Shoppers looking to replace a home appliance can expect lengthy delays, as the coronavirus pandemic has tied up shipping, while manufacturers have had to reduce production.
What started in March with a run on freezers, as people looked to stock up on food while staying home, has snowballed into a situation that is seeing record high sales on products that have yet to be assembled. Some retailers in the region are saying shoppers are shocked, frustrated and, ultimately, resigned to waiting up to four months or beyond for their items. In the meantime, service calls have taken a jump as people look to have older appliances repaired.
“What we're hearing from our manufacturers is they can't find anybody to work the lines, so they're operating at 20% capacity right now,” said Andy Schneider, owner of Dakota TV and Appliance.
According to Schneider, some unions have pulled workers off those lines out of concern for coronavirus. He doesn’t blame them. Everyone, he said, needs to do what they can to take care of themselves and prevent spreading COVID-19. But the resulting situation means some orders are backed up for months.
Supplies of luxury appliances, such as Sub-Zero refrigerators, are more plentiful, but those items don’t always fit the budget or kitchen space of many consumers. Schneider told the Herald he has dozens of the standard, white, 18 cubic-foot fridges on order, and more than a thousand other items as well. It is necessary, Schneider said, to cast a wide net to get product in.
The problem isn’t limited to the region, and retailers across the nation are experiencing the same situation. Cory Rodacker, manager of Karl’s TV and Appliance in Devils Lake, said some washers and dryers are difficult to get in stock, including brands such as Whirlpool and Maytag. Rodacker also attributes the problem to reduced manufacturing.
“It's just tough getting stuff in,” he said.
Some furniture is also on back order. The length of time varies, but it can take months for a sofa to arrive, after a customer has purchased one. Availability, said Andrew Daily, manager at Slumberland Furniture, depends on the item and whether it has been deemed essential.
Mattress manufacturers, Daily told the Herald, were deemed essential producers in states that had shut downs and are reasonably available. Sofas, on the other hand, are not essential and take time to arrive in stores. Some American manufacturers had to shut down for two or three months and are that far behind in production. Things were being sold, while nothing was being made. The same goes for products made overseas --bottlenecks in international shipping are slowing those items down as well.
Daily said he is grateful for the customers who come into his store. For the most part, they have been understanding of the situation, but frustration sometimes remains.
“Definitely, (there’s) some shock when people first hear about it, but it's the way the market is right now,” Daily said. “There's just not enough supply to keep up with the demand.”
Schneider said that frustration goes both ways. It’s difficult for a business owner to tell a customer it will take time to meet their needs.
“People can live without a dishwasher but if your fridge goes down, it's a pretty integral part of housing,” he said.
The production slowdown comes at a time when sales can’t be better. Many people are either working from home or staying home and want to upgrade or undertake projects while there. In other cases, additional use means things break and need to be replaced or repaired.
Grand Forks-based appliance repair company Bud and Ralph’s has been busy making service calls. The production slowdown means new parts are taking longer to acquire. Store owner Jane Kram said her customers have been “fantastically patient” while waiting to get something repaired. That patience sometimes borders on desperation when a washer or dryer breaks, and new units are tough to come by. Reconditioned appliances, which the business also sells, have been flying out of the store.
“We just can't even keep them in here,” Kram told the Herald. “As soon as they're ready, they're gone.”