In-Depth: US furniture stores face foam shortage

Supply issues cause delivery delays
Posted at 6:16 AM, Jul 27, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Industry experts say a foam shortage wreaked havoc on the furniture and mattress industry, and it likely won't end for months.

Speaking with ABC 10News, Russ Batson, the Executive Director of the Polyurethane Foam Association, says he doesn't expect supply levels to normalize until the holiday shopping season.

"It's a really unfortunate confluence of factors," Batson says.

The shortage has been going on for months, with no single reason to blame.

When the pandemic started, industry experts had to guess what would happen to demand. They thought demand would go down as people stayed home. Because of that, the industry, which uses a "just in time delivery" model for production, cut back on foam.

Instead, the opposite happened. As people redecorated their homes, they bought new mattresses and furniture. Demand quickly outpaced supply.

"All of the guesses that people made about where mattress sales, where furniture sales, and where car sales would be were wrong," explains Batson.

Production quickly ramped up to meet demand, but the backlog of orders, combined with some production plants being closed for maintenance, created the shortage.

In February of 2021, it got worse when Winter Storm Uri hit Texas and Louisiana, knocking a handful of plants that make the chemical ingredients for foam offline.

"At a point when (production) needed to be going up, it was going down," says Batson.

Batson also points out that pandemic-related embargoes on foreign goods kept supply low as well. And shortages of other raw materials like lumber made the problem worse.

As all of this played out, furniture stores and other businesses that rely on foam were left scrambling.

"It's been a roller coaster, to say the least," says Paul Rees, the co-owner of Greathouse in Miramar.

Once pandemic-related shut down restrictions were lifted, his store did a month's worth of sales in less than two weeks after reopening in May. It hasn't slowed down since.

Meanwhile, the foam shortage meant that orders which usually took 4-6 weeks to deliver started to take twice that long.

"The biggest challenge was setting the right expectations for the customers," says Rees. "We tell them just to be patient, be understanding, and ultimately you'll get what you want."

Other stores took drastic measures to fulfill orders. At Altered Decor in the East Village, the owners told ABC 10News they sold some of their floor models. They also worked with new suppliers to find readily available pieces, and they began selling more plants, rugs, and home accessories.

Rees says he has faith the industry will weather the storm. In the meantime, he tells people looking to buy furniture to look at it as a long-term investment.

"They're going to have this stuff for a very long time," he says. "So even if you have to wait a little bit extra, and you may be disappointed, get what you want because you're gonna be looking at it, using it, and enjoying it for years and years and years to come."