Outdoor furniture sellers face a ‘hodgepodge of mess’ – Sourcing Journal
Eli Hymer knew this year would be different, but he had no idea it would be like this. The buyer of Richboro, Pa.-based outdoor furniture retailer Gasper Home and Garden expected to build on last year’s unexpected success when the Covid-19 pandemic trapped people in their homes and spurred overwhelming demand for anything home-related.
But like so many outdoor retailers who sold off much of their inventory last summer, Hymer has faced uncertainty heading into the 2021 selling season, which typically runs from March to just after the 4th of July for outdoor furniture stores. Supply chain disruptions, material shortages and shipping bottlenecks have left many outdoor retailers struggling to fill orders and find inventory.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’ve never had such a stressful year,” Hymer said. “I’m still waiting for some of my first purchases to arrive, and it’s happening in mid-June. I have pillows and cushions but no frames, and I have table tops but no legs – I have a hodgepodge of clutter.
Hymer is not alone. Outdoor retailers across the United States are facing unprecedented delays in receiving products, most of which were ordered months ago. One of the main culprits is a massive congestion of container ships traveling from places like China, Vietnam and Indonesia to California.
A recent outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Guangzhou, China, a key port for the furniture industry, has significantly slowed exports. And growing demand has created major congestion at California’s ports of Long Beach and Oakland, where ships can sit for weeks waiting their turn. And those waits represent more than just delays for retailers awaiting freight.
“Off Long Beach, there were over 44 container ships sitting there, and we had two containers on one of those ships and our duty was supposed to be $5,000,” said Doug Sanicola, owner of Outdoor Elegance in La Verne, CA “And because he was there, they overcharged us for $12,500, which was in our contract and took away all of our profit margin.”
With furniture companies facing these same increases in shipping costs – often double or even triple the usual charges – the price increases are passed on to the retailer, who then has to adjust the price for the end consumer.
“Each manufacturer gave me a supplement,” Sanicola said. “We constantly change our prices because you need to have a certain margin to keep your doors open.”
And the finished product isn’t the only thing stuck in transit. Even for domestic furniture manufacturers, some of the components used in their products are sourced from abroad. Fabric and foam shortages — partly due to Covid factory shutdowns and then the disruption of petrochemical plants during the Texas winter freeze — have made it harder to get cushions, pillows and upholstered pieces. This means retailers have received incomplete orders with no guarantee when the missing parts will arrive.
“I have a supplier whose frames arrived this week, but I have no idea when the cushions will arrive,” said Brad Schweig, vice president of operations at Sunnyland Outdoor Living, which has offices in Dallas and Frisco, Texas. “Some orders won’t be here until Christmas or next year.”
These delays have hit much of the business for independent outdoor retailers — custom orders — particularly hard. To stand out from big-box stores, independents rely on the ability to offer special orders to customers who want something different from next-door neighbors.
“Ninety percent of my stuff has always been special order,” Hymer said. “On some vendors I’ve stopped taking special orders – I had to because every time you take those orders you’re inconveniencing someone on the road.”
Another issue for many outdoor retailers, especially those located in areas with a clearly defined summer season, such as the Northeast and Midwest, is the rapid closing of the time window for sales and the supply of products to customers.
“I was able to pick up eight or 10 sets of furniture that I can lend to customers who are waiting for orders and need something now,” Hymer said. “Being in the northeast, we have a limited season. So at this point a lot of people say, “I’m going to have it delivered just to store it next year.”
And for independent retailers who pride themselves on providing exceptional customer service, it’s hard not to be able to meet their customers’ needs like they normally do.
“I spent most of my last Tuesday calming customers down,” Hymer said. “Sometimes they just want to complain, and that wears you out.”
With so much uncertainty and delays in delivery until 2022, many retailers are already worried about next season. At the recent High Point Market in North Carolina, outdoor manufacturers such as Barlow Tyrie and Woodard reported significant increases in advance purchases for the upcoming season, as well as the opening and closing of the season. advance purchase earlier than in previous years.
“I’ve never placed container orders so early,” Hymer said.
“But I have already placed orders and received a notification from a supplier today that their lead time is 24 weeks.”
While last year turned out to be a surprisingly successful season for outdoor furniture retailers and manufacturers, the effects of pandemic-induced demand continue to be felt positively and negatively. Most retailers agree that the situation will eventually balance out, especially as people start to feel more comfortable spending their disposable income on travel rather than improving their housing. But until then, most players in the outdoor furniture industry are just trying to keep their heads above water.
“I know sellers are in the same situation – nobody knows anything and things are constantly changing,” Schweig said. “It’s very difficult to run a business when you don’t know anything. I can’t tell clients, “If you wait six months, things will get better,” because I don’t know.