Stuck in the supply chain: Bicycles, appliances still hard to come by

  • Monte Newman, the operations manager at Manny's, goes through back orders and paper work in the show room of Manny's. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Monte Newman, the operations manager at Manny's, stands in the show room with items in boxes that have recently come in after being on back order. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Monte Newman, the operations manager at Manny's, stands in the show room with items in boxes that have recently come in after being on back order. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Monte Newman, the operations manager at Manny's, holds a folder containing his back ordered items. Each employee has a folder as big with items ordered from customers that they are waiting for. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Monte Newman, the operations manager at Manny’s Appliances in Hadley, holds a folder containing his back ordered items. Behind him are boxes that have recently come in. Each employee has a folder as big with items ordered from customers that they are waiting for. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Charlie Merrick, left, and Clarissa Lyons service bikes at the Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire Bicycle Exchange owner Willem Sytsma poses with stock in the Amherst bike shop on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Willem Sytsma, owner of Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst, is shown at his store Wednesday. “In a normal year, we would have had 200 to 300 bikes shipped to us since February, whereas this year we had about 50 or 60,” Systma said. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Willem Sytsma is the owner of Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst. Photographed on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2020 9:01:24 PM

Looking for a new bicycle or a refrigerator? So are a lot of other people, apparently.

High demand for bikes and household appliances has created severe scarcities of new bikes and major appliances around Hampshire County and beyond. Just a year ago, products that were relatively easy to purchase now require monthslong waiting lists.

And with supply chains being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like not much will change in the next few months.

Leila Everett has served as manager of Northampton Bicycle for the past decade. During all that time, she said, there hasn’t been as big a shake-up to the bicycle industry as there’s been in 2020.

After months of strong demand and sales and problems getting resupplied with new bicycles? “We ran out of bikes back in July,” she said.

Like others in her business, she attributes the surge in demand for new bikes to the pandemic. More people at home wanting to go on outdoor bike rides has driven the surge in new riders.

“Things have been trickling back in twos and threes during the last couple of months,” Everett said. We’re far from restocked. We have stock on a few select items, but really it’s not a whole lot.”

Northampton Bicycle would normally have a stock of several hundred bikes in the basement with a capacity of about 60 bikes on the floor level. She has about 39 bicycles in the shop at this point, she said.

With about 100 people on waiting lists, “We started a spreadsheet because the pieces of paper got to be too many,” Everett said. “When we get stuff in, we start making phone calls. Whoever gets back to us first wins.”

Parts in demand

Right now, it’s also difficult to find bike parts. Sometimes, emails for new parts get sent to her inbox at 3 a.m. and by the time she sees the message, the influx of new bike parts has been sold by the manufacturer.

“If you’re not there within minutes, it’s sold out,” she says. “It’s vicious trying to get parts right now.”

Prices for new bicycles have also gone up due to the current low supplies and high demand. Everett said a basic mountain bike at the store is about $575, whereas a neighborhood bike is about $800. Normally, a “dime a dozen” basic bicycle would sell for about $500, but there are few to be had.

“I probably won’t see those bikes until March or April,” she said.

Cleaning house

Will Sytsma, owner of Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst, said half of his inventory during a normal year is used bikes, while the other half is new bikes. But 2020 has been anything but a normal year.

“In a normal year, we would have had 200 to 300 bikes shipped to us since February, whereas this year we had about 50 or 60,” he says. “So, inventory of new bikes is way down.

“The positive side of it is that we sort of over time accumulated past-year model bikes that we’ve had in extra small and extra larges. We’ve sold through most of those. In some ways, it was a chance to kind of clean house.”

The store’s inventory right now consists of about 60 to 75 new bikes and 50 to 75 used bikes, he says. There’s a waiting list of about 10 people for specific styles of bikes.

Sytsma said he also thinks that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a demand for safe outdoor activities, which is why bicycles are so sought after right now.

“You find the same thing in any other outdoor sports shop — canoe and kayak shops and whatnot,” he said.

Like others, Sytsma has had problems getting restocked.

“I’m hoping that at some point this winter, we’ll receive a bunch of bikes and that way we can build them up through the winter and have them ready to sell in the spring,” he said.

Sean Condon, co-owner of Northampton mobile bike shop Speed & Sprocket, noted the marked surge in interest in cycling. Through his business, he’s seen more demand for entry level to mid-level bicycles, and for women’s and children’s bikes especially.

“Not so much the high-end bikes — those have been easier to find than entry-level bikes,” he said. “We haven’t had any new ones in stock for a while now. We just got a couple in, maybe two weeks ago. It had been months before then that we had any new bikes in stock to sell. People have been calling from all over New England looking for bikes.”

Condon also noted the rising prices, and although he thinks COVID-19 has played a role, he said the trend began with tariffs and trade wars with other countries such as China.

“Even before COVID hit, there were prices going up and a lot of talk in the industry about how everything was going to be more expensive,” he said.

Long wait

At the Hadley location for regional appliance store Manny’s Appliances, there have been challenges in terms of the stock of household appliances.

Monte Newman, the store’s manager who also serves as operations manager for all seven Manny’s Appliances stores regionally, thinks the supply chain “is broken on almost every level” right now.

“The first things that were affected were freezers, and refrigeration followed shortly thereafter,” he said. “The domino effect kind of went on. And now everything is in short supply.”

Normally when a customer stops in at the store wanting to purchase a refrigerator, they’d be given a tour of the showroom and find a specific model. From there, Manny’s employees would check their inventory and likely deliver an appliance to their customer’s home within a matter of days.

Now customers sometimes have to wait months for a specific model for an appliance such as a refrigerator or freezer.

“In a lot of cases, it’s now, ‘Well, all right. It’s not exactly what I wanted, but I need one and I can get that, so I guess I’ll take it,’” Newman said.

Household appliances saw price increases before the pandemic due to tariffs on parts sourced from other countries, but COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges for the industry, he said.

“You don’t want to promise somebody a specific time frame on something since the manufacturers don’t even know exactly how fast they’re going to be able to ship them,” Newman said. “Even if they have them assembled, there’s delays in shipping time.”

Steven Silverman, owner of home contractor company Valley Home Improvement, said unlike other industries such as household appliances and bicycles, it hasn’t been difficult to purchase supplies for building projects.

“Overall, the supply chain in our industry, which is home improvement, is fairly intact given how topsy-turvy the world is,” he said. “I think what we’re finding is that we have to plan a little more in advance, and we typically then are ready to build when construction starts, having all the product in hand.”

However, when it comes to purchasing new household appliances for work in a kitchen, there are still challenges.

“When I hear someone wanting to do a kitchen, I think about a new refrigerator and that’s the one that makes me the most anxious,” he said. “To get what you want, you have to wait three months. You have to decide, is it worth waiting for it or do you pick something else?”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.


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