‘Hopefully you can be patient with us’: Utah small business owners struggling with supply chain issues

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Courtesy of Car Lashes

PARK CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Dottie Murray-Small and her husband, Robert, sell a product that is supposed to make their customers happy.

As the owners and operators of Utah-based Car Lashes, they’ve enjoyed working together on a car accessory product that puts human-like eyelashes around the front headlights of almost any make or model of vehicle.

It makes the customer’s car look like it came straight out of those old Chevron commercials or even from the Disney movie, Cars.

“We sell a product that people get joy from,” Murray-Small explains to ABC4.com. “It lifts them up, it makes their day.”

However, if you give Car Lashes’ company number a call, the message on the other end is far from joyful.

“We are experiencing a longer service time for our customer service and our shipping,” Murray-Small’s recorded voice soberly admits on the recording. “Hopefully you can be patient with us and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”

Murray-Smalls tells ABC4.com that the answering machine message was recorded at the beginning of the pandemic when things were completely up in the air. Importing the product, some of which is very customizable, from overseas was a near impossibility for the small business. It’s still a challenge nearly two years later. With some of their freight shipments idling just off the coast of California, the couple has taken a trip to the Golden State to try to expedite the process.

They’ve been making plenty of sales, but due to constraints and challenges in shipping their product, not only to their warehouse in Park City but also to their individual customers and several major auto parts stores, their profit margins have been razor-thin.

According to Jim Herrin, who works with companies like Car Lashes in his role as the director of the Salt Lake Region Small Business Development Center, this could be the most difficult time ever to be a small business owner.

Issues in receiving products, which has already been paid for by the business owners, and then fulfilling the orders to the customers has bottlenecked the cash flow for many mom-and-pop companies, Herrin says. It could spell the end for some of the smallest local companies, he fears.

“Cash flow is like the lifeblood of a business,” he explains. “And so when that slows down or stops, it can hurt the business and even kill the business.”

The smaller the business, left to fend for themselves without the resources and credit lines of a larger company, the harder the problem becomes.

Murray-Smalls and her team have been working to find creative solutions to get their products out as soon as they come in by making adjustments to packaging, delivery, and other means of fulfillment. Still, it’s been a challenge, forcing them to raise the prices of the Car Lashes. It’s been difficult for the couple, who are appreciative of every sale that comes in.

“We’re trying to keep our prices low because we love it,” she says. “We love to create, we love our customers.”

While it might be easier for a shopper to instead turn to a bigger company for their products, which can come at a lower cost as opposed to those from a mom-and-pop, Herrin says supporting small business is vital to the consumer ecosystem.

“We need small businesses to be able to provide variety to consumers, as well as innovation because innovation comes from small businesses most of the time,” Herrin attests. “They’re the ones that are taking the risk and putting money into new inventions and products. And once they’re proven and most of the risk is gone, then the big companies come in and take over the sales and distribution.”

Although many of their products are currently stuck in the mire of the supply chain crisis, Murray-Smalls is committed to finding a way to get their Lashes out as quickly as possible to keep their business alive.

She feels she owes it to their customers, many of whom have shared how much the thought of a hatchback applying mascara has brought a smile to their faces.

“I want to say how thankful we are that we’re still in business and that our products are bought by people that are having a hard time these days.”

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