New orders for furniture remained strong in April, up 239% from the same month last year, and a healthy 30% ahead of a more meaningful comparison with April 2019.
According to the latest Furniture Insights survey of residential furniture manufacturers and distributors, year-to-date orders are up 73% compared with 2020’s first four months – and up 36% compared with January-April 2019. Ken Smith, partner at accounting and consulting firm Smith Leonard, which produces the monthly Furniture Insights report, called that performance “really impressive.”
“As would be expected, all of the participants reported increased orders for the month,” Smith said.
April shipments rose 296% from April 2020 levels, and were up 39% year to date. Compared with April 2019, shipments increased 26% and rose 18% year to date.
“Backlogs remained at unbelievable levels, up 266% over April 2020,” Smith said. “Backlogs were up 5% from March levels, in spite of shipping cranking up again.”
Receivable levels were 35% ahead of April 2020.
“From our conversations, most everyone we talk with say their receivables are about as clean as ever as it relates to past due invoices,” Smith noted. “We continue to believe that the PPP really helped dealers have the funds to continue to buy products.”
Inventories increased 21% from April 2019, in line with the new level of orders.
“Had materials been more available, inventories would likely have been higher,” Smith said.
Factory and warehouse employment and payrolls were another area where April 2021 comparisons with the same prior-year month were skewed due to pandemic shutdowns in 2020. At any rate, number the employees rose up 14% in April compared with April 2020.
“But we are not sure what the April 2020 results included as many had shut down, some furloughed employees, others had brought them back due to the PPP program, so these results are just that,” Smith observed. “Payrolls were up 170%, again, not a meaningful comparison.”
In summary, Smith noted the June High Point Market seemed successful for most with “few tire kickers” reported.
“Some of the larger dealers that did a fair amount of business at Premarket did not come back, but those that did seemed to come to do business,” he said. “If you sold to the design trade, you were busy.”
Pricing was a dominant discussion topic at June Market.
“Upholstery exhibitors were troubled by having 12- to 25-plus-week deliveries in conjunction with prices of most materials going up,” Smith said. “For example, how do you price goods for sale today that won’t be made for say 15 to 20 weeks? On the case goods side, the same pricing issues were there as well, with some price increases in finished goods, but also crazy container increases, even if you can get one. When some prices of materials are going up four to six times, wholesale prices have to follow suit.
“We believe that one good thing that may be coming from these price increases and shortages is that many dealers are learning that they actually can sell goods at higher prices, even when they didn’t think they could,” he continued. “This proves again that the average consumer has no idea what a piece of furniture should cost to begin with.”
Strong business, Smith added, “feels like it may last longer than we thought early on. For sure shipments will continue to grow as backlogs are worked down, but it feels like orders will continue to improve as consumers seem to really be into upfitting and redesigning the spaces they live in.”