It is perhaps a reflection of the challenges facing the furniture industry that shipping delays have become fodder for cartoonists. A recent Dilbert comic strip seems to suggest its creator, Scott Adams, may have had some trouble buying furniture or at least getting it delivered. In the strip, the renowned satirist — who most often pokes at the foibles of office life — shared his character’s difficulty purchasing a chair and the RSA’s fear of him asking the one question that could kill a sale: “Is it in stock?”
It’s a question many retailers today probably want to avoid since the answer is likely no. And the follow up question, “how long will it take,” is difficult if not impossible to determine, a point Adams makes with poignant absurdity in the strip’s final panel.
Perhaps these days it’s better to laugh than cry. But this simple little comic strip highlights a very real issue. For one of those rare times in the history of the furniture business, demand is outstripping supply by a large margin (two words you rarely see together in reference to furniture).
Consumers’ appetite for new furniture has reached historic levels. Unfortunately, that appetite is only matched by the historic disruptions currently plaguing the global supply chain. The recent High Point Market highlighted this quandary as discussions focused far less on what’s new than what’s available.
Certainly this is not unique to the furniture industry. (Have you tried to buy a refrigerator or freezer lately?) And to some extent consumers appear to be somewhat understanding of this situation, as some retailers recently pointed out that shoppers no longer balk at delivery times measured in double-digit weeks. This is a significant shift from as little as 12 months ago when Amazon-created expectations had retailers wrestling with delivery demands measured in days not weeks.
Where the friction occurs, as Adams’ cartoon so aptly illustrates, is that uncertainty and unmet expectations change the equation. The cartoon RSA’s solution is to tell Dilbert his chair will ship in two months and he should call and yell about its non-delivery every three months for all eternity. I’m sure for some consumers — and likely the cartoonist — their furniture odyssey feels much like that.
Obviously Adams did not shop at Miskelly Furniture. I say this not only because he lives in Pleasanton, Calif., but because had he shopped at Miskelly his comic strip most likely would have been about the gift basket he received as an apology for the delay of his furniture. And the RSA would not have suggested calling fruitlessly to complain till the end of time but instead would have hand-written a note thanking him for his business, apologizing for his delays and reaffirming the store’s commitment to keeping him informed and in their thoughts.
Uncertainty is as difficult for consumers to deal with as it is for business leaders to plan around. The painful thought that your money and your order have disappeared into the ether and no one at the store even remembers who you are or what you bought is every consumer’s worst nightmare.
That’s why this Dilbert cartoon strikes a chord today. Conversely, it is why Miskelly Furniture’s thoughtful, proactive approach so much better represents what the furniture business can be at its best. If only Adams lived in Mississippi instead of northern California.