Every appliance in Debbie Mason’s new house is a KitchenAid – except her refrigerator.
Mason moved into her home May 7, with appliances by KitchenAid outfitting her new house in Sarasota’s Palmer Ranch neighborhood through her builder. But after she was told she was on her own to get a refrigerator, she visited an appliance store on Bee Ridge Road, where she was told that if she wanted a KitchenAid, she would have to wait.
“The salesperson said, ‘to tell you the truth, I can get you the same brand, but I have people who ordered it in October and November and they still haven’t gotten it.’ This was January or February,” Mason said.
And it wasn’t just the fridge that she’d have to wait for. Mason waited until late May for a living room hutch ordered in January. She waited three weeks for a technician to pave the area around her pool. And as of June 3, she was still waiting for leather chairs for the living room, which were ordered at least four months earlier.
“My builder was telling me about neighbors in my new community that have been on lawn chairs in their living rooms since October,” Mason said. “I feel lucky I have couches to sit on, I just don’t have the chairs I ordered. I’m trying to be grateful for what I have.”
Mason’s not the only customer who’s had to wait longer than expected to complete their home’s set-up. Demand for furniture and new household appliances is high in the pandemic economic rebound, and COVID-related manufacturing shutdowns are a big reason why.
In Sarasota, furniture suppliers are experiencing unprecedented delays in getting products into the living and dining rooms of their clients. Some local thrift stores are having a hard time keeping furniture on the floor because it’s selling so quickly. And other businesses chalk up their delivery delays not only to global supply chain issues but also to a cargo shortage that’s making delivering finished product virtually impossible.
The causes of furniture, appliance shortage
The furniture and appliance shortage is a multi-faceted issue. For one, factories were shut down because of COVID-19 and weather, leading to a deficiency of the materials they produce. For example, the freezes in Texas earlier this year caused a shutdown of factories that make chemicals found in foam, although some retailers said the foam issue has improved a bit from a peak earlier this year.
“Furniture manufacturers were rationed as to how much foam they could get, and they had their hands tied,” Nicole Sadez Bobek of International Design Source in Naples and Sarasota said. “They were getting all these orders, but they had no material to build them with.”
Labor is also an issue. The U.S. is currently experiencing a worker shortage – there are more jobs than people who want to fill them – and that’s leading to a slowdown in deliveries of pretty much everything. COVID outbreaks at factories also led to temporary operational shutdowns.
“If the worker standing next to you got COVID, and you were standing next to her, both of you have to go home. This has caused a huge problem with labor,” Holly Dennis, an interior designer based in Sarasota, said.
There’s also the remote work factor, a driver of demand for new furniture and appliances. People who worked from their dining room tables for months wanted actual office furniture. On top of that, they may have been inclined to spend the money they weren’t using for travel to upgrade their decor.
Sales at furniture stores reached $11.9 billion in April, according to non-adjusted data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Furniture store sales were about $45 billion in the first four months of 2020, an increase of 45% over the same period last year.
All of this has resulted in months-long delivery hold ups from major retailers like La-Z-Boy, which as of February was experiencing “unprecedented” delivery delays of five to nine months, CEO Kurt Darrow said.
“The good part is demand is through the roof. The bad part is you can’t get the supply,” Stephany Richmond, co-owner of Sarasota-based Furniture Warehouse, said. “People were flush with cash staying at home and not traveling – it’s the perfect storm for high demand.”
For Home Resource, the luxury furniture store in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, the issue isn’t as much with production as it is with cargo.
Factories in Germany and Italy that produce the furniture Home Resource sells haven’t had as many issues with the supply chain, mostly because they’re able to use the weight of big, high-end brand names like Rolf Benz and Cassina to get to the front of the line, co-owner Michael Bush said. The problem comes with access to shipping containers – items that usually take a month to arrive are now taking two and a half months.
“It’s so essential to communicate with customers so they understand this is not a normal market,” Bush said.
Dennis, the interior designer, said that the red-hot real estate market is also pushing furniture sales. The influx of new people moving to the Sarasota area and across Florida has created a huge demand for home furnishings and appliances. Dennis said half of her workload is for new home construction, which is much higher than usual.
Dennis said that as much as she tries to circumvent the material shortage wherever she can, it’s not easy. Customers just have to wait, she said. Most companies that have headquarters in the U.S. still manufacture their goods overseas.
“It’s kind of like walking into a Target and trying to avoid stuff that says ‘made in China’ – it’s impossible,” she said.
Waiting game for customers
Raquel Carlson of Sarasota chose a different colored La-Z-Boy piece to eliminate a six- to eight-month wait. Jo Mooy had a similar issue – she chose the one color Baer’s Furniture had in stock to avoid waiting six months.
Lauren Herriges ordered a leather couch from Kane’s Furniture in mid-October. She was told it would arrive the first week of December, but it didn’t come in until the beginning of April.
Mason eventually bought a Bosch refrigerator. Even though it’s inconsistent with the rest of her appliances, it turns out she loves it. And in her professional capacity as executive director of the Sarasota-based Tidewell Foundation, she has also seen firsthand how high furniture demand has impacted thrift stores.
Tidewell Treasures, the Venice thrift store that directly benefits the Tidewell Foundation, can’t keep furniture on the floor, Mason said. Usually, stuff sits until the right buyer comes along, but now, store manager Deborah Kenny is constantly on the lookout for new things to bring in, Mason said.
“It’s a good problem to have, but on other hand, some people are holding onto furniture for longer. People are hanging on to what they have until they know new stuff is being delivered,” she said.
At Furniture Warehouse, 95% of product is usually delivered by the next day. These days, Richmond said, it’s about 60-70%. They’re also getting about 25% of what they usually do, supply-wise – a normal shipment of 100 mattresses now yields just 25.
Even though the delays can be frustrating for customers, Richmond said she advises her customers to stay in line, rather than opt out in hopes wait time elsewhere will be shorter.
But customers seem to have gotten used to this version of the new normal.
“I think today most customers understand that they used to say, ‘let me see what I want’ and now they say, ‘let me see what you have in stock,'” Richmond said.
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