Four-wheeler, furnace and food suppliers alike have wrestled with one common issue in recent months: Keeping their products in stock.

Some of these shortages relate to the coronavirus pandemic, others are predictable annual occurrences. A few local businesses explained what they’ve seen within their respective industries and what this means for customers.

Variety and quantity affected by manufacturers

Elliott Christensen, president at Elden's Fresh Foods in Alexandria, said that things have improved since the panic that accompanied the original lockdown announcement in March.

He said the grocery industry has been caught short in different categories at different times.

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Christensen said Elden’s has “great buying power and lots of distribution centers,” but the shortages become an issue when manufacturers aren’t keeping up with the demand.

Some vendors are not carrying all the products that they once produced. Instead, they just focus on the top sellers or discontinue some products altogether. Campbell's discontinued about a dozen varieties of soup, and Christensen said he received plenty of feedback about customers missing their chicken gumbo.

Chef Boyardee and Keebler brands were short in April and May. Canned products like soup and pop were sparse in the summer months. Toilet paper and paper towel products were always present in some capacity, but certain brands or sizes would be missing.

“We had the product but not the variety,” Christensen said.

Beauty products, first aid and disinfectant wipe aisles remained sparse, while the bakery “fired up around the clock.”

Most of these shortages aren’t blatantly noticeable other than a small “out of stock” sign attached to the shelf, Christensen said.

All about the timing

ATV and watercraft sales have kept Ollie’s Service in Alexandria busy because more people have been finding activities to do outdoors during the pandemic, Vice President of Ollie’s Service Jayme Anderson said.

“It’s been a different summer just being able to get all the equipment,” Anderson said. “That made it a challenge with the demand so high.”

Anderson estimated the business lacked about 30 percent of its usual equipment this summer. He also said certain parts have been harder to get but that the company made it through the end of August before running out of any products. Ollie’s orders items on a pre-seasonal basis so that most products are available in the store ahead of time.

“We were fortunate in that way,” he said. “We were able to keep all our customers going this summer.”

Anderson said certain lawn and garden parts were unavailable because some of the distributors had COVID-19 cases run through their businesses.

When customers come to Ollie’s looking for specific products that may not be in stock, Anderson said they then turn to other local businesses to try to recreate the part they need.

All the winter gear is on track so far to come in, and Ollie’s added a new clothing line for both snowmobile attire and casual wear.

For those interested in purchasing snowmobiles, Anderson said to come in November or December because he expects they’ll run out by the first of the year.

Distribution affected by natural disasters

Events such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters around the country affect where products are distributed in any given year, so Ellingson employees continually keep an eye out for how these factors will affect what products they’re able to purchase.

Brian Baustian, director of materials at Ellingson Plumbing, Heating, A/C & Electrical in Alexandria, said that it’s not uncommon for their business to run into product shortages because of interruptions in the supply lines, weather events or raw materials used in products outside their industry.

COVID-19 hasn’t impacted them as much as the public may think, Baustian said, though Ellingson did bring on a new product to address indoor air quality. This Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) product cleans indoor air with needlepoint bipolar ionization technology, said Ryan Hjelle, Vice President of Business Development. Ellingson technicians have installed over 235 GPS units around the community so far.

“COVID does have some impact, oftentimes not so much on the product itself but on the people that are assembling that product,” Baustian said. “We try to combat that by buying ahead and having multiple vendors when possible.”

In the event of potential shortfalls, he said Ellingson purchases a larger quantity of specific products than they normally would, which are often related to heating and cooling in Minnesota.

Baustian said they are typically “ahead of the game” being fully stocked on furnaces in the winter and air conditioners in the summer. This year, they have over 60 furnaces available.

Nonetheless, the company must still deal with unexpected circumstances and potential shortages, which sometimes result in delayed shipments. Seasons of heating and cooling system installations keep Ellingson employees busy, so Baustian recommended customers purchase what they need as soon as possible.

“We don’t have a crystal ball with exact timing,” Baustian said. “It simply makes sense to get your orders placed as early as possible.”