HIGH POINT — Furniture imports during the first half of 2020 fell 16%, a sign that supply chain disruptions caused during the pandemic had a palpable, if only temporary, impact on shipments from major source countries.
Overall imports fell from $11.7 billion to $9.7 billion during the first half according to figures compiled by Furniture Today.
The drop was led by a 40% decrease in shipments from China, which totaled $3.4 billion, down from $5.6 billion in the first half of 2019. This could partly be attributed to lingering effects of China tariffs and the shift of goods to countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.
Indeed, those countries — including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand — saw spikes in furniture shipments to the U.S. market, as did Taiwan.
Taiwan’s shipments were up 5.5%, from $106 million in the first half of 2019 to nearly $112 million in the first half of 2020.
Meanwhile, shipments from Vietnam rose 18%, from $2.5 billion in 2019 to $2.9 billion this year. Shipments from Malaysia rose 32% from $409.3 million to $539 million during the same six-month periods.
Shipments from Canada fell 15%, from $642.2 million to $546.7 million and shipments from Mexico fell 13%, from $572 million to $498 million, which underscores the several week-long plant shutdowns that immediately ceased the flow of goods from those facilities.
Shipments from Italy and India also fell, also highlighting the impacts that COVID-19 had on those countries, particularly in the early to mid-to-late spring. Shipments from Italy fell 20%, from $401.7 million to $322.6 million, while shipments from India fell 10%, from $176.8 million to $158.8 million.
Shipments from Indonesia rose 13%, from $369.1 million to $415.5 million, and shipments from Indonesia rose 77%, from $63 million to $111.5 million.
The increases from places such as Vietnam and Malaysia seem an anomaly given that plants in those countries were also sidelined during the pandemic as demand dried up almost overnight from the U.S.
Even as business reopened, these manufacturers struggled to ramp up, given the disruptions in supply chain from countries like China, not to mention the loss of some workers during the pandemic. Finding new workers to replace them has continues to be a challenge for some factories based on conversations with industry observers.
The spike in shipments from these countries, industry officials note, results partly from a major rush to get product out before Chinese New Year. Thus, by February and March, much of the product was said to be on the water en route to the West Coast.
Others said that they also tried to keep product flowing even as retailers were closed, not just to help keep source factories running, but also to ensure there would be plenty of inventory when retail reopened , which ultimately began to happen by early to mid-May or soon after.
Bill Dominguez, vice president research and development at New Classic Furniture, said that the company kept factories busy with its product during the pandemic, not only allowing them to produce and ship, but also helping New Classic provide inventory for its customers as they needed it.
“The fact that we have been proactive and we have been ordering ahead of time, that gives our customers the confidence we have it,” he said, pointing out a floor dedicated to mixed container product from Vietnam in its High Point showroom.
In recent months, the executive team at Sarreid Ltd. committed to making sure goods were in stock at the company’s Wilson, N.C., warehouse, doubling and even tripling the amount of product on hand to make sure it was available to customers as soon as possible.
The company then made sure to have these goods photographed and put on its website so customers could see what’s available. This ‘in-stock’ tab has been the No. 1 destination on the website of late, said Brad Cates, CEO. Cates noted that the company also added a virtual showroom tour and catalog to the website to further educate its customers about the line.
All this helped keep customers engaged and placing orders during what otherwise might have been an extremely slow period.
“Our shipments are up from Asia,” Cates said. “We got on this early, just like we did with digital.”
And while there have been some slowdowns at individual plants, he said, the effort has helped keep goods in production and flowing at most of Sarreid’s source factories.
“We tried to get in front of it early with heavy orders,” he said. “It was an organized gamble, and I am not a gambler, but we rolled the dice.”
Bassett Furniture said its import business remained strong during the first half of the year, despite the pandemic.
While the company had canceled some orders in March, it also had plenty of goods on the water by that point. In recent months, it also has placed strong orders with its overseas factories to help satisfy customer needs.
“Our wood team has done a good job planning and staying ahead of the demand,” said Bruce Cohenour, senior vice president at Bassett.
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