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Ordering an appliance? Retailers say prepare to wait

If you want a new refrigerator for Christmas, you should go ahead and place your order now.

Jason Roper, a builder sales specialist with Bonnycastle Appliance & TV, has some advice for people looking to get new appliances right now.

“If you want to have it before Christmas, you better go ahead and order it now because you’ve probably already missed Thanksgiving,” Roper said in an interview.

Since the pandemic broke out in March, Roper said demand for new appliances like refrigerators, freezers and kitchen ranges has greatly outpaced the available supply as manufacturers have had difficulties getting parts and have also had to intermittently close facilities for cleaning. He said business has picked up about 20% for Bonnycastle, but the company is contending with backorders that won’t be available for eight to 10 weeks for some products.

He said the first appliance to completely sell out at Bonnycastle were the freezers as people moved to stockpile supplies when shelter in place orders first went into effect.

“We don’t sell – over the course of a normal year – more than probably 15 freezers a year. We could’ve sold 15 a day for the first three months of the pandemic,” Roper said. “That’s kind of slowed down a little bit, but to put it this way, if we order a freezer, we don’t cancel it if someone cancels their order. We just bring it in so we have stock inventory.”

Roper attributes the demand to the pandemic, as many people are staying home and spending less money on vacations, dining out and other forms of entertainment, they’ve turned inward to update the appliances in their homes.

Ken Faulkner, a product consultant with Charlie Wilson’s Appliance & TV, agreed that because people are staying home due to the pandemic, they’re buying new appliances, and sometimes two of each in the case of refrigerators.

Faulkner said the company generally has $2 million in average inventory at any given time, but it’s still not enough to combat the shortage. He said he’s ordering product almost every day from manufacturers. From one manufacturer in particular, Charlie Wilson’s has 1500 units backordered.

“Normally in the non-pandemic times you wouldn’t be waiting, we’d have it in stock. If we had to get it from the manufacturer it would take a week to get it,” Faulkner said in an interview. “Today, some orders can go out longer than that. Even if we can get something next month, we still tell customers it’s going to take eight to 12 weeks so we set the expectation with the customer at the right spot. We have orders that the manufacturers promise we’ll get next week, then it’s three weeks later before they come.”

In talking to customers about the shortage, he said Charlie Wilson’s tries to show products that best suit a customer’s needs, Faulkner said. In a lot of cases, he said the store can find what the customer’s looking for.

“We’ve also updated our website to where we have a green check mark on all the products that are in stock today,” Faulkner said. “That’s updated every day. It’s helped our internet sales tremendously. Internet sales went up during the first part of the pandemic when people weren’t going out and the lockdown was on, a huge amount of our business was direct on the internet.”

Local manufacturers like GE Appliances, a Haier Company, had to pause operations due to the coronavirus outbreak early on in the pandemic. But since reopening, the appliance giant sees a functioning supply chain and continues to manufacture appliances at its nine production sites.

Julie Wood, senior director of corporate communications, said GEA was prioritizing the most popular models that are in demand currently, and as people are updating their appliances. Wood said the company has seen a resurgence in remodeling that’s in turn increased demand for premium brands such as Café, GE Profile and Monogram.

“Over the last three years, GE Appliances has invested significantly in digitizing its supply chain around our consumers and customers,” Wood wrote in an email. “Those investments have helped significantly in 2020 to navigate the pandemic with better line of site to raw materials and parts, improving manufacturing output and optimizing distribution. Since 2018, GE Appliances has invested $660 million in new products and building digital capabilities at its U.S. manufacturing plants and distribution centers.”

Faulkner said as manufacturers are getting ahead of the problem, capabilities are getting better. But he really doesn’t see an end in sight for the delays until the first quarter of 2021, so he encouraged customers to be flexible.

Roper agreed, saying the busiest times of the year for his store are Derby, Thanksgiving and Christmas, meaning demand won’t let up any time soon.

“[We] tell customers to be patient with the people who buy their products, that we’re doing the best we can,” Roper said. “We want to sell you stuff, but we’re at the mercy of the manufacturers and the trucking companies and everything else, and that’s every store in town doing their utmost best. Be patient, as soon as we can get the products to you, we will.”

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