In a warehouse in northwest London, dozens of workers sort boxes of Christmas toys, scan barcodes and move them on forklifts.
The entertainer toy store chain depot is getting busier as the holiday season approaches, with three shifts of 50 workers per day.
But as Christmas approaches, company chairman Gary Grant is worried about meeting sustained demand as the UK grapples with a supply chain crisis.
“Our challenge now is to free the containers from the port, we are struggling with the truck drivers,” he told AFP.
“We need more warehouse workers,” he added, shouting instructions to a warehouse foreman, one of the company’s two, which ships to its 172 stores across the country. .
Caught between post-Brexit labor shortages and rising raw material and transport costs, the UK toy retail industry faces a potential nightmare before Christmas.
The Entertainer, which with its online business claims a 10 percent share of the UK toy market, achieves half of its turnover between early October and December.
It typically hires temporary staff before the annual rush to receive, handle, and ship trucks full of Lego sets, Barbie dolls, and other popular toys during the peak period.
In November and December, up to 150 people can work at any time in the Amersham factory, 38 kilometers from the capital.
But 2021 has caused a real headache, Grant said, with many temporary workers, many of them from Eastern Europe, now missing due to tighter immigration rules after Brexit.
A shortage of truck drivers across the UK is also a serious problem when thousands of items have to be transported from ports to warehouses and then onto Main Street.
Britain is short of some 100,000 truckers, causing delivery problems in various sectors for weeks, resulting in delays and empty shelves.
At the same time, fears over fuel supplies due to a lack of tanker drivers have caused panic buying, long queues at gas stations, as well as frustration and frustration. anger.
To make matters worse, Britain’s largest port, Felixstowe, is grappling with a backlog, with container ships full of Christmas goods being diverted to mainland Europe.
– Spiraling costs –
Britain’s complete departure from the European Union in January piled administrative hassles and additional costs on companies like The Entertainer, which also has 34 stores in Spain.
âWhen we export to Europe in our stores (over there), we have to pay more duty,â said Grant, who started his business in the 1970s selling skateboards in Amersham, his hometown. .
Imports also mean more paperwork and costs, now that Britain has left the European single market and customs union.
“Leaving Europe had a pretty big impact on efficiency and a big impact on costs,” he added.
The Brexit woes are far from the only thorn in the executive’s side as it grapples with the rise of the supply chain and the resulting costs.
âThe freight costs from the Far East, from China to the UK, have increased 10 times as much,â he said.
The prices of essential materials like metal, wood, plastic and electrical components have “absolutely skyrocketed in the past three months,” he added.
This inevitably means that Santa Claus will have to foot the bill.
Grant expects that with inflationary costs, the price of toys from Asia will increase by 10-15% in the coming year.
– Buy early –
The UK government has blamed global shortages of container and truck drivers, as well as travel restrictions linked to coronaviruses, which have kept many foreign workers from returning.
She has struggled to reassure consumers, even as the turkey and pork industry also warns of a shortage of festive food due to understaffing, including butchers and laborers. slaughterhouse.
Christmas tree sellers have also said that the price of traditional trees may rise due to higher import costs and the price of raw materials.
The British Independent Retailers Association has warned against panic shopping, but still advised people to start Christmas shopping earlier than usual.
Across the Atlantic, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tried to allay fears earlier this week by claiming Christmas presents would arrive under the tree.
Aside from the usual hardships, like trying to keep up with demand for planned festive bestsellers, such as Paw Patrol figures and LOL Surprise dolls, Grant is confident even if restocking could get tricky in the weeks to come.
âThere will be no empty toy stores this Christmas,â he said.
bp / ved-csp / phz / rl / lth