Reno-Sparks appliance retailers deal with demand as supply chain issues continue
Tim Carter, owner of Carter Bros. Ace Hardware in Reno, said business throughout the pandemic has been strong, partially driven by consumers spending on products for their homes and backyards.
Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW
You know the old-school folding lawn chairs? The ones that bring to mind picnics and potlucks? For years, those had been collecting dust inside Carter Bros. Ace Hardware in Midtown Reno. After the coronavirus pandemic took hold, however, those chairs were suddenly in demand. Heck, everything was. “When all of the shutdowns hit, it went crazy,” said Tim Carter, owner of Carter Bros. Ace Hardware, located at 1215 S. Virginia St. “There was stuff in the store that we hadn’t sold in five years and it sold. People were just buying stuff. We sold everything.” Lawn chairs. Grills. Bird feeders and seeds. The demand for appliances and items destined for Northern Nevada backyards was hotter than Carter had ever seen. “For 15 years, I tried to figure out through inventory control what’s selling and what’s not selling and what we need to bring in and what we need more of,” Carter said. “That’s really what I spend the majority of my time doing is figuring out what people want. Last year, it didn’t matter. I could bring in anything.” So much so that Ace Hardware’s revenue grew in 2020, said Carter, who declined to share specific figures. He noted that the increase in business could also be attributed to customers having easy access to his store once again with the completion of the Virginia Street Project last summer. “Everybody’s been locked down for so long, people have spent way more time at their place of residence in the last year, and they are putting time and effort into making their residences nice,” Carter said. “Whether that’s redoing the backyard or buying a new barbecue.” And business has not slowed down this year, said Carter, noting his shop continued to see strong sales in the first quarter of 2021. Carter said the biggest challenge during his surge in business is the “absolutely broken” supply chain caused by manufacturers struggling to obtain raw materials and keep up with orders.
After its revenue grew in 2020, Carter Bros. Ace Hardware in Midtown Reno continued to see strong sales in the first quarter of 2021, said owner Tim Carter. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW
Still, Carter said that has not stopped customers from buying products he doesn’t have in stock. “I’m really surprised how willing the general public is to wait a week,” he continued. “I think Amazon has trained everybody to do that. People are happy to buy something and wait a week for it. That was not true five years ago.” To his point, nationwide, the disrupted supply chain hasn’t impacted sales for outdoor cooking appliances. All told, more than 14 million grills and smokers were sold between April 2020 and February 2021, amounting to a 39% increase in dollar sales during the pandemic, according to the NPD Group. FILLING A VOID Over in Sparks, pandemic-related spending on backyard items is also overwhelming the team at Reno Outdoor Living. The shop at 252 E. Glendale Ave was opened last May by Ron Cohen, who is also the manager of Building Tectonics, a contractor of outdoor living features, such as outdoor kitchens, water features and retaining walls. Cohen said he was motivated to open the shop to complement his construction business after longtime retailer Nevada Backyard closed its location off Moana Lane in Reno in 2019. “That left a void in the market, so we tried to fill the void,” Cohen said. For a moment, Cohen wasn’t sure he’d get the chance. After all, Reno Outdoor Living opened its doors to the public last May., as cases of COVID-19 swelled in Northern Nevada and beyond. “I definitely thought I was screwed,” Cohen said. However, he quickly realized that not only were consumers spending on their homes, but the red-hot housing market was leading to new homeowners needing cooking appliances for their backyards.
Reno Outdoor Living, which opened last May in Sparks, has seen strong demand for backyard cooking appliances, such as grills and smokers, throughout the pandemic. Courtesy: Reno Outdoor Living
“By June 2020, we were overrun with customers, appointments and demands for outdoor features,” said Cohen, whose store sells everything from wood pellet grills to fire pits to pizza ovens. “And now, we can’t get the appliances. If you were to order a nice grill from us, you’re looking at anywhere from — on the quick time — eight to 10 weeks.” Yet, just like Ace Hardware, Reno Outdoor Living has seen that the majority of customers are willing to wait for products. Case in point: Reno Outdoor Living’s sales so far this year are “double if not triple” compared to an average month in 2020, Cohen said. If business keeps the pace, Cohen said he’s planning to move Reno Outdoor Living out of its current 3,000-square-foot space and into a significantly bigger location in the summer of 2022. “In reality, we would want, if we could fill it with product, be in about 20,000 (square feet),” Cohen said. “The biggest challenge is the demand is so overwhelming, and we can’t get the product. And the trucking situation is a disaster, and cargo ships are just sitting out there in the ocean because they won’t let them import yet.” TRAVEL SPENDING IMPACT? After a year of canceled vacations and instead putting money into their homes and yards, it should come as no surprise that many Americans, are planning to spend big on travel this summer. This, Carter said, has him worried that the rise in travel spending will throw a wrench in his growing sales. “We’re going to find out here in the second quarter exactly where the rubber meets the road,” Carter said. “I’m anxious to find out how the second quarter goes.” For Cohen, he feels demand for outdoor products, especially cooking appliances, will stay strong, regardless if more people are traveling this summer. “At the end of the day, you can’t eat travel, and you’ve got to eat,” Cohen said. “Americans have always been known as eaters.”