Foam Shortages, Price Hikes Rock Furniture and Bedding Biz

Last month’s deep freeze in the deep South froze foam component facilities.

By Alan Wolf, YSN

Just when the home furnishings supply chain was finding its footing, Mother Nature interceded once again.

As the COVID-19 freeze on raw materials and finished products finally began to thaw, last month’s spate of severe winter weather in the South and Northeast disrupted transportation and halted production of foam, a core component of mattress and upholstery products.

As a result, manufacturers and their retail partners are now facing additional supply disruptions and shipping delays. And the cumulative effect of COVID, container constraints, rising transportation costs, and now a foam shortage has stoked a second round of vendor price hikes.

The industry’s latest setback stems from February’s deep freeze, which shut down the Gulf Coast refineries that produce the petrochemical constituents of foam. “This is going to create massive problems,” said Seth Weisblatt, BrandSource’s home furnishings merchandising director, of the cascading supply chain constraints.

Indeed, the raw materials cut-off compelled chemical producers and foam suppliers to invoke force majeure, which allows companies to temporarily suspend contractual obligations due to unforeseeable circumstances, in this case the weather. In turn, even major furniture and bedding manufacturers have been put on foam allocation, which will add to shipping delays and an existing backlog of orders.

“We are working closely with our vendor partners to minimize the impact on supply,” wrote Ashley Furniture Industries’ strategic sales chief John Mask in a letter to retailers. “However, we do anticipate some disruptions in the month of March that could limit our U.S. upholstery and bedding production.”

Smaller, more nimble manufacturers, like bedding producer Therapedic International, are scrambling for alternate sources and materials. “We’re talking to cotton and fiber people,” CEO Gerry Borreginne told industry authority Home News Now. “We’re even talking to overseas foam makers to get us through this. We’re doing a little bit of everything to try to fulfill all the orders in-house and not disrupt that supply chain to the dealer.”

But Mississippi-based upholstery producer HomeStretch, itself hobbled by the winter storm, is quoting July and August deliveries on new retail orders, Home News Now reported. “(This) was exactly what we do not need,” president Skipper Holliman told the news site.

Similarly, bad weather forced store closures for fellow Mississippian and BrandSource member Miskelly Furniture, which cancelled its Presidents’ Day promotion. Fortunately, the company has been aggressively laying in inventory and is coming off a strong start to the year, executive Alan Vonder Haar told Home News Now, so the impact of shortages and shutdowns has been minimal. But what effect storm-related water outages in Miskelly’s hometown of Jackson will have on the business remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are passing through a winter round of price increases — the second since last fall — citing costly disruptions from the pandemic and now the foam fiasco. And BrandSource’s Weisblatt believes there’s still more to come.

“Retailers have to start taking price increases,” he told YSN, pointing to “an unprecedented level” of wholesale pricing volatility that’s expected throughout the year.

“Don’t be shy,” he implored members in a recent BrandSource Furniture Update. “There should be little push-back from a consumer” when inventory is scarce. “Take the margin and the price increase when and where you can.”

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, furniture, mattress and CE dealers.