COVID still impacting area businesses

By Neal A. Johnson
Posted 4/7/21

Butch Hilkemeyer, owner of Hilkemeyer Honda in Freeburg, said this week that although restrictions have eased, it’s still a challenge to get merchandise.“It’s embarrassing more than …

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COVID still impacting area businesses

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Butch Hilkemeyer, owner of Hilkemeyer Honda in Freeburg, said this week that although restrictions have eased, it’s still a challenge to get merchandise.
“It’s embarrassing more than anything else,” he said. “People call and ask if we’re still in business because we don’t have anything out front.”
Previous to COVID-19, the Honda dealer boasted a supply of 100-150 four-wheelers and 50-75 side-by-side vehicles on display, many of which were placed in front of the business on Hwy. 63 to attract potential customers passing by the building.
However, Hilkemeyer on Monday had just five four-wheelers and no side-by-side vehicles.
“Manufacturers like Honda can’t get the materials to put things together,” Hilkemeyer explained. “We’re fortunate. We have other things we can sell but single-line guys are really hurting.”
Customers from several surrounding states have called asking for stock and Hilkemeyer has turned them away. “I can’t guarantee when I’ll have these vehicles in stock,” he said.
When the pandemic led to restrictions on how businesses could operate, Hilkemeyer said the business found a way to maintain operations. “We roped off the front of the building and didn’t let anyone inside but we were still able to sell things,” he said. “We stayed pretty busy even though we couldn’t let anyone in to browse.”
Last October, Hilkemeyer said he began to notice a delay. “There was a two or three-month delay, and Honda had us order three to four months ahead of time,” said Hilkemeyer. “We went from smooth operations to not being able to get things. It’s very frustrating.”
He expects to receive three or four four-wheelers and the same number of side-by-side vehicles by the end of the month, and a similar amount next month.
“The shipyards aren’t moving, and the problem at the Suez Canal didn’t help,” said Hilkemeyer, who has purchased ATVs from locals just to have something to sell. “The problem is that gets expensive since we’re not getting it wholesale, but on the other hand, it puts money into the local economy.”
It’s not just vehicles in short supply. “We can’t get the good stuff people want like guns and ammo,” Hilkemeyer said.
Some shelves in the store are devoid of stock, and Hilkemeyer doesn’t know when that will change.
“It’s hit-and-miss with everything,” said Hilkemeyer. “We don’t always get everything we order.”
He advises everyone to be patient and call ahead to check on product availability.
However, the service shop continues to thrive, with appointments three weeks out, and Freeburg Hardwood Products, also owned by Hilkemeyer, is doing well.
At Freeburg Home Center, meanwhile, owners Mike and Becky Wilde said their biggest challenge is increased costs.
“Everything was going just fine and we were on track for a record year,” Becky said. “Then the election happened, and it went down immediately.”
The furniture store’s fiscal year ends March 31, and Mike said what happened between November and now was almost identical to what happened when President Obama was in office.
“It was just a steady decline,” he said of sales.
As for the COVID pandemic, Becky said the furniture market was good but adjustments had to be made. “We had to change our mindset and order things differently,” she said.
With a delay of 18 weeks, the Wildes just never stopped ordering in an effort to make sure the showroom was stocked.
“We’re fully stocked,” Becky said.
While many furniture stores won’t sell merchandise on the showroom floor, Mike said that is not the case at Freeburg Home Center. “They’re worried about selling it and then not having it there so they just order it but that’s taking way too long,” he said. “We will sell it and replace it when we can.”
Despite having a good inventory on hand, the Wildes said costs continue to increase, from freight to petroleum-based products such as mattresses and padding.
There is also an inflationary surcharge that has doubled, from four to eight percent. “It’s another element of rising costs that we have to consider,” Becky said. “If you forget to add that to the price, you just have to eat it, so we’re careful.”
Freeburg Home Center also sells appliances but that’s also a challenge. “Some appliances in a set are coming at different times,” Mike explained. “It’s been very slow. They run out of materials and just shut down production. It’s been difficult.”
For now, floor covering has not been affected, and thanks to their forward-thinking approach, Mike and Becky have plenty of merchandise on display.
Becky and Mike continue with work with Adrienne Fechtel. “It’s just the three of us but things are going as well as can be expected,” Becky said.
There has been a change to the hours of operation, which began as a result of restrictions during the pandemic. Becky said the schedule works out pretty well and she and Mike decided to keep it.
The store is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with evening appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about the impact COVID-19 continues to have on area businesses.

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