First it was toilet paper. Then it was hand sanitizer and face masks. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has created another worldwide shortage, and it's also hitting home … particularly in your backyard.
From fire pits to swimming pools to trampolines, an increase in demand for family fun is making these items a difficult find.
"It's a case of, you've got to get it, even if you're not sure if you need it," says Melissa Feaver, a Corner Brook mother of two. "It's to the point where it almost feels like a Black Friday situation, where you've just got to grab it."
Feaver's sons, ages 5 and 7, had their mind set on a trampoline this summer. They made a pitch to their parents, with attention to safety at the forefront. Following some negotiations, Feaver and husband agreed to get one in May.
Their search so far has been unsuccessful.
They've looked at all local retailers repeatedly and have taken their search online, but there's been nothing even close to their price range that can also be delivered in the next couple months.
"It's been very challenging," Feaver said.
"And I've found my friends, as well, when we're chatting, it's, 'Oh, I wanted to get a little inflatable pool and I spotted one at Shoppers, but an hour later when I went to get it, it was gone.'"
Bustling retail, and less stress
Retailers are having the same difficulty finding these items and others.
Dean Ball, the owner of a Home Hardware store in Deer Lake, said after some of the slowest months he has experienced, business now is bustling, especially for outdoor and family-oriented items.
Ball said he is unable to keep many items — such as barbecues, lawn mowers and fire pits — in stock, and specialty items, such as swimming pools and trampolines, are not available in Home Hardware's national warehouses.
Ball said that he has witnessed a change in the customers themselves, and that he's glad the shortages don't seem to be upsetting customers.
"People realize now how important their local shops are and that if they don't support them, they're not going to have them. And as ugly as that sounds, and we've been saying that for a lot of years, but there's a lot of truth to that."
That shift in attitude, coupled with the fact people are spending of more time outdoors with the families, has led to a less-stressed customer base.
"It's good to see … I've been in retail now for a long, long time and I've seen a lot of good and I've seen a lot of bad," Ball said. "So this stuff with COVID, once the page has turned there, I've think we've learned a lot of valuable lessons that we took for granted prior to this."
The reason many warehouses are not stocking the items is likely because there are not enough made to meet the demand.
Springfree Trampoline, a global manufacturer based in Markham, Ont., uses a direct-to-consumer business model and normally sells 4,000 to 5,000 trampolines a month. It has manufacturing plants in China and New Zealand.
Given the increased demand over the past couple of months, there's now a wait list of 10,000 customers.
CEO Steve Holmes said the problem started on Jan. 16, when the company's manufacturing plant in China closed for what was planned as a two-week break for Chinese New Year. Shortly after, the plant was locked down due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"While there's been this massive increase in demand, with the global nature of supply, there has been half of the supply that would normally come into the market, but the demand is probably three times," said Holmes.
"So you've got this terrible circumstance that's been created from the global pandemic."
Holmes said in the months following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, there was a similar spike in sales of backyard equipment, but not to this degree.
He figures the demand for his products will make for a longer summer sales season and continue into 2021.
"Trends we're seeing is this is a global increase and we're not just isolated to the United States and Canada," he said. "The behaviour is almost consistent around the globe."
Holmes says he hasn't taken a day off since the pandemic began. He's been busy trying to ensure his company meets the increasingly heightened demand, but said he still finding the work rewarding.
"There's a lot of stress and tension but there's a lot of fun and we get to see it in kids' eyes when parents finally get their trampolines and get in the backyard and send us a picture," he said.
Bouncing back to Corner Brook
At the Feaver household, fun will continue to be the focus, even if the boys are not able to find a trampoline to bounce on.
The sun is shining, there's no snow and we're all together having fun — I think it will be a great summer. - Melissa Feaver
Feaver says the boys are enjoying helping fix an old car with their father, and helped build a deck on the house.
They're also enjoying activities that do not involve big-ticket ticket items, such as playing with toys, water squirters and their sandbox.
"It's what you make it and we're just trying to make sure that we're together as a family — like most people, I would say — and we're enjoying the extra time that we get together on a daily basis," she said.
"You know, the sun is shining, there's no snow and we're all together having fun — I think it will be a great summer."
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