Desperate for a new sofa? Or chairs? Or practically any kind of home goods? Then you are right in step with the rest of America. The ongoing pandemic has some people spending more time in their homes than ever before. And after staring at furniture that’s seen better days, many people want something new and fresh.
But they might have to wait as long as a year to get it, and industry insiders don’t expect the situation to improve in the near future. Some think 2023 may prove better, but nobody can really be sure.
The good news is that the design industry, including local businesses, is coming up with creative workarounds, and furniture customers are departing from instant gratification expectations.
Wendy Dowling, interior designer and owner of Bed & Bath Affair, Lancaster, reports waiting times on upholstered items of nine to 12 months.
“And here we aren’t even talking imports,” she says. “The materials we use come mostly from Southern states, and the problem is that people didn’t return to work after the lockdowns ended. I understand how frustrated my clients are when they learn how long it’ll be until that new furniture is delivered. … Fortunately, though, our clients are proving exceptionally patient. Many have been with us for years and trust us to do our best.”
David Lyall, who owns a custom furniture and interior design showroom in Lancaster city, agrees with Dowling.
“We, too, find our clients very understanding after we explain the long waits,” he says. “Yes, they could probably get a sofa or recliner right away if any beige version would do. There is still stock out there from before the pandemic.”
But many people want something beyond the beige, and special orders take time.
“Custom design always takes longer than buying something right off the showroom floor, and people know that. Of course, their first reaction is dismay when they’re told of current wait times, but then they accept that it’s better to wait than settle for something they’ll probably end up hating.”
Working around shortages
What do designers suggest for those of us hoping to get around supply chain delays?
Todd Lehman, president of Interiors Home in Lancaster and Camp Hill, suggests buying items right off the showroom floor.
“Thanks to great relationships with vendors, we’ve got quite a bit of stock,” he says. “But — as in practically every category these days — grab it if you see something you need and like. Don’t wait, or it’ll be gone.”
Last year, Interiors Home was named Retailer of the Year by the National Home Furnishings Association, beating out 7,000 stores nationally. Furniture samples in stock go beyond the standard beige or black leather sofa or recliner. Brand names include Stickley, Hooker, Serta, Flexsteel and EKornes.
Lehman also recommends looking to local and regional craftsmen to shave time off delays. Interiors Home, for example, looks to Amish craftspeople for quality case goods.
Buying used furnishings is another option, and auction houses and consignment shops report brisk sales. Karl Boltz of Boltz Auction Co., Lancaster, says that midcentury modern, especially, sells like hotcakes.
“But practically everything for the home is in demand,” Boltz says. “To make the process easier, we have started a match-up service. For example, we will call somebody, who has expressed interest in a certain type of rug, when we have a match.”
However, used sofas and chairs might need reupholstering, and designers warn that they could end up costing as much as new ones. Also, upholsterers are beleaguered with work, resulting in long waits.
But vintage wood furniture, whether bought at auctions, consignment shops or sites like Etsy, 1stdibs and Chairish, is often of excellent quality and retains its value. When buying online, though, insist that the sellers provide plenty of pictures from all angles to make sure there is no damage.
A perfect storm
So how did the home furnishings industry wind up in such dire straits? Lehman calls it a perfect storm. It all started with skyrocketing demands for home goods, he says. People wanted something new, and while the pandemic caused financial hardships for some households, others had a surplus of discretionary income due to the lack of recreational activity, plus government-provided stimulus checks.
At the same time many of the Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai factories producing wood case goods, such as bedroom and dining room sets, were hit hard by COVID-19 and closed down, Lehman says. Upholstered furnishings and textiles coming from India and Italy became hard to get, too, because of COVID-19 closing down factories and mills. Adding to the furniture industry’s woes were winter storms in Texas and Louisiana, which shut down two major factories that manufacture chemicals used to make foam padding for sofas and chairs, Slate reported. Production still hasn’t caught up.
Then there are those clogged West Coast ports with container ships lined up for miles, and when they finally get in, they can’t unload. There aren’t enough crane operators.
Trucking is a problem as well. The American Trucking Associations estimates the U.S. is short about 80,000 drivers right now, and fears that figure could double by 2030. (But, as LNP | LancasterOnline reported earlier this week, Lancaster has a higher concentration of truckers than other parts of the country. Read more at lanc.news/trucking22.)
The home goods industry is trying to cope with the national trucking shortage by using smaller trucks exempt from regulations, and some retailers may try to source goods requiring the shortest amount of trucking. Some U.S. companies are starting factories just over the border in Mexico, and The New York Times reported that business is booming for North Carolina furniture factories, giving them a shot at recouping business once lost from globalization. But those factories are also hit hard by labor shortages, complicating their efforts.
“One problem arising from all of this is pricing uncertainty,” Lehman notes. “Normally the turnaround shipping costs from Asia have been $1,500 to $2,000. Now they are $20,000. Shipping is virtually holding importers hostage.”