Nationwide Foam Shortages Impact the Furniture Industry
In the last year, our production lead times have doubled. In February of 2020, we were churning out pieces steadily in 8 weeks – our longtime average – but at the time of this writing we are averaging 16 weeks of production. Turns out, the far-reaching effects of COVID-19 affected furniture manufacturing, too.
We aren’t alone. Larger manufacturers than us have been reporting lead times of more than 9 months to a year ! In fact, being small may be our strength here, allowing us to pivot and react more quickly to issues as they arise.
So, what’s going on? What does the COVID-19 pandemic have to do with the furniture industry?
A Force Majeure
Maybe you have come across a force majeure clause when reading your home owner’s insurance policy, described as “an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled.” This might include war, extreme weather, or labor stoppages. It sounds ominous and gives one the sense of helplessness, but how often does it realistically come into play? You certainly wouldn’t expect it to impact you when purchasing furniture but alas, here we are. Here’s why you’re seeing increased lead times all across the furniture industry:
FOAM SHORTAGES NATIONWIDE
Mother Nature has dished up her fair share of chaos. Foam supply chain issues were first experienced in the fall of 2020 but quickly worsened. In early February 2021, Texas and Louisiana were paralyzed with an historic ice storm. Texas and Louisiana are home to the only five petrochemical plants in North America that make propylene oxide – a major ingredient for foam. The result? Mattress, furniture, and car companies are all struggling to get enough foam. In fact, we are only being allocated 25% of what we order, so orders are taking much longer to fulfill as we wait for foam to come in. Below see recent photos of orders that are mostly done, but still need that crucial foam.
COVID-19 POLICY CHANGES
There have been several impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic in manufacturing.
- As manufacturers adopt new safety and distancing policies, fewer workers and reduced hours mean decreased production. Sometimes a leather tannery or fabric factory will shut down due to COVID-19 infections.
- We share some overlap of supplies with PPE (personal protection equipment), including our black fabric we use under our sofas.
- The more time folks spent at home on those uncomfortable couches, the more they wanted a quality made piece from us. We suspect an increased demand from people being home more and not spending money on vacations. This boom is being felt all across the home improvement industry; from dishwashers to lumber – demand is UP and supply is DOWN. There is no sign of this slowing.
Next up on this Tour de Delays is the unfortunate Suez Canal Blockage. Whether it was human error, which is most likely, or the combination of a sand storm and high winds, The Ever Given had the world’s attention this past spring as it sat wedged in the shoreline. “There she stayed for six days, plugging a thoroughfare that carries more than 10% of global shipping every day, in an industry that transports 90% of global trade. The general public suddenly noticed that ships were quite important after all, and that hardly anything travels by plane.” wrote Rose George for The Guardian’s “Wind … or worse: was pilot error to blame for the Suez blockage?
There are a few other factors adding to unpredictable lead times for our supply chains. Perhaps you have viewed news headlines on the backups of ships waiting a month or more to unload cargo at our US seaports. Our international shipping options are similarly strangled due to fewer planes flying. This means less of a chance for cheap air cargo and expedited shipping options to counteract these delays.
At COCOCO, we want to set realistic expectations and clearly communicate our desire to create for you a unique piece of furniture in a timely manner. We are working hard to ensure that our pieces continue to move from frame production, cut-and-sew, and upholstery, even if they have to wait to be filled with that elusive foam.
We hope to see the current situation began to resolve itself as the year progresses. We know our furniture is worth the wait, and we think you will too.