A sales associate, left, shows a new refrigerator to a couple at RC Willey in South Reno last week.
RENO, Nev. — If you need to get your hands on a new refrigerator or freezer this holiday season, you may be left waiting in the cold.
The coronavirus pandemic, of course, continues to be the culprit. COVID-related factory shutdowns around the world disrupted supply chains for everything from parts to finished appliances, delaying deliveries for weeks or months on products.
All the while, at-home Americans began looking at their immediate surroundings with an especially critical eye. And with increased wear and tear from being home all day, their appliances started breaking.
Scott Landon, general manager of RC Willey in Reno, could already see the pent-up demand percolating back in April when the store reopened after being closed for three weeks.
“The first day we reopened, we probably had about 75 people at the front door waiting to come in, and it just started to grow from there,” Landon told the NNBW. “Everyone’s staying inside and working from home and looking at their kitchen and saying, hey, let’s remodel it. A lot of the business that we’re getting is people doing a lot of remodels coming in and purchasing appliances.”
As a result, the Reno RC Willey has seen more than a 20% increase in appliance sales since April, said Todd Boothe, VP of merchandising RC Willey’s corporate offices in Salt Lake City.
Company-wide, RC Willey, which has stores across the western U.S., saw appliance sales jump 40% in May and have not slowed much since, Boothe said.
“We’re still seeing 30% increases in appliances — that’s unheard of,” said Boothe, noting that makers and sellers are faced with the difficult task of preparing for the future in the middle of a pandemic. “People plan for maybe a 5% increase for the year, so they order enough parts for that amount. And then you see this spike in demand of 30% or 35% and they don’t have the parts for it. And the factories are working about 50% of the people on the line that used to be.
“And the demand is sometimes six times more than they predicted. So the math doesn’t work out.”
After all, back in March, it was reasonable for companies to have concern that shoppers might freeze their spending. Businesses went bust. Unemployment spiked. A COVID recession was underway.
“I think a lot of people thought with COVID, things are going to slow down so we need to cut down on production,” Landon said. “But right after we opened back up, we started to see that increase in demand.”
Boothe said freezers and refrigerators have the longest line of backorders, with people waiting up to three months or longer to replace their old ones.
Initially, he said there was a rush on the cheapest products. Seven months into the pandemic, he said everything is getting scooped up, no matter the price tag.
“It feels like whatever products we have in stock, regardless of the price, they’re just flying out,” Boothe said. “If you have it in stock, it will go.”
Pointing to the changes in consumer spending, Boothe said he expects the sales spike of appliances to continue through the first half of 2021.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to be traveling too much in the near future, or eating out like they used to,” he continued. “I think some of this change is going to change people forever. I think the demand will still be good the second half of next year but the numbers are so high right now that I don’t know if they’ll reach that again.
“Because it feels like everybody’s spending their money on appliances right now.”