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Despite supply chain and hiring headaches, St. Louis retailers expect booming holiday season

 A provided photo of STL-Style, a boutique selling St. Louis-focused apparel and gifts on Cherokee Street in South St. Louis.
STL-Style, a boutique on Cherokee Street in south St. Louis, is one of many retailers being impacted by global supply chain delays ahead of the holiday shopping season. But experts still anticipate a stronger shopping season than last year's.

Randy Vines has had to switch up aspects of his business so many times in the past year due to the pandemic that the latest supply chain issues ahead of the holiday season almost seem par for the course.

“The long and short of it is that everything takes longer and everything costs more,” said the co-creator of STL-Style, which sells custom apparel and gifts on Cherokee Street in south St. Louis.

His business, like so many others, depends on the global supply chain, which is still clogged due to shipping delays and a shortage of truck drivers to transport products from ports to places like St. Louis.

“Anytime there's a disruption there, that kind of leaves us in a lurch,” Vines said.

He hasn’t been able to get certain brands, colors and styles in stock, so he’s had to get creative with clients and plan out multiple options. His shop makes most of its revenue from custom orders, for example, corporate gifts and merchandise for local businesses. The impact on customers means they’ll need to plan for an extra two- to three-week cushion.

David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association, said supply chain issues and labor shortages are having a big impact on retailers across the state, but he’s still anticipating a good holiday season because of high consumer demand, especially with online shopping.

“We got an economy trying to come back and the consumer demand growing, people buying online, growing those warehouses,” he said. “But there's gonna be things that just aren't going to be there. Products from tires, to clothing to toys to electronics — there's all going to be an issue there.”

Overfelt said even in a normal holiday shopping season there are shortages of in-demand toys and other gifts, but this scarcity will be worse. He’s advising shoppers to plan a little earlier than usual to make sure they get the things they want on time.

Provided by Schnucks, photo of inside the Kirkwood store.
Inside a Schnucks store in Kirkwood. The St. Louis-based grocer is one of many retailers struggling to get certain brands and products on its shelves due to supply chain delays brought on by the pandemic.

Grocery stores including St. Louis-based Schnucks are also feeling the pinch.

Ted Schnuck, executive vice president of supermarkets at Schnucks, said it’s been hard to get certain brands on the shelf. He’s had to work closely with suppliers to come up with new ways to get enough products out to stores.

“To be honest, it's a little bit of a game of whack-a-mole, where one day the product that you were out of for a long time comes in and then the next day or the next week something else is out,” he said.

Some customers are already starting to stock up on essentials like frozen pie crusts and turkeys. Schnuck said one interesting side effect of the pandemic is that birds will be larger this year due to worker shortages at meat plants and delays in getting birds to processing facilities.

“So it means more leftovers,” he said. “But also for those who don't want such a big bird, we saw last year a lot of customers switch to turkey breasts as they had smaller gatherings.”

The grocery chain, like many retailers, is also struggling to hire enough seasonal staff. Schnuck said a holiday bonus and recent pay bump helped bring on more than 500 new employees earlier this month, but the company still isn’t where it typically would be pre-pandemic.

Some local retailers like Kirkwood-based Puzzle Warehouse have been able to soften the blow of supply chain issues thanks to plenty of warehouse space.

Owner and CEO Brian Way started buying extra inventory for the holiday season months ago. His company is the largest distributor of puzzles in the country, and he sources products from all over the world. He said suppliers tipped him off that these problems would be coming.

“It's not that you can't get product, it just takes longer to get it,” he said. “So you deal with that by making sure you have more on the shelf all the time.”

Way is currently expanding his warehouse by 20,000 square feet to make more room for inventory. It’s a big financial investment that most small retailers can’t make, but Way said the pandemic has been great for his business. With more people still spending time at home indoors, interest in puzzles has skyrocketed.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.