We’ve heard the horror stories of appliance woes caused by supply chain issues: A beautiful new or recently-remodeled kitchen is near completion, but the would-be happy homeowners (or contractors) are waiting for that last piece of the kitchen appliance package – a specialty wall oven, the matching fridge or the must-have microwave – and it’s still not available. They’ve been waiting for weeks, months or, in the worst case scenarios, a year or more.
It’s caused countless construction delays, a handful of hideous online reviews, desperate delivery of loaner appliances and understandably unhappy clients.
Not only are these scenarios infuriating for customers, they cause much consternation at the store level as well. But why are there shortages in the first place?
“We understand it’s frustrating,” says Mahlander’s appliance sales co-manager Homer Hales. “Trust us, everyone in the supply chain – from the manufacturers to their sales reps to Mahlander’s and your sales rep here – wants you to have your appliances ASAP. None of us enjoy having unhappy clients!”
So what exactly is causing the shortages and why are we still dealing with them? The answer is complicated and multi-faceted. It’s also somewhat of a “perfect storm”, sparked by the pandemic during the spring of 2020. Many appliance companies keep minimal inventory on hand, and they were hit hard and early. Others, like Mahlander’s, maintain a fair amount of top-selling models on hand, but soon that supply waned as well. Due to worker shortages and factory closures (in the US and overseas), the supply of products dwindled.
During those early months, the hottest items around were freezers. People were buying food in bulk – sides of beef, whole hogs, etc. – and storing them properly was high on the priority list for many. For weeks, it was nearly impossible to keep deep freeze units in stock. Most were sold before they even arrived at Mahlander’s Sioux Falls warehouse.
Short on Components
Many manufacturers are facing shortages on the basic raw materials used to build their products. In most cases, manufacturing parts are ordered based on sales projections a year in advance, thus there were simply not enough parts on order to build enough products in the first place. Combine that with the pandemic-induced shortages, and there are serious issues.
Early on, compressors were difficult to obtain. Now, the needle-in-a-haystack part is computer chips. The same chips are used in everything from Ford F-150’s to fridges, and that means demand is high. And supplies are scarce.
When the materials to build an appliance are available, manufacturers tend to use them for the more profitable products. For example, they may choose to use them for French door refrigerators instead of a less-expensive top-mount fridge because they’ll get more bang for their buck. That means the base model of many appliances may not be readily available, causing more demand for the higher-end items simply due to supply. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
Now, demand for other appliances has increased as people are building, remodeling or upgrading their kitchens and laundry areas.
“Demand for products has doubled or tripled during the pandemic,” Hales points out, citing the large number of workers being at home doing projects during the shutdown, stimulus checks giving people more cash to put toward home improvements and the low interest rates available for projects.
It boils down to simple math: increased demand plus fewer available products equals shortages. As such, some appliances are very hard to come by. Nationwide, retailers are reporting shortages on grills, 33- and 36-inch top-mount refrigerators and certain makes/models of washers and dryers.
Backlog of backorders
Customers who ordered items before or early on in the pandemic (and even more recently) are waiting for backorders. Filling those orders means those parts aren’t available for new orders. Distributors and retailers are at the mercy of the manufacturers in such instances. Manufacturers keep the retailers abreast of new estimated times of arrival (ETAs), but they have proven to be, at best, just estimates and continually changing. Mahlander’s General Manager Jason Miersma finds that to be the issue which causes customers – and staff – the most frustration.
“We are as frustrated as they are with the delays and constant changing of dates. We would love nothing more than to get their product here and delivered so that they can enjoy it!” he says.
Once the parts are obtained and the products are assembled, tested and ready for delivery, there’s another roadblock: transportation, by land and by sea. From crowded ports to a heavy trucking workload, the parts – as well as the completed products – are moving very slowly.
Consider a vendor who sources a part for a wall oven overseas: They wait for the part to arrive in the United States, make its way to their factory, go through their production and quality assurance process, and then travel to its destination. Sometimes, items ship straight from the manufacturer to a retailer and other times, there’s a distributor in the mix. All of that travel requires logistics, manpower and time.
So, what can you do?
It’s absolutely possible to get the kitchen (or laundry room, man cave or outdoor kitchen!) of your dreams – even amid all of these issues. Here are a few tips to consider when shopping for new appliances.
According to both Mahlander’s staff and experts nation-wide, the best bet for getting a matching suite of appliances is being flexible. If a certain brand or model has a long or indefinite wait time, be willing to look at similar offerings that are more readily-available.
Appliance professionals – like ours with decades of experience among them – are well-versed in the lines they carry and are able to guide clients to the models that will fit their needs. Perhaps a different model in the same series would work as far as finish and features. Or maybe there’s a dishwasher with a different handle style in stock that would work instead of its special-order counterpart.
“If (customers) are willing to look at different options/features, we will gladly lead them to the appliances that will be more readily available,” says Miersma.
It is paramount to order as early as you possibly can. Of course, if your range goes on the fritz and you need a replacement yesterday, that isn’t possible. (See above regarding flexibility!)
But, when you know a project is in the works, plan accordingly – even if it seems way too early to do so.
“Plan way ahead and order ASAP. Instead of weeks to get products, it takes months. In certain instances, it can even take up to two years to get certain models,” Hales advises.
Our appliance team is ensuring customers understand that longer-than-usual wait times are inevitable for items that are not in stock. If clients have their heart set on a certain brand, finish or model number, there will be a significant wait.
It’s helpful if you have a clear idea of what you want as far as form and function when you first visit with sales staff. A list of must-have features and clippings or images of the look or finishes you have in mind make it easier for sales staff to guide you to items that will suit your needs and are available in a more timely manner.
Also, if you have questions and concerns about your order or backordered items, contact store staff. They will do their best to find the most up-to-date information about your products.
With some forethought, flexibility, patience and our helpful sales staff, the supply chain issues can be navigated – and you can still end up with the kitchen of your dreams!
Danny Moizel, CEO of Utopia Development and a construction industry veteran with more than 35 years of experience, sums it up best in a recent blog for Bosch:
“We all know that global supply chain challenges during the pandemic have had a tremendous impact on the construction industry. To help mitigate these issues, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead. Pre-order anything you can in advance in case there are any delays. The more you can identify what materials, fixtures, and appliances you need as early as possible in the process, even if your construction will begin down the road, the better off you’ll be. A successful project is determined by material availability and these supply chain challenges don’t appear to be going away, so it’s important to get ahead of it.”
When you decide it’s time to start planning your kitchen or laundry remodel, be sure to check with our experienced staff. They will be happy to guide you through the selection process and find you the appliance suite that suits your needs in the most efficient time frame possible.