Stay-at-home holidaymakers warned of summer products shortage

By Mary-Ann Russon
Business reporter, BBC News

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A family at a camp siteImage source, Getty Images

Some firms are struggling to secure summer items like garden furniture, picnic baskets and outdoor toys, as consumers prepare to holiday in the UK.

About 60% of British suppliers have experienced import delays in the past month, according to customs clearance platform KlearNow.

The six-day-long Suez Canal blockage in March is partly to blame, as goods meant to arrive weeks ago are still stuck on container ships elsewhere.

But there are other factors at play.

KlearNow based its findings on interviews with 300 import-export businesses based in the UK.

"A combination of Covid-19 restrictions, the backlog from the Suez Canal blockage, increasing global demand for shipping containers, disruption to shipping caused by India's public health crisis and a shortage of packaging materials means UK businesses are already struggling to meet summer demand," said KlearNow's chief executive Sam Tyagi.

"With competition for container space so high, some smaller businesses are simply being priced out of landing the goods and materials that they need."

Items like camping equipment have seen a spike in demand as more British families look to domestic holidays, with the government tightening rules on international travel rules and moving Portugal to the amber list.

Since many popular products are manufactured in China, retailers are being impacted by shortages in their supply chains and US retailers have experienced similar problems procuring summer essential items.

Heather Attwooll of camping and outdoor equipment retailer Attwoolls, is still waiting on orders placed in October and has nine containers of outdoor clothing, camping gear and hiking equipment stuck in Egypt as a result of the Suez Canal blockage.

"The early May bank holiday was the busiest bank holiday we've ever experienced... But there is a risk that small businesses like ours will soon be unable to meet that demand due to supply chain problems out of our control.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Some retailers have struggled to source picnic baskets

"All of the garden furniture we normally source from China was bought up by Walmart [in the US], for example."

Garden toys, games and picnic baskets are also being held up by delays, said Katherine Rhodes of the retailer PomPom.

"We're experiencing delays of up to four months on wooden toys coming from the Far East, handmade baskets and wood supplies. And we've had to wait 16 weeks for cardboard boxes."

Image source, Getty Images

Gas gone

Lisa Craig from Oxford had a frustrating time trying to find gas for her campervan when she wanted to switch from a small butane gas bottle to a larger propane gas one.

"We were told that Calor gas was only doing like-for-like exchanges," she told the BBC.

Under the scheme, people pay for their first gas container and then swap the empty when they want to buy a new one. But without an empty one of the right type or size, Lisa was left empty-handed.

"I think the only way you can get one is if you buy a new barbeque and it comes with it which could leave people hoping to camp this summer sorely disappointed," she said. "I emailed Calor gas UK, and various camping companies to try and understand why, but did not get anywhere."

Eventually after a week searching for a bottle online she managed to buy one through online sales platform eBay, but others may not be so lucky.

Shipping delays are only one part of the problem. According to retail expert Kate Hardcastle, there has been an explosion of demand coming from the hospitality industry as it gets back on its feet following lockdown.

"Campers and caravaners have got competition from restaurants and hotels for outdoor equipment," she said.

"The demand is so high, not just because of a shortage in supply, but also because things are being repurposed in very different ways."

Image source, Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa
Image caption,
The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa sourced bell tents, garden furniture and other items so it could continue running its spa business from its lawn

One example is the Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa in North Yorkshire, which has brought its entire spa operation outdoors to ensure it maintains social distancing.

It ordered in garden furniture, bell tents and other equipment back in March, as it feared supply chain problems amid the easing of restrictions. However, it struggled to procure the items.

"What we found is that your first choice is not always available and you need to think out of the box," said Mr Palmer.

"Our general hospitality supply chains are not always ready - it's domestic consumer supply chains that have come to the rescue and even Amazon."

The hotel even ended up sourcing some of the lawn furniture it needed second-hand from Carluccio's, after the troubled Italian restaurant chain shut 40 restaurants.

Other hospitality businesses are looking to enhance their outdoor offerings, leading to a surge in demand for summer products, said Ms Hardcastle.

"Everyone's trying to compete by trying to create the theatre and ambience and space - it's been a horrendous time for retail and this is just another incredible challenge for retailers to deal with."