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The inventory market may very well be in for a wild trip as merchants fear a couple of new spherical of tariffs on Chinese merchandise.
USA TODAY

In the warmth of summer time, Christmas is likely to be the furthest factor from anybody’s thoughts. Carmel toy store proprietor Teneen Dobbs, nevertheless, already is counting stock and scouting toys to purchase for the vacation rush.

Holiday preparation at the 50-year-old Kits & Kaboodle has functioned roughly the identical for years, however now, an unsettling uncertainty: Dobbs mentioned she is frightened what even steeper tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese items — together with toys — might imply for her enterprise. 

“Something that I’m concerned about is, will I be able to get stock for my best doll line for the holidays in a timely manner?” Dobbs mentioned. “As small retailers, we need to look to toys that are based and manufactured in the U.S. this year and also the European lines, as opposed to made in China. … I’m just looking for other avenues to make sure the store is full.”

In the newest transfer in an escalating commerce warfare with China, President Donald Trump is considering one other tariff on a brand new record of Chinese items, together with most toys. The proposed 25 p.c tariff is going through push-back from indignant enterprise leaders throughout seven days of hearings before the U.S International Trade Commission this week. 

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Buy Photo

Playmobil is bought at Kits & Kaboodle in Carmel, Friday, June 21, 2019. The firm that makes this toy is German. President Donald Trump’s newest proposed tariffs on Chinese items contains toys. China makes 80% of toys bought in the U.S., in keeping with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Kits & Kaboodle sells many European-designed merchandise from European corporations, however many are made in China. So the tariffs have this store doing early stock and preparation for this 12 months’s vacation rush. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar)

The potential tariff would be part of an earlier tariff on $200 billion price of different items and commodities announced in May, as well as additional ones implemented last year. 

China makes more than 80 percent of the toys sold in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The threat of this new tariff is hitting businesses at a particularly high-stakes time while they plan for the busiest shopping quarter of the year. 

If the latest tariff is implemented, Kits & Kaboodle would have to charge customers more to make up the difference.

But raising prices too much is something the store can’t afford to do, Dobbs said, because the small shop has to compete with big-box retailers that can afford to offer the toys at a cheaper price.

Trump tariff predicament

The 2008 recession forced Kits & Kaboodle to downsize.

The growth of e-commerce pushed the store to market itself online but also focus on products that aren’t easily found for cheap on Amazon.

And now tariffs.

Kits & Kaboodle prioritizes classic play and developmental toys, such as dollhouses, pogo sticks and puzzles, but some of store’s best toy lines, though designed in Europe, are made in China, Dobbs said. 

To avoid the uncertainty on the cost of Chinese imports, she said the store is focusing Christmas ordering on U.S. and European manufacturers while waiting to see what happens with the latest tariff proposal, which could be decided by the end of the month. 

About one-quarter of Kits & Kaboodle’s revenue is made during Christmastime, Dobbs said. 

“We’re having to really think outside the box this year, so this is new for us. We’ve had trouble getting inventory.” Dobbs said. “Little-box guys like us, the specialty toy stores, have to go elsewhere this year.”

Christmas toy uncertainties

The holiday season is limited to December for most retailers, but business owners begin planning for the rush several months early.

Dobbs begins attending toy expos in February to scout new products and place long-term orders. But the bulk of Christmastime ordering starts in July and August, said Jeri Dorsey, buyer and manager for Kits & Kaboodle.

“We try to get the store pretty full by the middle of September,” Dorsey said. “A lot of grandparents start shopping in September.”

Dorsey’s job requires her to take into consideration past products and sales as well as the conversation buzz around certain toys before she orders. This year she has to take another uncertainty into consideration: politics. 

“The tariff thing is really up in the air,” Dorsey said. “We’ve heard a lot from D.C. about what (Trump) wants to project, but I haven’t seen the effect yet. So it’s just kind of an unknown that you prepare for.”

Diana Kepler, a licensed customs broker for Cargo Services, an Indianapolis-based freight forwarding company, said she has seen an influx in orders as businesses frantically try to get their products in before the tariffs are implemented.

This would be the fourth in a series of tariffs that have taken effect in the past year, Kepler said, keeping the company operators “on their toes” as they adapt to the changes.

“Everybody’s on edge because we’re trying to figure out what the next step is,” Kepler said. “And sometimes we’re not even notified until the day before, so we scramble. … Overall it has increased our business day-to-day operations greatly.”

The bottom line

Kepler said she doesn’t know how some small businesses will be able to handle a new tariff’s effect on their profit margins.

“It’s important for small businesses that are doing these imports to get in contact with their broker and try to get orders in as soon as possible … and keep abreast of what’s happening,” Kepler said.

If the tariffs go into place, Dorsey said she is unsure what will happen.

“Twenty-five percent is a huge number,” Dorsey said. “I’m not really sure how that’s going to affect us yet. I’m sure it’s going to hit us. … You just have to be aware of it is the big key there. Be aware of the potential.”

Contact IndyStar reporter London Gibson at 317-444-6043 or lbgibson@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @londongibson. 

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