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Small business owners prepare for the holidays amid inflation and supply chain issues

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Supply chain problems, customer weariness, inflation - those are just some of the obstacles that retail businesses face this year. And small businesses feel the effects especially sharply. Anika Hobbs owns Nubian Hueman, which specializes in goods from Africa and the African diaspora. She has stores in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Ms. Hobbs, thanks so much for being with us.

ANIKA HOBBS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How's business?

HOBBS: You know, it's definitely having its challenges, especially with us being in fashion and international fashion at that.

SIMON: Well, help us understand the challenges - what you have to consider every day.

HOBBS: Yeah, I mean, ever since being in this post-pandemic space, for us it's been a challenge because we do have brick-and-mortar. So there are some opportunities when it comes to the traffic that we had pre-pandemic, for example. But then also just with inflation happening, we've seen a lot of people just not willing to take that drive unless that destination has, you know, a bunch of different things you can do there, like eat, shop, hang out, things like that. We also have seen challenges with our supply chain. That's been really huge. We work exclusively with Black-owned brands, so a lot of those small businesses have their own internal challenges. And shipping costs have gone up, wages have gone up - those prices transfer to us when we are doing wholesale purchasing. So in order for us to stay in business, we have to make a profit. And so, you know, we end up transferring that to our customers in some cases.

SIMON: And yet as you increase prices, you must worry about losing some customers.

HOBBS: We do. We do. We have so many amazing customers that are invested in our story, invested in who we are. So it's important that we are letting our customers know what is happening. But then concurrently, you also have to really focus on acquiring new customers because there are customers who feel like they've taken enough of the strain, which is totally understandable for non-necessity products.

SIMON: How are you preparing for the holidays?

HOBBS: We've been preparing since February of this year, so for us it's been really looking at what are those items that did really, really well for the past couple of years? Do we keep a whole bunch of different assortments of small amounts of things, or do we focus on those top winners and really driving in those sales?

SIMON: This is a little bit like a restaurant owner that has to decide, will I still offer 12 entrees or shrink it down to the six most popular?

HOBBS: Right, the six most popular. And then with that, it's looking at, OK, well, can I get a better deal because now I'm buying bigger from those things that are most popular from us. Those are things you have to think about because, like, again, with the inflation, shipping, materials, labor, all of that with that increase is kind of like, how do you deal with less and make more?

SIMON: Forgive me. Have you had to let any staff go?

HOBBS: We haven't. That's a personal pillar of mine. You know, we didn't have to lose anyone through the pandemic. And so it's really important that although wages are up and we provide more than the living wage, we really want to keep everybody on.

SIMON: You're in business to make enough money to be in business. But you're not just in business to make money, it sounds like.

HOBBS: No. And you know, my mentors have big issues with that with me (laughter). Because my thing is, is having space for Black and brown brands - like, it was 10 years of planning and learning and preparing for that opportunity. So I think that's the thing that just wakes me up in the morning and gets me motivated, is working with a brand who may not be able to make it on the bigger shelves, but they could make it at Nubian Hueman. And if we are able to be that catalyst or that jumpstart to mass production or somebody seeing them, then that's, like, an honor within itself.

SIMON: Anika Hobbs is the owner of Nubian Hueman in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for being with us, and a good holiday season to you.

HOBBS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.