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With the global supply chain on its knees amid ongoing COVID outbreaks, the world is running low on some unexpected items

For years, Nick Barnard didn’t think twice about heading to the shooting ranges for target practice, but these days he guards his bullets like gold.

Like many in the competitive sport, the president of the Darwin Pistol Club has not been able to get his hands on primer and pistol powder, two minuscule but imperative components for firing shots.

It has been over a year and it has come as a shock.

For the first time since he got hooked on shooting in 1987, he has scaled back on practice.

“When we realised the problems facing us, we did exactly what the Americans have done and we started hoarding,” he said.

“Whenever we can get supplies, we buy up big.”

Coffee, Crocs (the shoe), instruments, ammunition, bikes, computer chips — the world is running low on some unexpected items, sending shock waves through countless industries.

Primers in a box.
Globally, primers are running critically low, and many remain unsure how long the shortage will last. (ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

Last week, national cabinet agreed to allow thousands of people to return to work if they are a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case, to help ease the pressure on workforces nearly reaching breaking point.

But with global shipping prices still high and workers in major factories still facing outbreaks and restrictions, demand for many products has exceeded capacity.

And in an era where we have become accustomed to shopping convenience and speedy deliveries, people are being made to wait months for products or pay double.

‘People are going without. It’s just crazy’ 

A man looks through a lens and fixes a graphics card.
George Fisher, an avid gamer, says people are paying high prices for outdated technology in order to play computer games.  (ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

George Fisher, an avid gamer and technician, says he managed to get in early to buy a graphics card – an expansion device that plugs into a computer and renders images — right before prices started creeping to unprecedented highs.

“I could sell my card now, which is a year old, for profit, which is unheard of,” he said.

He says that amid a perfect storm of unparalleled pressures on global supply chains and more people working from home on laptops, graphics cards have become next to impossible to buy.

“People are using graphics cards to mine things like Ethereum and Bitcoin for money and that’s driven the prices up because there are not enough cards to go around,” Mr Fisher said.

“Entry-level cards, which most people can play many games on, should start around $400. We’re now seeing them at around $900, upwards to the $4,000 mark.

“People are just going without. It’s just crazy.”

A man plays guitar.
David Nelson says people could wait be waiting months to buy an instrument.(ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

David Nelson, the manager of the Top End Music Centre, says there are delays on major Australian and international lines.

“The professional stuff specifically is the hardest to get,” he said.

“If you want a particular model, it could be six months to a year.”

A global shortage of computer chips, dubbed “chipageddon”, has led to long wait times for electronics, cars and even pianos.

The shortage is due to record COVID-related demand combined with drought, fires and snowstorms in different parts of the world slowing production.

“There are a lot of things we can’t get and won’t be able to get for a long time,” Mr Nelson said.

A man repairs a bike tire.
Paul Clancy has been flat out in a booming industry in which parts are hard to find. (ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

In the bike world, Paul Clancy says customers at Bikes to Fit could be waiting up to two years to buy a particular brand amid a global shortage of parts.

“It’s not just bikes, it’s bike parts, even simple things like tubes and tyres where suppliers are starting to run very low,” he said.

He said that even though the popularity of bike riding skyrocketed during the pandemic, the scarcity of parts has even seen some shops close down.

It’s now “really hard for surviving bike stores”, which are now overloaded with repair jobs, he said. 

“We’ve been flat out.”

Stocking up to survive

Ronald Voukolos, the manager of Fishing and Outdoor World in Darwin, says he has taken a risk and resorted to ordering much more stock than needed, in some cases a year in advance.

“We’ve always been used to being able to buy it as we need it,” he said.

A man crosses his arms in a room full of guns.
Ronald Voukolos has been ordering stock months in advance.(ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

But with the Omicron variant causing crippling staff shortages and transport issues in Australia and the unpredictability of a broken supply chain, Mr Voukolos says the future has become too uncertain.

“Some of the footwear we sell, we placed orders last year in July to get them in 2022.”

But still, he said he is letting people know they could be waiting three or four months on some in-demand items like drinkware, and plastic shoes from Vietnam. 

Founder and head coffee roaster of Dtown Roasters, Christos Panas, has more stock than he’s ever had before.

He also said that while he has tried to absorb as much of the cost as possible, he has had to raise the price of his coffee.

A changing climate coupled with supply chain issues saw the “world price of coffee” surge 21.6 per cent last year to $3.65 a kilogram, according to IBISWorld.

“We’re six months ahead on stock with my suppliers … so I don’t have to worry about running out of coffee,” Mr Panas said.

He said there have been delays on everything from alternative milks to cups and lids.

“I used to order a pallet of almond milk once a week and I’d let one run down, now I have to carry two.”

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