Pandemic creates longer waits for home appliances

Vickie Mitchell, right, co-owner of Mitchell Appliance Company in Douglasville, talks to a customer on the phone as longtime customer Lori Brangan waits for a part to repair her dryer Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5, 2020. Mitchell said she is having a hard time getting appliances because the pandemic has slowed manufacturing. She also said that parts sales are up because people are repairing their current appliances more due to the shortage. Ben Gray / For the AJC
Vickie Mitchell, right, co-owner of Mitchell Appliance Company in Douglasville, talks to a customer on the phone as longtime customer Lori Brangan waits for a part to repair her dryer Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5, 2020. Mitchell said she is having a hard time getting appliances because the pandemic has slowed manufacturing. She also said that parts sales are up because people are repairing their current appliances more due to the shortage. Ben Gray / For the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Just a few weeks after closing on a new home in East Atlanta, Amy Miller and her husband decided to purchase a new washer and dryer. They ordered a top load washing machine and a dryer from Home Depot in mid-September, expecting the appliances to be delivered about a week after their scheduled move-in. But upon completing the order, they learned the appliances would take almost a month to get to their new home.

“When those dates came up, I was like are you kidding me?” Miller said. “I was taken aback. I was like how do they expect us to wash our clothes?”

Appliances are just one of many consumer items in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic. Industry experts said back orders remain high after manufacturing plants experienced shutdowns, both in the U.S. and abroad. Increased demand and production slowdowns have resulted in six-to-eight-week delays on some products, according to retailers.

“The customers are scratching their heads about how did COVID affect this?” said Jimmy Moore, a salesman at Bob Bailey’s Appliance store in Stone Mountain. “When a plant shuts down, it never comes back up like it is supposed to. Now with social distancing, where they may have had 10 to 15 people on a line, now it is impossible ... you have five people doing that job.”

Moore noted a facility in North Carolina that churned out 1,000 dishwashers a day pre-pandemic but is now down to about 200 per day. “What was 5,000 at the end of the week is now only 1,000, so you are 4,000 in the hole,” he said.

Marcia Davis and her father Rafael Buxo look at a refrigerator at Mitchell Appliance Company in Douglasville on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5, 2020. Normally the store would stock five or six different models, but they currently only have two. Co-owner Vickie Mitchell said she is having a hard time getting appliances because the pandemic has slowed manufacturing. Davis and her father left and said they would come back when there was more of a selection. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Marcia Davis and her father Rafael Buxo look at a refrigerator at Mitchell Appliance Company in Douglasville on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5, 2020. Normally the store would stock five or six different models, but they currently only have two. Co-owner Vickie Mitchell said she is having a hard time getting appliances because the pandemic has slowed manufacturing. Davis and her father left and said they would come back when there was more of a selection. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Whitney Welch, spokeswoman for GE Appliances, which has more than 2,000 employees in Georgia, said the company is fully operational. “We paused plant operations for one week at the beginning of the pandemic to enhance safety precautions inside our facilities. We have not shut down production since that time and are manufacturing appliances here in the U.S. around the clock," she said. But the company has seen record demand on certain product categories since COVID-19 began and people began spending more time at home.

Freezer sales outpaced supply beginning in March as consumers stockpiled goods, and demand remains at an unprecedented level, Welch said. Usage of appliances is higher than ever before as people have spent more time with their families under one roof cooking, cleaning and storing food. Additional interest in remodeling and home improvements has sparked orders as well. “Our supply chain is working and we have continued to produce, distribute, deliver and service appliances as an essential business during this time. As we work to meet demand, consumers may find that certain products are taking longer to be delivered," Welch said.

Moore has been sending notes to customers apologizing for the extensive delays and back orders, some of which may not be filled until the end of the year, he said. In order to help customers avoid long waits — especially those who have experienced an appliance failure and need an immediate replacement — Moore tells them right off which models the store can quickly locate.

At Mitchell Appliance Co. in Douglasville, which primarily deals with GE branded products, co-owner Vickie Mitchell said the worst was in May when it seemed every product they requested was on back order. They had to rely on previously ordered items to meet the increased demand. “We would place a large order and only get three pieces," she said. “I am pretty much taking whatever I can get.”

201105-Douglasville-Vickie Mitchell, co-owner of Mitchell Appliance Company in Douglasville, looks for a customer’s order in store’s warehouse Thursday afternoon, Nov 5, 2020. Normally the dishwashers would be stacked three high, but Mitchell said she is having a hard time getting appliances because the pandemic has slowed manufacturing. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
201105-Douglasville-Vickie Mitchell, co-owner of Mitchell Appliance Company in Douglasville, looks for a customer’s order in store’s warehouse Thursday afternoon, Nov 5, 2020. Normally the dishwashers would be stacked three high, but Mitchell said she is having a hard time getting appliances because the pandemic has slowed manufacturing. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

In October, Consumer Reports found that among major appliance retailers such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Sears, almost a third of 24-inch dishwashers were out of stock, compared to about a fifth at the beginning of the year, according to Gap Intelligence, a market-research company. Thirty-seven percent of refrigerators of all types were unavailable on retailers' websites last month, which was about double the 19% seen in January.

Miller said she considered other options after learning about the long delays at Home Depot, including searching other retailer websites or purchasing a washer and dryer in-store and picking it up instead of having it delivered, but every option had a drawback — other stores had similar wait times and buying in-store meant accepting mismatched models or a smaller selection of brands.

In the end, she washed every item of clothing for her family of four before moving. Her backup plan to use the neighborhood coin laundry during off-peak hours never had to be implemented. They received their new appliances in late October, she said.

With back orders still high and no relief in sight possibly until mid-2021, some retailers are shifting their expectations and their businesses. Raymond Garcia, co-owner of V&G Appliance Depot in Norcross, has been in business for 10 years.

Their 14,000-square-foot warehouse was once filled with 10 truckloads of appliances right next to their 11,000-square-foot retail store, Garcia said. When the pandemic hit, they were reluctant to accept any new merchandise, but after the government issued supplemental unemployment benefits, customers flocked to the store. “In 2.5 to 3 months, they wiped out everything. When we went back to get more (appliances), they said, ‘Sorry, production has stopped,’" Garcia said.

He was lucky to get 30% of his new orders but suppliers are backed up until January, he said. If shipments don’t pick up by the end of this month, Garcia said they will plan to diversify the merchandise in the store.

“If we don’t see anything shipping, we are going to split the store and keep appliances on one side and fill the other with furniture to be able to pay rent and bills and survive until things take another turn,” Garcia said.

In Other News