We’re disturbed by a trend we’ve noticed in the Gila Valley of late — a lack of product.

This has always been an issue at a certain big box retailer. It’s not unusual to walk down the bread aisle or make your way to the juice, cheese or paper goods sections and see empty shelves.

Heck, sometimes it looks like the day after a nuclear explosion and the survivors went on a looting spree.

As near as we can tell, the store is shipped a limited amount of some products — especially those used with regularity by the majority of people — which means a shopper has to know the exact day and the exact time a delivery is made in order to purchase favorite items.

As we say, this has been a common occurrence for quite a while, so we imagine a number of people have adapted. One person we know has opted to use Amazon for nonperishable items and encourages others to do so as well, because Amazon, through its Smile Program, gifts a portion of the purchase to a charity of the shopper’s choice. There are more than 1 million charities to choose from nationwide, and local organizations include Graham County Rehabilitation Center (GCRC), Southeastern Arizona Community Unique Services (SEACUS), Clifton Volunteer Fire Department and Duncan PRIDE Society.

We’re not big fans of deliberately bypassing local stores for online shopping. Even if the choice were a big box retailer over a mom and pop shop, we’d rather see the money spent here because local sales tax is collected. With Amazon, shoppers pay sales tax, but it all goes to the state and we lose out locally.

However, given the lack of product, we fully understand the rationale. And we’d be hypocrites if we didn’t disclose that we regularly use Amazon (through the Smile Program), though it’s for items that cannot be found locally.

We bring all this up because we’ve noticed the trend of lack of product now spreading to restaurants. Nearly half a dozen times over the past two weeks — at multiple food sellers (both fresh and packaged) — we’ve been told multiple food items are not available “until the next truck arrives.”

Decades ago, we worked in the food service industry and know how tight the margins are that restaurants operate under. So it would be no surprise if a particular restaurant opted to reduce its supply order in order to keep a small amount of cash liquid. Plus food isn’t paper plates — if too many paper plates are ordered, the excess can sit on the shelf for months waiting to be purchased. Food has a limited sales life, and ordering too much and having it spoil can cost a restaurant owner as much as losing sales from not ordering enough.

If it were one restaurant, we’d think nothing of it. Even two makes sense, but multiple sellers has us wondering if we’re seeing something else at play — are there a lack of drivers with commercial driver’s licenses who can operate delivery trucks? Is the hiring by the mine resulting in fewer people available to make deliveries? Are residents shopping at bulk stores in Tucson and Phoenix rather than locally? Are residents opting to eat out less often and, if so, why?

We don’t have the answers to any of those questions; we bring them up because we’re seeing a trend.

The goal in sales is to have one item left on the shelf at the end of the sales period. That means everyone who wanted one of the items got one and there wasn’t loss due to overproduction. In other words — there are no lost sales.

A lack of product guarantees lost sales.

Hopefully, this trend is just a blip in the local supply chain, things will return to normal in short order, everyone who wants to make a purchase can, and local retailers and restaurateurs see sales success.

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