From pet supplies to brake parts, supply chain issues plague local businesses

·5 min read

Oct. 24—When staff at Pet Expo put in dozens of pages of orders, almost every day, they know they won't see much of it soon, if at all.

"It's frustrating for us," said owner Tom Yenish. "I pay staff to go through the store and see what we need and put orders in and we order almost every day. You put all that staff time in and you get very little of your orders."

Yenish also owns Motel 6. "You can't get pillow cases or sheets or even toilet paper. It's a problem running a hotel with no toilet paper. So you just have to scramble to find things."

At Mico in North Mankato, Brent Turner oversees purchasing and said they continue to see delays in getting the raw materials and parts they need, and shipping finished products out overseas is often a struggle.

"Depending on the commodity, we're seeing extended lead times from several different suppliers and some logistical issues in getting things from overseas because of the ship container shortage," Turner said.

At Jones Metal, Vice President Dave Richards said they haven't had huge issues in getting raw materials as they source most domestically.

"But some specialty grade materials, it's been difficult but not impossible. We had one order that we had to do a direct-to-the-mill run, which took four months to get. There was none available anywhere else."

Worker shortage adds strain

Turner said shipping finished products out to stateside customers hasn't been a big problem. "But overseas it's an issue."

Mico makes off-highway hydraulic braking systems for heavy agriculture, mining and construction equipment. They were recently purchased by German company ZF. Mico is transitioning into its new name of ZF Off-Highway Solutions of Minnesota.

Turner said he has some difficulty find enough plastics and resins. "Iron castings have been the biggest problem. There's a two- to five-times longer lead time than normal."

While a shortage of cargo shipping containers, backups at Los Angeles ports and other shipping bottlenecks are a problem, Turner and other local businesses say most of the supply chain issues are tied to the shortage of workers.

"The biggest issue for us and our suppliers is just finding employees," Turner said. "We're still struggling to fill certain positions."

Richards said labor shortages at suppliers and manufacturers mean fewer products available and general delays.

"We installed five or six new machines this year and it actually went well. But if you're thinking about buying a piece of equipment and you call the dealer and they say that they have one on hand, you'd better say yes and be ready to buy, because tomorrow it might be gone."

Richards said they bought one piece of equipment that's made in Portugal. "The dealer had one and we bought it. He said the next one they get won't be until February. It's really hit and miss."

Yenish said many of his suppliers are hampered by unfilled positions. "One of our trucking companies in St. Paul were 40 people short in their order-pickers department. And they said across the street from them is Anderson Windows and they're down 400 people."

He said he feels fortunate at Pet Expo he's been able to get enough help, even if there are delays in getting inventory in.

Yenish said the changes in the labor force require business owners to create a good work environment. "When you get your employees to like their fellow employees and they like to come to work every day and have challenges every day, you're home free."

Yenish, who also owns The Paw Pet Resort and has other business interests, said there are franchises that have asked him to open different businesses in Mankato, but he's been hesitant.

"The two things that weigh on me are the high cost of putting a project together and wondering if we'll have the labor force for years to come to operate it."

Shared pain

Richards said beyond the core materials they need for their manufacturing, there are an array of other things that are suddenly hard to find. "It's odd stuff. Foam ear plugs have been back-ordered more than once and we have to have ear protection."

He said they've also had trouble finding the big foam pads that go around their truck loading docks to create a tight seal between the truck trailer and building.

"Those are 32 weeks out for delivery. They said the foam treating plant down in Texas had all their equipment wrecked when they had that freeze."

Jones Metal tries to source as much of its steel and materials domestically, which has made things a bit easier.

"But aluminum plate is tough to get. That comes from Dubai or South Africa, there's not a lot of big sources for that in North America."

Richards said if one of their trucks or pieces of equipment break down, it's always a question of how long they'll have to wait for parts to get it fixed.

He said the issues Jones Metal faces are shared by most everyone.

"Our customers know everyone is in the same boat. So if we call and say we wanted to have this done next week for you but it'll be a little longer, they understand."

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