Nfld. & Labrador

Furniture stores have no shortage of customers. The same can't be said for the appliances

With their supply chain interrupted by the pandemic, and customers opening their wallets for things like freezers and washers and dryers, furniture stores in the St. John's are struggling to keep up.

With the pandemic hobbling manufacturers, wait times grow for items like freezers and laundry appliances

Sold signs are not hard to find at Atlantic Home Furnishings Limited in Mount Pearl, where the limited number of products — especially appliances — that are in stock are flying out the doors. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

With their supply chain interrupted by the pandemic — and an unusually large number of customers eager to open their wallets for things like freezers, washers and dryers — furniture stores in the St. John's area are struggling to keep up.

"People are coming in. We have lineups at the store. It's been great," said Dan Mercer, appliance manager at Atlantic Home Furnishings in Mount Pearl.

But while there's no shortage of customers — many of them turning their attention to their homes as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on — the same can't be said for appliances.

"I've got containers of product on order of the basic products; I don't know when I'm going to see it. There's no ETA on it," added Mercer.

"The supply and demand chain has actually switched. There's more demand for product than it is supply."

That's bad news for people like Maxine Tucker, a decorator for the annual dream home lottery organized by the N.L. chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.

Dan Mercer is the appliance manager at Atlantic Home Furnishings in Mount Pearl. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

She's decorated two dozen dream homes over the years, spending about $40,000 each time on everything from rugs and lamps to ovens to bedroom and living room suites. Every product that goes into the dream home is of the best quality.

But her visit to Cohen's Home Furnishings in St. John's on Friday was an exercise in frustration.

"Usually we come in and the product is available immediately. Now there's quite a wait," she said.

"Right now we are very limited to the amount of stock that's here. We're very limited to the appliances."

While inventories are slowly recovering, shoppers have struggled to find appliances like washers and dryers and freezers in recent months. That's because the global pandemic interrupted the supply chain, and the demand for such products spiked. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The dream home has to be ready for this fall, when tickets go on sale, and Tucker is crossing her fingers that she'll accomplish her mission.

"Hopefully we'll meet our goal. If not I'm in trouble. The appliance people are really going out of their way to get us the product that we need. If not they're substituting."

Factories slowing ramping up production

It's a perfect storm for those in the furniture and flooring business.

Beginning in March, the pandemic forced the closure of factories throughout the world, and most furniture stores in this province either closed their doors completely, or scrambled to offer online services and things like curbside pickup.

Maxine Tucker, decorator for the N.L. Canadian Hard of Hearing Association dream home lottery, has struggled this year to find furniture for the home. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Around the same time, there was an unprecedented run on items like freezers as people began stocking up on food supplies, and washers and dryers became hot commodities because of the increased emphasis on sanitization in this new era of COVID-19.

With public health measures slowly being relaxed, the industry is slowly coming back online, but things are far from normal.

While Cohen's has been receiving shipments, and can meet the needs of most customers, "it's been difficult obtaining inventory from our suppliers," said Kim Dwyer, who sources appliances, electronics and flooring for Cohen's, which operates 13 stores throughout the province.

One of the products in short supply at places like Atlantic Home Furnishings in Mount Pearl is freezers. A small shipment arrived last week that was ordered in April, and they were quickly sold, says the manager. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

With shoppers eager to part with their money after months of being asked to shelter in their homes, appliance specialists like Mercer and Dwyer can only shake their heads at the unprecedented scenario.

"We've been extremely busy," said Dwyer.

"I think what's happened is that customers are at home more so they're wanting to change things at home like furnishings and appliances and flooring, so we've had an influx of people interested in purchasing new things for their home."

'I haven't seen anything like it before'

"I haven't seen anything like it before," added Mercer, who's been in the furniture sales business for 25 years.

Mercer took receipt of eight new upright freezers on Thursday. What's unique about that? Well, they were ordered in April. And they were all gone by Friday afternoon.

"It's the same with washers. I had a shipment in (Wednesday). They'll be gone by the end of the weekend. It's impossible to get the product," he said.

Kim Dwyer, the buyer for appliances, electronics and flooring at Cohen's Home Furnishings, says it's been challenging to access products with the pandemic interrupting the supply chain while demand picks up. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

With shipments from factories throughout North America and around the world gradually increasing, the situation is slowly improving. But anyone looking to purchase a new freezer to preserve their fall berries or codfish from the recreational fishery might be out of luck. 

Those looking for that special model of washer and dryer might have to lower their expectations and go with another option.

Erika Barrow-Barmak buys furniture and bedding for Cohen's Home Furnishings. While it's been a struggle to acquire inventory since the pandemic upended the supply chain, she says prices have so far remained stable. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

That's because wait times that used to be four to six weeks have now grown to eight to 12 weeks. For for those really special orders, it could be months before it arrives.

Thankfully, prices have remained stable, said Erika Barrow-Barmak, who buys furniture and bedding for Cohen's.

"We don't know exactly what is going to come down the pike, especially as maybe some supplies are harder to source and find. But as of right now we are very lucky that we have not had to absorb any extra costs and pass that on to the customer," said Barrow-Barmak.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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