KENNEDY: Home furnishings in high demand

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Daughter No. 2 and her new husband are slowly furnishing their new suburban Boston home – the operative word being slowly.

A sectional sofa took two months from order to delivery last fall. An unrelated special-order ottoman, purchased in November, originally had an April arrival date that now has been pushed to June. A bedroom set bought this month could be at the door, fingers crossed, in six weeks. 

Like many consumers, they got caught in the odd pandemic phenomenon of high home-furnishings demand amid low retail inventories.

The latest government data quantify the buying surge: close to $11 billion in estimated U.S. sales at furniture and home furnishings stores in February versus just over $10 billion for the same month last year. And estimated sales were even higher in January, at $11.5 billion.

Manufacturers and sellers are scrambling to meet the demand, but like the rest of us, they had to hunker down in the early days of the pandemic. Neither furniture making nor retailing was deemed an essential business, so plants and stores closed for a couple of months last year.

When they reopened, retailing was by appointment, and manufacturing was at the mercy of COVID-disrupted supply chains and worker quarantines.

“[A]ll the little hiccups we’ve had with parts and people and COVID … Individually, any one of them is not that significant and could be overcome, but when you get them coming at you from six or seven different directions, the magnitude of it all adds up,” Kurt Darrow, CEO of La-Z-Boy Inc. told analysts on a conference call in February.

He estimated the disruptions cost the publicly traded manufacturer and retailer of branded recliners and other residential furniture some $30 million in lost business in the fiscal third quarter that ended in January.

Written orders at La-Z-Boy’s retail stores were up, though, compared to a year earlier, even with delivery lead times that Darrow put at an “unprecedented” five to nine months.

He said the company, with five U.S. manufacturing plants and three in Mexico, continued to add shifts and workers where possible to meet the demand.

Similarly, Ethan Allen Interiors, another publicly traded furniture manufacturer-retailer with a Capital Region showroom, expects it could take until early summer to catch up with orders.

“Consumer demand continues to outpace product availability even as manufacturing capacity increases,” the company said in late January in releasing fiscal second-quarter results.

Ethan Allen has six U.S. manufacturing plants, two in Mexico and one in Honduras.

CEO Farooq Kathwari cited “increased consumer focus on the home” and the company’s “well-known and desired” brand as the reasons behind the higher demand.

Last week, in previewing third-quarter results due for release April 29, Kathwari said written orders continued strong, and that attention “remains on increasing our production to deliver the large backlog.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Business

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