Take Five with Amy Moore of Little Luxuries: Inflating the holidays

Inflationary trends can give retailers the willies, especially when they haven’t appeared for several decades. In the past two years, Amy Moore, owner Little Luxuries, 230 State St., is among the local merchants that has dealt with the uncertainty of a pandemic, civic unrest, and the resulting changes in consumer behavior. Now, a replay of the worse aspects of that bomb of a ’70s show — higher inflation — is threatening to add to this period of adjustment.

The store, which offers a carefully curated collection of spa, tabletop, and personal interest gifts, is coping as best it can because while prices keep climbing, container ships wait to dock in western ports, and truck drivers are harder to find to transport the goods, consumers are ready and willing to spend. That’s why, in this Take Five interview, Moore remains optimistic about holiday sales despite what has become a mercantile traffic jam.

Inflation is coming in hotter than expected each month, now at close to 5%. How is that impacting your pricing as the holiday season approaches?

“We’ve paid close attention to those increases coming in from our vendors that trickle down back to us. Considering the current circumstance regarding supply and demand, our prices need to generally increase along with that regarding the amount of margin we can take in.

“So, personally with our vendors, because we do have a lot of local makers who we work with, which doesn’t have quite the direct impact, the vendors we do work with that are being impacted, some are increasing them. Some are a little delayed and are absorbing those expenses, but I think moving into, if there hasn’t yet been an increase related to inflation, then I can see that continuing into 2022. And yes, we’ll be adjusting as need be as well. So, that will inevitably increase the cost of some of our products too.”

Are you saying it’s not really happening yet, but it’s likely to?

“Yeah, each vendor is just a little bit different. We have some who have adjusted their prices as we’re ordering for the holiday season. That inspired us to increase our costs. And then, there are others who have been able to make some adjustments and we’re not seeing that change quite yet. It just depends on where the product is coming from, the supplies, the product, and the demand because we’re kind of all over the board with the local products here within Wisconsin, and the United States, and then abroad. So, it just depends on where that product is coming from and how they are influenced.”

Is markup necessarily a trickier thing with inflation rising close to 5% per month rather than 2%?

“Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, in some cases, we’re just assessing the value of a product and the current situation on a local level, regarding people’s local economic situation, so sometimes it’s not always an immediate increase of 5% on our part. Again, some products — kind of like some vendors — with some products, we absorb a little bit of that, so it’s not always a direct increase of the same amount. It just kind of depends on the products and demand and current local circumstances. It varies. It’s kind of an organic process that isn’t really black and white for us at the moment, and I feel like it’s changing so rapidly that in some cases, it’s hard to keep up with it. So, some aspects, I think in 2022, after this holiday season, it will definitely require us to analyze this whole circumstance carefully to see what the next year will bring.”

We keep hearing from retailers and manufacturers that customers/consumers are in a mood to spend, but the availability of goods is the frustration. With the supply chain disruption and West Coast ports clogged, are you having any trouble getting the merchandise you need for the holiday season, especially if it’s a top seller?

“Well, I guess I can honestly say that even in this last year, I had some orders that I placed back in January that still haven’t been completely fulfilled. So, we have back orders open from then. I went to a gift show in July here in the Midwest and we’re still waiting on several full orders that we still have not yet received. So, we have circumstances like that where we’re keeping those back orders open or orders that we have placed, and we’re just waiting in line until it’s our turn to receive that shipment.

“Because the holidays are approaching, we have deadlines as to when we want to receive that, but we’ve pushed that back even to the first week of December. Normally, we would cut that off and say if we haven’t received our shipments by Thanksgiving, we’re just going to cancel that back order, but knowing the circumstance we’re in, and I think the demand there will be during the holidays, and considering the strong buy-local support, we’ll keep that opportunity open to hopefully receive those.

“In the meantime, we’ve kind of been talking about the supply issue for a while, so I have proactively placed a lot of orders in advance, and large ones at that, to help alleviate the circumstance here at Little Luxuries. So, I think we’re in a good position. There might be certain specific items people are hoping for that we won’t have, but our product mix is so diverse that our store shelves will definitely be full. We just might run out of a few of the favorites sooner than others.”

You mentioned buy local. Does Madison’s buy-local mentality help independent retailers in this situation — you in particular — because you’re not as dependent on imported goods that might be sitting in a cargo ship off the coast of Los Angeles?

“Yeah, definitely. Our local community is such a strong supporter of shopping local, and we’ve seen them turn out last year during a pandemic and the way they felt most comfortably, whether it be curbside, online, or in person. I just have a feeling we’ll see that same support. That said, regarding the local support, we do also buy from a lot of local makers, and even some of the local makers are finding shortages in certain supplies that they need to use to produce their product. So, for example, my point is that buying local as a business here, as a retailer, doesn’t always solve the supply issues. I’m trying to order some locally made soaps and there is a shortage of lye, or I want to order cribbage boards that are made in Illinois and there is a shortage of wood. A third example is the shortage of glass bottles and so I can’t get the brandy Old-Fashioned mix from a local maker. So, some scarce ingredients or elements necessary to produce a product still have a direct impact on certain artisans, as well, on the local level.”

How has this impacted your e-commerce sales? You had to scramble to get that up and going in the early stages of the pandemic. Has this supply chain situation impacted you there at all?

“Not so much. To be honest, that website was a lifeline for us last holiday season. But for most of this year, most people have been coming in person and our traffic has kind of slowed down on our website. Regarding online sales this winter, I’m curious to see how much traffic we’ll be getting, and in doing so, something to consider is that supplies are about the same because it’s coming from the same source. So, what we have here in the store, and what we’re able to get, is what’s going to be available there. But we are sometimes shipping to customers, none of which is international, of course … I don’t know if anything is going to interrupt that process of getting product to the end user. That would be the only way I could see how we’re impacted, but yeah, I’m not really seeing the supply chain in the form you’re talking about really impacting the website, other than the fact that what we have less of here, we’ll have less of online.”

Does this situation scream out for people just to use gift cards as holiday gifts as a default position if they are having trouble finding what they want to buy for someone?

“I would say that more strongly, the message would be to shop early and when you see something you like, buy it when you see it. That message is something we are already echoing to our customers as they are shopping even today, so super early. But when we’re talking about December, if there is something very specific, if I’m going to cut off my [late] shipments by Dec. 1, and you’re not seeing it within that month and you don’t find something else that’s a good replacement for that product, then yes, the gift card is the best solution in that circumstance.”

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