Thousands of shoppers flooded uniform stores this weekend ahead of the first day of school, and while there was improved traffic compared to the past two years when schools were held virtually, supply chain disruptions and less disposable income among customers has led to some challenges for merchants.
James Wallace, president of Janaee’s Ltd., which owns Janaee’s Uniform Center, said while his business has definitely seen more customers in the past few weeks, it’s not to pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s great that it’s come back, but I can also attest that it has not come back to pre-COVID because we don’t see customers purchasing the same quantities of back-to-school items like shirts and pants,” he told Guardian Business yesterday.
“Some people are only getting on. So, yes, we see the traffic in the store but we don’t see the volume per se because of the economic state. It’s certainly better than 2021 and 2020, but not to the pre-pandemic.”
Janaee’s Uniform Center was one of several stores that opened on Sunday for last-minute back-to-school shopping.
“We are seeing a lot of traffic in the store,” Wallace said.
“Unfortunately, the store had a line outside and, as a matter of fact, we are open today and there’s a line outside again.
“But some of the challenges with this back-to-school involve inventory levels. We face some of the same challenges as other suppliers where we were unable to get the inventory in. As we speak, we have inventory sitting in the factory that we were unable to get shipped because of some supply chain issues and by the time as it got cleared up, it wouldn’t have made sense to move them.
“But in terms of uniforms, we are seeing the traffic, but because we manufacture items, if persons don’t have an item, we can get it made for them. The other side of that is the level of manufacturing. You can only get so much done, so there is a long delay to get it manufactured. We see that coming down and if persons don’t have their uniforms [yet], they can come and visit us and we can have it manufactured.”
Over at Carey’s Fabric and Uniform Store, Kim Gibson, managing director, said they, too, had supply and shipping challenges but, overall, business was better than the last few years.
“It was definitely a whole lot busier,” she told Guardian Business.
“A lot of parents were enthusiastic about getting their children back to school finally after being off for two years, and we were enthusiastic to help them do so. We’ve had a very busy Saturday and things are quite busy today as well. Parents are excited; they are relieved. As merchants, we’re also happy to be able to outfit students with uniforms. We’re pleased to have this aspect of the business return and our customers are also happy to have us here.
“The supply chain affected uniforms as well and we received shipments up to Friday, which was two days ago. We’ve restocked our shelves, we have lots of shirts still, we’ve restocked our socks and underwear but, unfortunately, the supply chain shortages also affected our industry.”
Supply chain shortages, as well as a raging war in Ukraine, have driven prices up around the world.
A back-to-school survey conducted by global financial firm Deloitte found that on average, parents around the world were paying eight percent more for school supplies and clothing, compared to last year.