As many Mainers continue to spend more time in their homes, Lincoln County furniture retailers are seeing brisk sales of living room and patio furniture.
However, supply chain shortages are causing delays for customers as manufacturers struggle to keep up with higher demand.
Laura Sproul, of Sproul’s Furniture in Newcastle, was taken by surprise as customers began shopping at feverish speeds after the store reopened for in-person business at the end of May.
Sproul attributes many of the sales to customers’ desire for more comfortable and attractive surroundings as the coronavirus prompts many people to cancel travel plans and work from home.
“They spent enough time in their house and decided they should buy something new,” Sproul said. “If they’re going to be home, they might as well have their home look good.”
On Route 1 in Waldoboro, Wilmot Dow is general manager at family-owned Dow Furniture. The business also saw a sudden jump in demand after reopening in May.
“People are paying closer attention to what they’re living with,” Dow said. “I think it relates to people being home for a long time, and maybe receiving some of the unemployment and federal benefits.”
Dow has seen a lot of interest in living room furniture and mattresses, but at Sproul’s, outdoor furniture has been flying off the sales floor fastest.
“What people are buying is summer furniture,” Sproul said. “I think they’re entertaining outside more now.”
Sproul speculated that some customers might be more interested in investing in quality pieces now, because they’re spending less on other discretionary items, like travel or eating out.
“One woman said that she had waited years to buy a new bureau, but she felt like she deserves it now,” Sproul said.
Demand for home furnishings is outpacing supply, and both businesses are experiencing significant delays on orders.
“I think it took the stores and the manufacturers by surprise that business was going to come back this quickly,” Dow said.
Wait times at Sproul’s have jumped from between four and six weeks to between six and eight weeks. At Dow Furniture, customers who would have had to wait a week otherwise might now wait three or up to four weeks for purchases made at the showroom to arrive on their doorstep.
Many factories in the United States and China closed this spring due to the coronavirus and are still scrambling to fulfill back orders from those months.
Some upholstered products, like sofas and armchairs, as well as mattresses, are taking particularly long because the factories that usually produce the fabric have begun producing personal protective equipment instead.
“PPE is being manufactured across the country and some of that material is normally used on some of the products that we sell,” Dow said.
Customers are, for the most part, happy to wait for their purchases to arrive, but Dow Furniture has been seeking creative solutions to shorten delivery times.
“We are pivoting and looking elsewhere to find products for consumers,” Dow said. “For example, we have some Amish companies and some of them have availability.”
Both Sproul and Dow said it is too soon to make a comparison between their sales this summer and last, but Sproul said the business is “having a really good summer.”
Dow estimated that the past two months of robust business have allowed the store to recoup almost all the business it lost from the spring.
“The last two months have been extremely busy, and I’d say we’re within 10% of where we were last year,” Dow said. “Since we’ve opened, it has helped a lot.”
Sproul is grateful for the patronage, despite the frustrations caused by the delays.
“It caught me by surprise. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sproul said. “I was pleasantly surprised. I am pleasantly surprised.”