HIGH POINT – New orders for furniture continued to soar in July, increasing 39% over the same month last year. The strong business followed a 30% increase reported in June.

That’s according to the latest Furniture Insights survey of residential furniture manufacturers and distributors from accounting and consulting firm Smith Leonard

Eighty-eight percent of surveyed companies reported increased July orders, up from 73% in June.

Year-to-date, new orders were flat compared with 2019 through July, but only 28% of the participants reported increased orders year-to-date.

“This followed 81% reporting a decrease in orders last month,” said Smith Leonard Managing Partner Ken Smith in the survey report. “We would note that the year-to-date numbers compared with last month are affected by a change in participants. We had a few participants that were unable to participate last month due to the virus that were able to come back this month and get caught up, having some impact on the year-to-date results.”

July shipments were flat compared with July 2019, with some 56% of survey participants reporting increased shipments for the month as companies were getting back into full production and starting to catch up a bit with orders. Year-to-date shipments through July remained 14% below the same point last year, down from 21% reporting lower shipments last month. Shipments were down for 94% of participants year-to-date.

Backlogs rose 69% over July 2019 levels, for almost all surveyed.

“As would be expected, backlogs ballooned as orders significantly exceeded the level of shipments,” Smith noted. “Backlog levels are beginning to reach levels that are, for most, too high. For the last many years, it would have been hard for most to say those words, but it appears that we may have reached that point.”

Receivable levels fell 15% from July 2019.

“While not in line with shipments being flat, the decrease was in line with the year-to-date shipment levels,” Smith said. “July comparisons were probably not normal this year since many companies chose not to shut down completely for the July 4th holiday. We will continue to watch those levels.”

Inventories also fell in July, down 10% compared with July 2019, which reflected the lower levels of shipments and the effects of the pandemic.

“Hopefully, we will get the business levels stabilized again sometime so that we can really tell when back in line or not,” Smith said. “Those that had finished goods inventories were able to improve their revenues as many retailers needed inventory to sell and had trouble even getting replacements for store samples.”

Factory and warehouse employment was down 7% compared with July last year, and payrolls were down 18% comparing this July with the same month in 2019. Smith noted that’s somewhat in line with the reduced shipments and also reflects of the impact of the increase in unemployment benefits from the federal government.

“Those payments tended to be as much or more than current pay levels, so many folks chose not to go back to work until they were cut off from those benefits at the end of July,” he said.

In summary, Smith said nobody would have expected current back logs and lead times.

“The lpast couple of months’ increases over 2019 levels has shown that there really was pent-up demand out there,” he noted. “Most believe staying at home caused many people to take notice of their furniture and make decisions to go out and buy whether they had planned to or not before the pandemic.

“The good news is that business has remained strong for most even through September, and most are expecting October to continue. Reports from many retailers continue to note that business at retail remains very good.”

That said, the cost of materials and imported goods are having an impact.

“Price increases are here and likely will need to continue as most of the parts and pieces are going up,” Smith said.

He also noted that most reports from Premarket were very positive. “We know attendance by all reports was considerably higher than ever before, and orders were written along with commitments,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what the fall market brings. Some said they may not come back, but if business holds up, we suspect many will need to come even if (they were) here at Premarket.

“The bad news is that the election will not be over until after market, so we have three weeks to listen to all the bad news and bad things about every candidate,” Smith continued. “Hopefully, we are getting used to that and pay less and less attention.”

Click here for the entire Furniture Insights report.

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