By Parija Kavilanz, CNN Business
The Elf on the Shelf – a popular elf doll that parents place around their homes in the run-up to Christmas to “watch” if the kids are mean or nice – makes an appearance in many American homes in the days that come. have been following Thanksgiving for over 15 years now. But this year, the elves’ journeys to shops and homes have been more complicated.
All kinds of businesses around the world have strived to manage a blocked supply chain this created a large backlog of stocks at major ports and a shortage of workers to deliver them. But the problem is particularly distressing for companies that make a highly seasonal product with a tight sales window, like The Elf on the Shelf.
The Lumistella Company, the company behind the storybook and doll brand The Elf on the Shelf, makes the elves in China, and then – ideally, at least – takes them to the warehouses of retailers like Walmart, Target, and Amazon weeks before Thanksgiving. As the product loses its relevance after Christmas, there is always a countdown. Logistics like this are never easy, but this year has brought a number of new challenges for the company.
Christa Pitts, co-CEO of The Lumistella Company, recently told CNN Business that she saw the handwriting on the wall as early as January and didn’t want to risk waiting to see if the channel issues supply would weaken – or perhaps worsen. .
The company typically places production orders with its manufacturer in April. She decided to increase orders by two months in February. In doing so, it faced a host of challenges – not only did Asian manufacturers face labor and raw material shortages that made production more difficult for many companies, but container prices d Expedition increased rapidly and fully loaded ships became delayed.
And once the produce finally reached ships, she said, the typical time at sea increased.
Meanwhile, the domestic ground transportation that is vital to moving imported goods across the United States has been in trouble too, affected by problems, including shortages of trailers used to transport sea containers and truck’s driver.
“All kinds of supply chain hurdles came together in ways that no one could have predicted,” Pitts said.
Realizing that this would create new problems once she got her goods to the United States, Pitt did something she had never done before: haul some of the elves and other holiday stocks from China. by plane.
For the first time, the company made air shipments in June, using five cargo planes for around 100,000 units in total.
Overall, Pitts estimated, 10 to 15 percent of his company’s vacation inventory this year will arrive by air and the rest by sea.
“It was extraordinarily expensive,” she said. “But back orders and missing Christmas were not options for us. The Lumistella Company is Christmas so we had to deliver.
Struggling to get into the stores
Getting the elves to land by boat was another problem.
Pitts knew that the ports on the west coast of the United States were crowded with thousands of containers waiting to be unloaded. So the company decided to bypass these ports, which they were fortunate enough to only use for a portion of their shipments in the first place, and get their products to the less congested ports on the east coast in Savannah. , Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.
These two ports were also closer to Lumistella’s headquarters in Atlanta.
Fortunately for Pitts, early mitigation strategies allowed the company to get all of its vacation inventory to the United States. at the end of September, none of these elements was still blocked on the ships.
The elves have all reached the warehouses, where many are waiting to be transported to distribution centers run by retailers.
But the elves’ complicated journey is still not over.
Now Pitts had to figure out how to get product pallets out of warehouses, on the road and to retailers. These warehouses, which are managed by third-party vendors, are overcrowded and there is no way to quickly empty them due to the current shortage of truckers, she said.
“I had a partner that is 141% above the capacity of a warehouse,” Pitts said. Trucks are needed at every stage of the land transport of products.
For example, if the goods are doing well, they are first sent to large retailer distribution centers on long-haul freight trucks. From there, the products are usually intended for delivery to individual stores, always by truck. “It’s extremely frustrating,” Pitts said.
She thought about using the plane again to transport products from warehouses to retailers’ distribution centers. But that won’t work, she noted, because it’s not like planes can be transported to a distribution center – a truck is always needed at some point.
So far, about 70% of the inventory has reached retailers, Pitts said. This number is generally closer to 100% now. She predicts that the remaining 30% will arrive at retailers in time for the holidays, although it is not known exactly when.
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