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Port of Cleveland is part of the global supply chain solution

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Posted at 8:41 AM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 09:25:39-04

CLEVELAND — Shoppers usually intend to get their holiday shopping done early every holiday season, and yet stores are still often packed in mid-to-late December with procrastinators.

In 2021 though, store owners tell News 5 shoppers might not be able to beat procrastination with one day of marathon gift-buying because stocking store shelves is considerably more difficult due to global supply chain delays.

PLAYmatters in Pepper Pike is carrying more inventory than normal because they are pretty sure they won't be able to restock shelves due to COVID-related supply chain delays.

“We’re chock full of inventory and bursting at the seams and that was very much intentional,” said PLAYmatters Co-owner Sean Arnold.

Toy stores aren’t playing around

Sean and his wife, Angela, own the Pepper Pike store where they say they have 40% more inventory than normal with about a quarter of their ultimate holiday inventory still on the way. They also ordered their larger holiday haul months earlier than they would in other years on advice from a trade organization warning them about supply chain delays caused by COVID-19.

Angela says shoppers realize shipping closer to the holidays will be tough so they've already seen early holiday shoppers in the store.

“I wouldn’t say we avoided the problem,” said Angela. “We’re navigating the problem of supply chain disruptions.”

Shoppers are already noticing.

The Arnolds say they normally see 12-15% more shoppers in October compared to September in normal years. This year, they estimate October business was 40% higher than September.

Sean says they not only have extra stock but also are trying to have a variety of options so if one item sells out, they have plenty more to offer customers.

“Shoppers are really cognizant of what’s happening both globally and locally,” said Angela. “They’re hearing about it from our President, their trade associations, from their own businesses where they work.”

Sean says it wouldn’t be a bad thing to stretch out the holiday shopping so the store isn’t overrun right before the holidays.

Sensory toys like fidget spinners and push pop bubble toys have become more popular causing PLAYmatters to work hard to make sure they stay in stock.

“But there’s a little anxiety that comes with that because that means you need to predict what’s going to sell, what’s going to be hot even earlier than normal,” said Sean.

It also means that once stores sell out of their stock, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to replenish it before the end of the year.

Port of Cleveland stepping up

The delays that sparked early and large orders at PLAYmatters can be seen at the ports on both the east and west coasts, where large container ships have been floating waiting for space to unload.

“Anytime the supply chain is disrupted, that costs money, it eventually costs jobs, that costs economic output and those things affect the quality of life in our region,” said Port of Cleveland Vice President of External Affairs Jade Davis.

Ships much larger than the Federal Kushiro in the Port of Cleveland are floating outside ports on the east and west coast, waiting to offload back-ordered goods.

The problem is growing so much that shipping companies are now being fined for cargo containers that don’t move along fast enough.

“When the shipping industry slowed down with the rest of the world during the COVID pandemic, what we started seeing was orders were not disappearing, they were just getting rebooked,” said Davis.

That’s why the Port of Cleveland has spent tens of millions of dollars expanding and improving its facilities.

Raw manufacturing materials wait in the Port of Cleveland to be moved to their final destination.

Davis says the goal is for the Port of Cleveland to get close to its annual capacity of 100,000 containers passing through it. Since the Port is well short of its capacity, Davis says some ships waiting to unload on the coasts have made the trip to Cleveland instead.

“We can’t necessarily be ok with having [cargo] sit on a ship out in the middle of the ocean and not do anything to alleviate that,” said Davis.

Changing play preferences

Angela says many of the toys PLAYmatters carries keep kids engaged and off screens for longer periods of time, which can be attractive especially during COVID, where many students have spent much of the last two school years going to class virtually.

“It’s been really important for the kids to still be able to be challenged outside the traditional curriculum in the homes themselves,” said assistant store manager Mary Homan. “So the people who can have been bringing in the tutoring and whenever you do that you have to bring in something that has an interest to them so they innately want to do it.”

Homan shows off some of the more popular items at PLAYmatters and explains how gift preferences have shifted during COVID.

That’s why STEM-related gifts have become more popular recently, even after years-long attempts to get more kids involved in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Gifts like GraviTrax allow kids to build a “marble roller coaster,” as Homan calls it, with interlocking tracks and building blocks.

UGEARS mechanical models similarly allows children to build moving and functional models of cars and animals or moving scenes. Some of the more complicated models say they could take as long as 15 hours to assemble.

What's old is new again...

And yet, Homan says comfort items are also seeing a surge in popularity related to COVID.

“We’ve sold more plush than ever before too because grandparents who haven’t been able to see children quite as often have been giving them that to say, ‘Hey I can’t visit you but here’s a giant stuffed animal to give you the hug for me,” said Homan.

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