Supply Chain Choking Amish Craftsmen Too

Bottlenecks are reaching down into rural America

By Andy Kriege, YSN

Supply chain issues in the global furniture market have reached all the way down to domestically produced furniture that’s handmade by Amish craftsman.

These pieces, typically produced in small workshops in rural America, would seemingly be immune to shipping logjams at the ports or COVID lockdowns halfway around the world. Not so. The result is longer lead times and higher prices on all sorts of domestically made handcrafted items one would assume would not be subject to the vicissitudes of the global supply chain meltdown.

A story earlier this week in “The Wall Street Journal” outlines the challenges facing retailers who sell Amish-made goods. The article notes that while the major components of these pieces are produced primarily with locally sourced lumber, the furniture includes parts like knobs, pulls and slides that are imported from Asia and Europe and are caught up in the supply chain mess affecting imported goods from around the world.

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Even old-world Amish craftsman rely on components shipped from overseas.

The fact that these problems exist with Amish furniture vendors, who work within a seemingly pared-down domestic supply chain, suggests how deeply embedded global sourcing has become in manufacturing. The issues for Amish furniture shops and sellers of their goods highlight the challenges companies face in trying to be more resilient to global disruptions by bringing production closer to home.

We reached out to BrandSource member Spencer Thompson of Thompson Furniture in Columbus, Ind., to get his take on the situation. “I think the Amish are in the same boat as every other domestic supplier,” he told YSN. “Not only do they rely on imported components, but they have also benefitted from strong sales in recent months, and the increased demand has added to the delays in manufacturing.”

Thomson said his store carries a few Amish brands and lead times for all of them are at least double the norm, while prices have soared 20 to 30 percent . “The longer lead times and higher prices are no different than our other domestic manufacturers,” he said.

Spencer Thompson of Thompson Furniture carries several Amish-made furniture lines.

Thompson added that the lead times quoted for domestic brands are much more accurate compared to estimates on imported products. “Lead times are crazy-long, but we are confident we can advise our customers of accurate delivery dates,” he said. “When they agree to the delay at the time of sale it makes it much easier on everyone. With the imported brands, it is difficult pin that down with your customers. I see dates changing constantly; most are longer than the original quote.”

In what is effectively a one-two punch for retailers, manufactures are passing on rising, inflation-induced costs for basic materials on top of higher transportation costs coupled with production delays. Adding more fuel to the fire, lumber prices have fluctuated wildly over the past two years at the same time that demand for furniture has soared, stretching capacity at sawmills and triggering supply shortfalls and higher costs.

The U.S furniture industry epitomizes the impact that the globalization of American supply chains has had over the past two decades. As noted in the WSJ story, less than half of the wood furniture sold in the U.S. in 2002 was imported, but that figure rose to 86 percent by 2020, with China supplying more than a third. The rising shift has left us more vulnerable than ever to an increasingly fragile global supply chain.

The key takeaway here is that while furniture importers continue to be increasingly vulnerable to supply chain disruptions, domestic manufactures are not immune either. Virtually all domestically produced furniture has at least some sourced components that are caught up in the same bottlenecks affecting the overseas vendors.

Thompson summed it up by noting that all furniture suppliers are dealing with delays and higher freight charges that are being passed on to retailers, who in turn need to pass them on to consumers. “This is not over, and I don’t see an end in sight,” he said. “We just need to stay patient and expect that those we rely on are doing everything they can. That’s all we can do.”

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