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Refrigerators, stoves and other appliances in short supply during pandemic in Maryland and elsewhere

Dean Landers, owner of Landers Appliances in Rosedale, stands in his showroom. Appliances have been in short supply due to coronavirus-related shortages and demand.
Dean Landers, owner of Landers Appliances in Rosedale, stands in his showroom. Appliances have been in short supply due to coronavirus-related shortages and demand. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

After planning to remodel the kitchen of the Towson rowhouse they bought in June, Andrew and Shelby McLellan learned they would be in for a long wait for new appliances.

Best Buy had a wait list more than three months long for the couple’s choice of range, dishwasher and refrigerator, and wouldn’t even place an order. Home Depot placed an order for the range and dishwasher, but delivery isn’t scheduled until Nov. 9

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In the meantime, the Rodgers Forge couple’s existing refrigerator broke. They found their choice of fridge at Costco, but delivery’s not expected until late next month. For now, they’ve plugged in two minifridges in the dining room.

“We’re just kind of making do,” said Andrew McLellan, a commercial loan underwriter who’s working from home. “We’ve kind of gotten used to it. Everything is taking longer these days.”

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The coronavirus is to blame, of course. Pandemic-related factory shutdowns around the world disrupted supply chains for everything from parts to finished appliances. Deliveries are delayed weeks or months on the most in-demand products. And as people hunkered down at home, appliance demand soared.

That has meant shortages for retailers, from national chains such as Best Buy and Home Depot to local sellers such as Cummins Appliance in Pikesville and Landers Appliance in Rosedale.

Howard Cummins has been selling appliances for 40 years and has never seen anything like it.

“I have people who have been waiting for appliances for months," said Cummins, owner of the appliance store in Pikesville. “We’re trying to get things out as quickly as possible, but the manufacturers have just not been able to handle the increased demand. ... Deliveries are behind, availability is behind, prices are higher. It’s just a mess."

With people home more or perhaps having more people home than usual, appliances that need servicing or replacement are stressed, sometimes to the breaking point, Cummins said. Some people are remodeling to accommodate remote work and learning.

Desire to upgrade older appliances is driving the demand, said John Taylor, a senior vice president at LG Electronics USA in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

“Instead of concerts and dinners out, people are reinvesting in their homes and focusing on healthier living and energy efficiency,” and upgrading kitchens and laundry rooms, Taylor said.

LG factories in the U.S. and around the world are operating now at full capacity, after some weeklong pauses, and in some cases working overtime to meet demand, Taylor said. But some spot slowdowns continue throughout the industry, he said.

“There are some shortages, and they’re expected to continue through the fall,” he said. “Even if there was no supply chain issue at all, the demand is just so much higher. There’s just not enough goods right now."

Cummins said demand has increased about 50% since the end of April when stay-at-home restrictions began to lift. By then, warehouses already were depleted.

“We’re trying to direct [customers] to products that are available and tell them realistically what to expect when they order,” Cummins said.

The most recent statistics available from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, through June, are not current enough to show the spike in demand — except in one category.

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Deliveries of stand-alone freezers to retailers increased 40% during the first half of the year, compared with the first half of 2019, the trade group said. It tracks deliveries to retailers, as opposed to sales.

Stand-alone freezers have been mostly unavailable since March, retailers said.

“People are hunkering down for the next wave of staying home and not being able to get food,” Cummins said.

Distributors that supply Landers Appliance have hundreds of products on back order dating to June, with shipping dates unknown, said Dean Landers, president of the appliance repair and sales business in Rosedale.

When he checks a particular product’s availability through a distributor, “they may have 35 units listed, and none of them are available," he said. "They are all on back order.”

Products come into his store “in dribs and drabs, and they don’t tell us until the day before they deliver it," Landers said.

Landers believes supply problems have worsened because many factories in different parts of the world had to shut down more than once, compounded by interruptions in production for parts suppliers as well.

Some brands and models have been more readily available than others. A consumer likely will find a $3,000 stove more easily than an $800 stove, he said. There’s been less availability of refrigerators in general.

Parts, too, are becoming hard to get, possibly because they’re going to new production assembly lines, Landers said.

“Some people are in desperate need,” Landers said. “They’re going to buy what’s available. Some are looking because [appliances] are on their last leg.

“I’m telling customers ... go look and see what we have in stock,” especially for those who can’t wait, he said. But as far as delivery, “nobody is being promised anything.”

The shortages appear widespread.

An online search for stainless steel French door refrigerators on Best Buy’s website, for instance, shows few delivery and installation dates before mid-November, with some deliveries stretching more than three months.

Christina Cornell, a spokeswoman for The Home Depot, referred questions about prolonged delivery times to the product manufacturers.

“But I can share that our merchandising and supply chain teams are working hard to fulfill orders on in-demand items,” Cornell said in an email.

Damon Darlin of Alexandria, Virginia, has been without a refrigerator since July 30, when his Samsung model, less than 2 years old, stopped working, still under warranty from Best Buy.

He waited a month for an appointment with a technician, who ordered some parts that arrived at the end of August. A second technician could not fix the problem.

He said Samsung has not responded and Best Buy told him it has a backlog of hundreds of warranty-related repairs. He’s afraid if a replacement refrigerator is needed, that could take weeks longer. For now, he’s borrowing a dorm-sized model and eating a lot of takeout.

“You can’t have leftovers in the refrigerator and can’t have a lot of vegetables waiting to be cooked," said Darlin, executive editor at Kaiser Health News. "If this stretches out until Thanksgiving, we could be having peanut butter for Thanksgiving.”

A Best Buy spokesman declined to comment on ways in which COVID-19 has affected appliance sales or inventory. But the chain’s top executive said last month that appliances, along with computers and tablets, were the biggest drivers of sales growth in the quarter that comprises May, June and July.

The retailer experienced “inventory constraints” in a number of categories, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said in an Aug. 25 earnings announcement.

“While we expected product constraints as we entered the quarter, the stronger-than-anticipated demand as we opened our stores for shopping resulted in more constrained product availability than we expected,” Barry said.

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LG’s Taylor said availability and delivery times vary by retailer and by product model.

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“It may mean depending on what your space needs are, you may want to look at a different model or different configuration,” Taylor said. “There are still lots of products out there. It may not be the specific model you’re looking for right now.”

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