Having trouble getting appliances, furniture, paint? Here's what to expect, tips to try

Tracy Schuhmacher
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

After spending months living and working in our 1970s-built home, I was fed up with our kitchen. It was cramped and outdated. The cabinets and appliances were all falling apart at once. It was time to give it the major overhaul I had dreamed of since buying the house 16 years ago — and that included taking down a wall and changing its footprint.

Because my husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to work at home during the pandemic, we decreased spending on things like commuting, dining out and travel. That meant we could top off the funds we had saved for the project.

Construction started in early summer, when the pandemic seemed to be waning. But little did we know we were building our dream kitchen at a nightmarish time in the home improvement industry.

Shortages and delays

Rick Warren mixes some paints for a customer at Warren's Decorating Center in Webster.  There is a national shortage of paint that he hopes will begin to come back sometime in the fall.

Compared to other situations I've heard about, we were lucky: we had no delivery issues with our cabinets, window, door or hardwood flooring. 

Tipped off that appliances were in short supply, we ordered them three months in advance, sticking to popular models that our salesman said would be most likely to arrive by June. The stainless steel dishwasher and range were installed in July. The fridge has yet to arrive, but our old white one is chugging along. 

We've had a few surprises and snafus, which I mostly took in stride — until I got an email from our company telling me my job would be delayed by a month due to a paint shortage. A paint shortage, really? Skeptical, I headed to the Sherwin Williams store around the corner from my house. 

When I walked in the store, there were paint cans on the wall — what shortage? I requested a couple of quarts of satin paint, and they were not in stock. I quickly arrived at the crux of the situation: you could get paint, but not necessarily the one you wanted, and the situation could be different at another store.

More shortages, same cause:Where's my sofa? A foam shortage is leading to delays and higher prices on furniture, RVs, more

I called several locally owned paint stores in Rochester, and found that most did not want to talk to a reporter about shortages, but two were willing to share their experiences.

Don Warren has been working in his family’s business, Warren’s Paint and Decorating Center for the past 32 of its 37 years in business.

People are looking to fix up their houses, he said, but the demand exceeds the supply — for exterior paint in particular. “Every paint company — even the big ones — have the same experience,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat.”

Furniture and lamps are also in short supply, but he hasn't had issues with carpet. He tries to look ahead and predict the next item that might be in demand, but ordering extra doesn’t always pay off. He might order 20 gallons of a certain paint, for example, and receive only eight. 

Prices continue to rise and delivery dates change frequently. “You can’t promise anything,” Warren said. “When it gets here, we’ll schedule it.”

“Through all this, I’m busier than I’ve ever been,” he said. “It hasn’t affected me — other than the fact that I can’t get anything.”

Dennis McCarthy is general manager of Mayer Paint and Hardware on North Winton Road. He's heard about the paint shortage, but it hasn't been a major issue for him. “We’ve actually been doing pretty well paint-wise," he said.

Mayer is part of the Ace Hardware retail cooperative, so if one product is hard to get, Ace's planners can often find other sources. But the store has experienced supply issues with basic items such as PVC pipe and plastic electrical boxes. 

In addition, prices are rising — for some things more than others. "It’s really tough right now,” he said. “It’s really a supply chain problem overall. That can be tough for people to understand.”

A spokesperson from Home Depot had this to say via email. "Like all retailers, we have seen high demand for many items and our merchants and supply chain teams have been working to replenish inventory." She suggested I reach out to product manufacturers or mills for insight.

Supply chain issues

Rick Warren carts cases of paint to the mixing area at Warren's Decorating Center in Webster.

I worked my way up the supply chain and arrived at Daniel Murad, CEO of The ChemQuest Group and ChemQuest Technology Institute, a Cincinnati-based strategy and technology development company that focuses on specialty chemicals.

Our interview reminded me of the famous line in the film "The Graduate" in which Ben, a recent college graduate, is offered one word of advice: plastics. But in Murad's case, it was two: ethylene and propylene.

These two petrochemicals are raw materials used in cars, clothing, shoes, furniture, trucks, airplanes, carpets, mattresses, adhesives, coatings, hair gels, skin creams, sunscreens — “on and on and on and on,” he said — and yes, that includes paints and appliances.

Ethylene and propylene are in short supply, Murad said, from the convergence of four events:

1. Reduced supply: When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the economy from April through June 2020, the expectation was that people would continue to purchase less. As a result, the petrochemical industry cut its production and sold off inventory.

2. Increased demand: In the third and fourth quarter, the economy made a sharp recovery that caught everyone by surprise. Products were depleted quickly. “These inventories are at an all-time low,” he said.

3. Transportation logjams: Dating to well before COVID-19, there haven't been enough truck drivers to transport materials arriving at busy ports. The pandemic also has meant fewer dock workers available to unload ships due to illness, quarantine and labor shortages.

Huge container ships continue to be anchored offshore; The Marine Exchange of Southern California tweets daily tallies. Not only has this situation slowed down deliveries, it has also resulted in increased freight prices.

4. Winter storm: The most debilitating event was the March 2021 storm that covered most of the country's chemical plants along the coast of Texas and Louisiana in icicles. The plants had to be shut down, affecting 60% of the country's ethylene and propylene production. 

Turning them back on wasn't as simple as flipping a switch. "You have to bring those units on very carefully," he said. Plants began to come back online in May, but are still catching up with demand. 

“It’s a big mess," Murad said. The situation will eventually be resolved, but he expects that won't happen until the first half of 2022.

Words of advice

Rick Warren mixes paint for a customer.

So there you have it: the reasons why my painters had to reschedule painting my kitchen and why I'm still waiting for my refrigerator — and why you may be waiting for furniture or something else.

With all of that in mind, here are some words of advice if you are thinking about embarking on a remodeling project. 

1. Think twice.

Do you REALLY need to redo that room? Can it wait? If it can, you might save yourself some aggravation by putting it off a year.

2. Don't count on promised delivery dates.

“Before you start a project, make sure everything is there,” Warren said. As an example, don't rip up flooring based on a promised delivery date; wait until the new flooring is in your possession.

3. Don't ditch the old stuff.

Don't get rid of any functional furniture or appliances until the new ones have been delivered. If your need is urgent, buy what is in stock.

4. Be patient.

If you still decide to embark on a project, be realistic about expectations and use whatever stress relieving tools work for you. 

Says Warren: “Don’t shoot the messenger. The guys in the middle like me, our hands are tied. We can only do what we can do.”

Tracy Schuhmacher is food and drink reporter and a storytelling coach for the USA Today Network's Storytellers Project. Email her at TracyS@Gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram as @RahChaChow. Thanks to our subscribers for supporting local journalism.