Eager furniture buyers face long delays because of supply chain issues, shortage of chemical used to make cushion foam
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The winter storms and power outages that hit Texas and Louisiana happened about two months ago. But their economic impact, particularly for the furniture industry, is still being felt greatly around the country, including in Northeast Ohio.
Texas and Louisiana house the plants that produce toluene diisocyanate (TDI), one of two main chemicals used to make furniture foam.
Because of the storms’ impact, those plants had to shut down their manufacturing process for several weeks, said John Ferrato, president of Wayside Furniture in Akron. The backup in producing TDI is one of the reasons customers have had 3-6 month wait times for furniture to arrive in store showrooms.
Furniture stores in Northeast Ohio have been managing increased demand since last May, when they re-opened after the state-ordered COVID-19 business shutdown.
“People because they couldn’t travel, they couldn’t go out to restaurants, so they’re spending their money on anything to do with the home,” Ferrato said. “So you have huge increases in demand, but then you have a decrease in production capacity, it’s a perfect storm for the whole industry.”
Furniture industry veterans Mike Dewey and Larry Weisman, who own Dewey Furniture in Vermilion and Sheraton Furniture in Willoughby, respectively, have never seen demand for furniture at this level.
A third-generation furniture retailer, Dewey has owned his store for 30 years, and he hopes people continue to put money into their homes after the pandemic. Weisman’s family started the business 60 years ago, and he’s been there 40 years.
“This has been outrageous,” Weisman said. “I mean thank God, it’s been fantastic, but never seen anything close to this.”
As a steady volume of customers purchase furniture, Ferrato and other store leaders have had to make sure they’re transparent with folks about wait times. Ferrato said 3-6 month waits are the most common, but some factories are quoting 8-9 month wait times for product.
These longer wait times, though, are for furniture that is coming on special order, meaning it’s something different than what Ferrato has in stock. Ferrato said if someone came to his store, probably about 80% of what’s on his floor could be picked up that same day or be delivered in a week.
“It’s just that if you see it, and if it’s in blue and you want it in brown, instead of our normal six to 10 weeks, we’re telling you three to six months,” Ferrato said.
At Fish Furniture, 95% of its business consists of products coming on special order, said owner Dan Geller. Geller said most customers know that unless they’re buying a floor sample, they’ll have to wait. Fish Furniture has offered customers loaner furniture to use until their pieces come in.
“Consumers, you can get what you want, and there’s plenty of merchants in Cleveland to do it, but you just have to realize you’re going to wait longer than normal,” Geller said.
Geller said he knows the TDI backup will be resolved within the next 3-4 months because the plants are moving from two shifts to three and will have the workers.
The TDI backup isn’t the only wrinkle in the tangled supply chain, though. A lack of truck drivers and warehouse workers has contributed to the delays as well. Ferrato said the driver shortage had been happening for several years before COVID, but with the recent shortage in warehouse workers, that’s created a deeper problem.
“Even if you have a truck available, if you don’t have somebody in the warehouse to drive a picker to go pull the goods out of the racks and then load them on the trucks, that’s another issue,” Ferrato said.
Containers and boats to ship product from overseas are also in short supply because of the huge amount of demand. Ferrato said product could be sitting in a factory overseas for months because it can’t get onto a ship.
But then when it does get onto a ship and reaches Los Angeles ports or the East Coast, docks are overrun and boats “could literally sit out on the water for weeks on end,” Ferrato said. Some of the backup at the docks is also caused by a lack of workers there.
“You could actually look at a live video outside of Los Angeles any time you want and you’ll see up to 30 boats basically driving around the Pacific Ocean waiting to get a dock appointment because there’s just so much coming in,” Ferrato said.
Geller and other furniture owners think the current demand will continue into the next few months, around the summer or early fall when most people will likely be vaccinated and want to return to going on vacations and eating out. They’ll be spending money on other things again, and furniture sales should return to what stores typically deal with.
But the supply chain issues could cause problems for the furniture industry for an extended period of time. Geller thinks it will take another year for the supply chain to return to normal. Weisman agrees and is hoping next year things will be back to normal.
He advises that if someone wants a special order piece of furniture for Christmas, that they make the order by May.
“I think the supply chain is so burnt out that it may take months for the furniture industry to get out of this thing,” Weisman said.