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Foam Shortages Affecting the Furniture Industry

by Nick, Digital Specialist | July 4, 2021

Foam is one of the most important components of upholstered furniture, and it is in short supply right now. This affects supply and lead times for your new furniture- let's examine why this is happening!

They say when it rains, it pours- and this has been especially true in the furniture industry lately. Once stores reopened after closures due to the pandemic, a huge surge in demand created order backlogs with manufacturers and retailers that were longer than anybody had ever anticipated.

Remember the storms that affected large parts of the southeast US in February? Believe it or not, the impact of those storms are still being felt in our industry, specifically with the supply of the foam that goes in sofa cushions and mattresses. Foam is made primarily with two chemicals, one of which is manufactured in only two plants in the US. Those two plants are located in Texas and Louisiana, both of which were impacted heavily by the storm and were slow to resume production. Long story short, furniture manufacturers are getting about half of their normal supply of foam, which is making an already-slow supply chain even slower.

Roy Calcagne, CEO of Craftmaster Furniture in North Carolina, said very simply, “It’s terrible.” With limited supplies of foam, Craftmaster was forced to cut production to three days a week. On top of a 70% growth in business from June 2020 to March 2021, this puts them further behind with their customers than ever before, forcing retailers to quote lead times in terms of months instead of weeks.

In an article for the industry publication Furniture Today, Chris Bradley, executive vice president of consumer products at foam producer NCFI, said the situation is improving, but there’ll still be a lot of catching up to do even after foam makers are back to running at full bore. NCFI has a 280,000-square-foot foam plant in Mt. Airy, N.C., as well as facilities in Dalton, Ga., and Houston, Texas.

Bradley doesn’t expect foam availability to return to “full-blown normal” until July. The problem lies in a combination of ongoing raw material issues, transportation bottlenecks and no let-up in demand at retail.

That said, NCFI’s allocations to customers show signs of improvement.

“Looking at the first half of April and the second half of March, we were in the 50% range,” Bradley said. “Looking at the second half of April and into May, we’ll be selling more than that but still less than 100%.”

Supply of major chemicals such as polyols and TDI are better, but raw materials issues remain.

“Chemicals have definitely improved, and we’re looking for further improvement, but all the focus has been on the major chemicals,” Bradley said. “You might have a catalyst that’s only 1% of your foam volume; you’re buying a couple of thousand pounds at a time vs. hundreds of thousands, but if you can’t get it, you can’t make foam.”

The biggest frustration for customers and retailers alike is that there isn’t much to be done to make it come any faster. The raw materials that are needed to make your furniture just don’t exist, and the suppliers of those raw materials are struggling to keep up with increased demand. Our advice if you don’t want to wait? Find something in stock! As you can imagine, furniture that’s in stock is in very high demand, but if you can find something that a furniture store has on hand that fits your needs, that would be your best bet to avoid long lead times.