From boba pearl shortages to skyrocketing shipping costs, US small businesses are still grappling with supply chain disruptions

From boba pearl shortages to skyrocketing shipping costs, US small businesses are still grappling with supply chain disruptions
Container ships and gantry cranes in Felixstowe, Suffolk, United Kingdom.John Lamb/Getty Images
  • US small businesses continue to face shortages of key resources from a year of supply-chain shocks.
  • One company paid $8,000 to send 72 boxes of t-shirts via air - more than 10X the cost of ocean freight.
  • The disruption is giving some business owners the squeeze, but for others, it's an opportunity.

In San Francisco, it's tapioca pearls for boba tea. In Kalamazoo, it's glass bottles for craft spirits. And in Tulsa, it's nitrile gloves for restaurant workers.

All across the US, small businesses continue to face shortages and delays of key resources due to the compounding effects of more than a year of supply-chain shocks.

From labor shortages to redirected production to a brutally cold winter to a boat stuck in the sand, the setbacks and delays are putting a particular strain on the nation's smaller businesses.

Nearly half of small businesses surveyed in March reported product shortages or other supply problems, the Wall Street Journal reported, noting that smaller firms tended to have fewer options than larger companies when it comes to navigating these challenges.

In San Francisco, the Chronicle reported that import shortages have forced one family-owned boba tea shop, Boba Bliss, was sending relatives all over the East Bay Area to score elusive boxes of tapioca pearls.


Another owner worried that sourcing from a different supplier would damage his reputation.

"It ruined our business when we had to temporarily use the Taiwanese pearls for two to three months," said William Cho, owner of The Boba Shop. "People are very picky about their pearls."

In Michigan, the founder of Green Door Distilling Co. Josh Cook told MiBiz that glass shortages have been "catastrophic."

The reason? Cook's glass suppliers are all contracted up to produce vaccine vials, causing lead-times to jump from less than two months to more than four.

"How can you plan for that? You really can't," he said.


Also in Michigan, the Journal reports one apparel company is trying to bypass two-month delays in ocean shipping by paying $8,000 to send 72 boxes of t-shirts, 10 times the usual cost.

The shortages and price increases are being felt in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where restaurant owners told the Journal they are shelling out $185 for a box of nitrile gloves that used to cost $40 before the pandemic.

While some consumer-facing businesses may be able to pass along price increases to their customers, some B2B companies told the Journal they are feeling the squeeze.

"We buy from billion-dollar companies and sell to billion-dollar companies," said Heather Chandler, President of Sealstrip Corp., which sells packaging products to major CPG brands.

Even so, other entrepreneurs and experts told Insider this disruption could present an opportunity to discover new approaches to sourcing.


Douglas Kent, an executive at the Association for Supply Chain Management, said container shortages and increasing transport costs will bring more companies to rethink their supply chains.

"Smaller firms have opportunities to address the real issues," he said.

If you're a small business owner experiencing recent supply-chain issues, please get in touch with this reporter at