‘Skyrocketing’ import costs hit retailers
Despite newly released retail sales figures showing an 8.8 per cent drop in sales in December, several local store owners told The Royal Gazette that Christmas was not so terrible.
“Sales were down compared to my first year of business, but in all honesty, it was not by much at all,” said Ciera Garrafa, owner of Treats Limited in the Washington Mall in Hamilton “Christmas was not too bad.”
But she said global supply-chain delays and rising import costs are hitting them hard. As a result, they have had to raise their prices.
Single lollipops, for example, popular with her youngest customers, have risen from 25 cents each to 75 cents each.
“That comes as a bit of a shock to the little ones,” she said. “The cost of shipping and goods, in general, has skyrocketed.”
Some items have become so expensive to import that Treats Limited has simply decided to forgo them.
And just getting things here has been challenging.
“I am currently waiting for an Easter shipment and it has been delayed two or three times,” Ms Garrafa said. “It is out of our control.”
Apparel store owner Kristen Carreiro, of Modblu Boutique on Front Street, said Christmas was definitely not as good for her in 2021 as it was the previous year.
“For Christmas 2020, everyone was stuck here, so everyone was forced to shop locally,” Ms Carreiro said. “2020 was actually a phenomenal retail year. We had a lot of new faces. It showed us that there are people here who have money to spend.”
But she said last Christmas a lot of those same people chose not to spend their money in Bermuda.
“Part of it is understandable,” she said. “We all travel, myself included. But what is that huge gap that is creating the lack of spending locally?”
Ms Carreiro said we keep having the same conversations about retail.
“What is our government going to do to help us?” she said.
She said 4,000 people are employed in retail in Bermuda.
“If things continue to go downhill, what are those people going to do for work?” she said. “Government needs to realise that a huge chunk of people will be unemployed. As a small business I would hire more people if I had that demand. Right now, it is just me and one staff member.”
She has also been hit by supply-chain delays, but is pivoting as much as she can to deal with the challenges.
“We have adapted and still been able to bring in a variety of items,” she said. “My style of store has not been impacted as much as, say, furniture and home goods.”
Stuart Joblin, co-owner of Makin’ Waves, said their store on Church Street in Hamilton did all right in December. The store bills itself as a surf shop and sells clothing, snorkel equipment and other things related to coastal living. An online store and website helped to keep sales alive for them last year.
“With people not travelling up until now we had a captive market,” he said.
But he said things were deathly quiet at their store in Dockyard.
“We have one staff member up there, and the store is very, very clean and beautifully merchandised because they have nothing much else to do,” Mr Joblin said.
But he said they were starting to get a few visitors into their Dockyard store, but sales are not even 10 per cent of what they should be. He is hoping that the coming cruise ship season will help to turn things in the right direction.
Mr Joblin said it has been a challenging few years, but he is hoping that with the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, and people returning to travel, they will see a rebound in sales in Dockyard.
“Fingers crossed,” he said.
Barbara Finsness of The Island Shop on Queen Street in Hamilton said she broke even at Christmas for the first time in many years.
"We sold many gifts, home fragrances, and candles to locals who were unable to travel for the holidays," Ms Finsness said.
She said their advantage was that they are primarily a gift store with unique items unavailable on Amazon.
"While sales are sluggish at the moment we are hopeful for a good tourist season and have merchandised accordingly," she said.
But she was disappointed there has been no duty or payroll concessions to retailers during the last few years.
“It has generally been a struggle since 2008,” she said. ”One certainly needs to be a risk taker, prepared for anything, to venture into retail here!”