There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a huge impact on our lives. Apart from the obvious concerns of public health and safety – manufacturing industries have suffered considerable and drastic change.
Being at home for long periods has prompted many people to update their living spaces, which in turn has placed huge demand on the home-goods, furniture and construction sectors. Add to this a shortage of materials due to natural disasters and reduced capacity to ship goods internationally —production and lead times have slowed, while prices continue to rise.
What affects the cost of furniture
As we transition back to normalcy, extended lead times and production times will eventually shorten. But the story’s a little different when it comes to costs.
There’s a lot that goes into furniture production. That hasn’t changed. Prices will continue to go up, and it’s important to consider what’s behind those increases.
Supply and demand
High demand affects the cost of raw materials. When everyone began refurbishing their homes, it put pressure on manufacturers because the demand was higher than what was available.
On top of that, the millions of layoffs and furloughs from lockdowns globally has caused delays because companies are short on staff. Manufacturers are also spending more to create safe environments for those who are still working. If anyone on their staff got sick, it often results in unexpected shutdowns for cleaning.
These obstacles have created a ripple effect throughout the entire industry and ultimately increased costs.
Shortage of materials
Similar to the pandemic, other events that aren’t in our control can impact availability of goods and materials. Recent bushfires across NSW decimated Australian timber stock – which impacted supply of domestic hardwood and structural timbers (as seen by the lack of timber available in Bunnings).
Sourcing domestically and internationally
Sourcing domestically typically controls cost. But Australia is currently experiencing a shortage of product due to recent bushfires and a booming housing market.
At Relm, we have always invested in premium imported timbers like American White Oak and American Walnut. As the name suggests, these timbers are sustainably sourced from the United States.
Currently, everybody is fighting for space on shipping containers and shipments are becoming further apart. With the increased demand, we are now finding that imported timbers are fully purchased before they even land in Australia, meaning timbers need to be ordered up to 3 months in advance.
Sustainable craftsmanship in furniture requires more work. Suppliers and manufacturers who practice sustainability have to adhere to certain requirements that ensure their methods and processes align with eco-friendly values. Sourcing specific sustainable timbers of a premium quality has now become increasingly difficult as those timbers are in high demand.
Construction and design
Something else to consider when thinking about the cost of furniture is its construction and design.
Each product has a complex and unique manufacturing process. From design, machining, assembly, finishing, packaging and distribution each product requires labour and machining time. A complex design requires more time and care to appropriately finish the product to a high standard.
Often imported products are cheaper because of this equation. To make a cheaper product, the manufacturer must either find cheaper (and often less sustainable materials); take shortcuts in the design and machining stage; or reduce the time it takes to assemble the product. Any or all of these shortcuts results in a product that is not sustainable; is more likely to break; and is more likely to have a shorter life-span and end up in landfill.
On top of that, you have to think about what’s on the inside. From foam, springs, and feathers to the type of wood used for a frame and how much padding is in the arms of that chair or sofa, upholstery, fabrics, labour and time invested in these process – there’s a lot that contributes to the cost.
Looking ahead at furniture buying
Furniture costs go beyond a global pandemic. The production process isn’t always smooth-sailing, and quality also contributes to those costs because you’re paying for long-lasting, carefully made furniture.
If you’re wondering when would be a good time to start shopping, remember that demand is still high and lead times remain longer than usual. If you want to avoid another price increase, don’t wait too long.
Regardless of whether you decide to buy now or after more of the pandemic dust settles, the likelihood of seeing a drastic decline in furniture costs is not great.