Like most business owners, the non-medical side effects of COVID-19 have taken a toll on Jim Tyler.
The 84-year-old said labor shortages, inflation and supply chain issues have all been felt by his businesses in Bald Knob and Heber Springs, to the point where he’s looking to sell the mattress outlet he opened in June 2019.
“This COVID thing … I can’t get help, and I think it’s going to get worse,” Tyler said. “I’m going to go ahead and close it [the Heber Springs store] out. I’m going to sell the property, but I’m going to be there until I sell that building.
“I got a manager down there and everything was going pretty good. We did a grand opening thing and I started running ads in the paper and the little papers around there, Greers Ferry, and everything was going good until the COVID hit.”
He said after the pandemic reached the U.S. in 2020, “the manager quit me and started drawing unemployment, $600 a week or whatever he was doing. So when he quit, leaving me holding the bag, I couldn’t find nobody and everybody wanted $15 an hour and I couldn’t find anybody to get anything done.”
He said he finally decided to have his manager at Frankie’s Furniture in Bald Knob work at the Heber Springs store and be “open three days a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and so that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been operating only three days a week now for a long time and it’s just not doing good enough for me to hang in there. I just need to sell the building and just bring my manager back in here [to Bald Knob], so that’s what we decided to do.”
Frankie’s Furniture has been in Bald Knob for 24 years, he said, “and we’ve got a good trade built up over the years. … It’s not doing what it normally does on account of the COVID, but it’s still a good store.”
“The virus thing has really put a hurt on us getting furniture,” Tyler said. “One line of living room suites that I got … I know the guy – he is a large manufacturer and I used to buy a lot of stuff when I was doing those sales – he gave me truckload prices still. He takes care of me.
“When the COVID first hit, they were doing back orders. You put your back order date in and whatever date you did, your time [would] come up and they would build it as fast as they could, get the material and this sort of thing. They’d call you when your order was ready.”
He said he had to wait on his order “for three or four months,” but after it was ready and he received it, “he told me, ‘Jim, I’m booked up for six months. You need to place an order now and it will be six months before I can get to it. I’m sold out that far on account I just can’t produce the order you gave me, the materials and the labor and everything else.’”
“I said, ‘Well I understand that, [but] I don’t know what I’m going to need,’” Tyler said. “He said, ‘Just give me an order and if you don’t want it, I got orders for that stuff so there’s no problem if you don’t want it,’ but he said, ‘If you place your order, I will get you your order and if you want any of it, part of it or none of it, I can ship it out the next day.’”
Tyler said after he placed his order, he received a call two weeks later. “He said, ‘Jim, I had a cancellation. Do you want it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I want it. Ship it. I will take it the next day.’ But the problem was, I don’t have a warehouse. I mean, I was ordering and putting stuff on the floor and I had very little backup, so I had to take part of my display area.”
He said although he has “15 solid feet [of space] here in Bald Knob … I’ve got furniture stacked up here in my display area and it’s packed. I’m good.” However, he said that “the price went up on me” on some of it.
“I guess in the last year, they’ve had increases about three of four months … in most everything that I ordered,” Tyler said. “Inflation has just hit the furniture market just like it has everything else, so it’s just been devastating.”
He also mentioned the price of insurance for his business going up as another challenge. “These poor people who have high rent in shopping centers or high payments, building payments, mortgage payments, I don’t see how they are making it with everything like it is right now, I don’t see how a person can make it.”
“It’s unreal,” he said. “It’s put the hardship on a lot of people, and we’re doing about half what we normally do before but we’re still fine. It don’t make you feel good when you’re going backwards.”
Tyler said the reason he’s not in debt is he pays “cash for everything I get – I don’t finance anything – so I’m fortunate enough to do that. Everything has just gone up so high and everything. I am 84 years old, so I’m not for the long haul here.”
He said his business is “just a small store in a small town at 2,800 population … . I don’t have a bunch of employees now. I have downsized. I only have two employees plus me and my wife here and we’re running it so my overhead is low. Everything is paid for, everything is good. It’s just hard to see the things that are going on, going on and everything the way it is happening.”