CayGoods’ Albert Voaden Discusses Supply Chain Issues in the Cayman Islands

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause mass interruptions in the global supply chain, many businesses feel the repercussions, including that of Cayman Islands entrepreneur Albert Voaden, Caygoods. As the future of supply chains remains uncertain, Voaden seeks solutions.

“Shipping is the biggest challenge I’m finding now regularly,” Voaden says. “It’s not just a Cayman problem; it’s a global problem with the supply chain issues. And now, I’m experiencing firsthand the difficulty of getting products here.”

Since there’s little to no local production in the Cayman Islands, a self-governing British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean Sea, virtually every commodity must be imported. Voaden established online retailer CayGoods, to fill a gap in the region’s retail – a shortage of large home products Cayman Island residents can order online and quickly receive.

“I recognized Cayman Islands’ lack of online resources,” Voaden says. “There’s not that much of a selection here.”

Hailing from Canada, Albert Voaden has lived in the region for 18 years, initially working as a financial analyst for DART Enterprises and CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank. He has experience in Caymanian real estate, banking, importing, and government agency work.

When writing his CayGoods business plan, Voaden’s competitive edge involved storing most of its appliances and furniture in an island warehouse for ease of delivery. Another positive factor for Voaden? The population’s high-income levels.

“We are a fairly wealthy nation,” he says. “The average income of most people here is among the highest in the world. So that’s a big plus.”

But being a wealthy nation isn’t a walk in the park – or a sail on the Caribbean – when it comes to relying on a complex global supply chain to stay stocked. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the unpredictability has become predictable.

“Things can get lost,” Voaden explains. “I’ll find out that certain items that were supposed to be there are no longer in stock. And there are a lot of delays.”

Predicting Supply Chain Disruptions a Challenge on the Cayman Islands

As shipping companies’ capacities are stretched, there appears to be no end soon. Despite Voaden aligning with his best import partners to create a premium online shopping experience, the situation requires flexibility.

“Going into this, I thought it should be fairly straightforward if you just order something online,” Voaden says. “But a lot of follow-ups are necessary with my suppliers.”

No businessman – even an elite one like Voaden – can predict every future disruption. But he has found he can prevent some problems by keeping up with the latest developments within the shipping companies.

“There’s a lot of back and forth of finding out what is available,” Voaden says. “So, a lot of this job support has just been continuously following up with some of my key partners.”

Having capitalized on its prowess in the financial services industry, the Cayman Islands experience a continual flow of visitors seeking that expertise. Kevin Walton, deputy director of the Customs and Border Control (CBC), said in the Cayman Compass news that the islands experienced a record-making level of imports in 2020 and 2021.

Walton attributed the 2020 increase to the fact that most people could not travel as before. Before the pandemic, many Caymanians had developed a practice of purchasing goods when they traveled overseas and shipping them back to the islands. Covid-19 changed that dynamic.

Walton told the Cayman Compass that the extreme increase in imports strained resources. He explained that many first-time importers were unfamiliar with the importation process, which was a common cause of delays. Some, he added, failed to submit the Appointment of Agent Authorisation form necessary for goods to clear customs.

Albert Voaden on Navigating the Cayman Shipping Crisis

Most experts predict the shipping crisis will persist through 2022. When the International Monetary Fund downgraded its forecast for global economic growth for 2022 from 4.9 percent to 4.4 percent, it cited supply chain problems among the factors in making that decision. The owners of small Cayman Islands businesses, like CayGoods, must prepare for all outcomes. Like Albert Voaden, they must remain proactive, study the data, keep customers informed, and exercise that age-old virtue, patience.

“A lot of patience is required,” Voaden says.

A longtime financial analyst, Voaden also has 20 years of experience importing goods from North America to the Cayman Islands. When assessing market demand for products, he discovered that practicality inspired his CayGoods merchandise mix.

“Everyone needs appliances and furniture,” he says. “So, I don’t think this is a very risky industry. There’s proven demand for it.”

CayGoods sells large home goods, including sofa sets, refrigerators, lawn mowers, table sets, and electric ranges. CayGoods offers about 50 in-stock items and 220 or so that are not currently in stock but are available from a southern Florida supplier.

“If the product is in stock, we can deliver it to the customer within two business days,” Voaden says.

Shipping, labor shortages, and the coronavirus have created an atmosphere of unpredictability. Many business owners are left guessing when their merchandise might arrive. The trickle-down effects continue, and Albert Voaden is aware of them.

“I hope that shipping costs go down,” he says. “That’s an enormous cost right now.”

Even big-box retailers like Costco have sounded the alarm about escalating shipping prices, growing strongly since the autumn of 2020. The cost to ship containers overseas continues to soar.

“I think many retailers are probably having the same issue with seeing inflation, taking a hit to their margins,” Voaden says.

Being a financial analyst has its perks when introducing a new company, such as CayGoods, to the market. Voaden says that his capacity to analyze economic trends has been helpful and will continue to be so.

“It’s important to recognize changes in trends in economics,” he explains.

Maintaining a Hopeful Outlook

As rising global demand continues to be met with limited increases in shipping capacity, Voaden remains hopeful. One reason for his optimism has nothing to do with seismic global market shifts but rather a closer-to-home fact: Eventually, his start-up company will become a familiar name to shippers.

“I think that with time, and as I become more of a regular customer to some of these shipping companies, those costs will come down, and it’ll be more viable,” he says.

With flexibility and a creative mind at the helm, CayGoods will continue its route. To use a saying familiar among seafarers, “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”