we order every week, and it just doesn’t come,” said Carter, noting the products run the gamut from household cleaners to chainsaws. “And it’s not the same items that it was a year ago, or even six months ago.” A year ago, for example, Carter Bros. Ace Hardware was out of canning jars. Orders that were made last year just started “dribbling in” a few months ago, Carter said. With holiday shopping looming, Carter said he’s looked into ordering traditional Christmas items like fake trees, tree stands and lights, but has found “almost none of that type of item is available yet.” Carter said he hopes that loosens up closer to Halloween, but with demand continuing to outweigh supply amid pandemic-related disruptions, he’s expecting a “very lean year in Christmas decorations” available at his hardware store. The challenges confronting Carter’s hardware store are a testament to the breadth and persistence of the chaos churning the global economy, as manufacturers and the shipping industry contend with an unrelenting pandemic as the holiday shopping season nears. ‘YOU’VE GOT TO TAKE THE RISK’ At JaDa Loft Boutique, which recently opened a second location at The Crossing at Meadowood Square in South Reno, owners Monica and Victor Rios said supply chain snarls have forced them to cancel orders placed months ago for summer clothing items that were going to arrive in the fall.
JaDa Loft Boutique owners Victor Rios, left, and Monica Rios stand inside their new location at 6405 S. Virginia St. in Reno on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW
“I don’t want to bring in brand new shorts right now when, we’ve got days like today, where we wake up and it’s freezing outside,” Monica Rios said in late September. “You can place an order and they could tell you it’s going to be seven to 10 business days to arrive, and it ends up being six weeks.” This, Rios said, is why they have been making sure to order well in advance and keep their inventory stocked so they are not stuck with bare clothing racks and empty shelves when the holiday shopping season hits. “A store like this wouldn’t look good if you only had a few items,” Victor Rios said. “We have plenty of merchandise to bring out because of the concerns we’ve had with shortages and delays. You’ve got to take the risk — there’s a lot of money we have sitting in our storage space, but there’s no way around that.” The JaDa Loft owners opened their first location in Northwest Reno in December 2020. Despite opening in the teeth of the pandemic, the boutique clothing store has seen sales increase every month, Rios said. This gave them the confidence to “pull the trigger” on expanding to South Reno this fall, even if it went against conventional retailer wisdom. “Most businesses are going to say you want to have, minimally, a full year of sales before you look to expand,” Monica Rios said. “But we felt relatively comfortable because this location is very heavy with traffic and the visibility is phenomenal. And we’ve got a really phenomenal customer base.” Rios anticipates that they will see an increase in customers shopping for Christmas items as the temperatures dip. She said they will soon be offering complimentary gift-wrapping and plan to extend their hours as holiday shopping picks up. NO WAITING GAME Meanwhile, Clay Hall, vice president of sales at Reno Type, a direct mail and printing services company, told the NNBW back in August that supply chain disruptions were having a heavy impact on the promotional products industry. Hall said a COVID outbreak at a deepwater port in China backed up roughly 25% of the promotional products that come into the U.S., a logjam he predicts will “persist for months.” As a result, some of Reno Type’s clients are forced to settle on items that are not their first choice. It also forced clients to purchase holiday items in the middle of the summer rather than waiting until the fall. “If you wait until mid-October, November, you’re going to get either what’s left or you’re not going to get anything,” Hall said. “Because the good stuff’s going to be gone.”
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