GRESHAM, Oregon — An oven that cooks; a fridge that keeps food cold; washing machines that work; we take them for granted until they break. Something else we may take for granted? Being able to buy a new one when they do.
“It's crazy times we're in right now, where the availability of appliances is really, really poor,” said Michael Riegelmann, manager of Riegelmann’s Appliance in Gresham. “Some [appliance] categories are non-existent.”
Riegelmann, a third-generation manager at the store, said no one in his family could recall an industry-wide appliance shortage like the one they’re facing, now.
“It's a supply chain, it's a world-wide economy,” said Riegelmann. “Products that come from the U.S., a lot of their parts and components come from overseas.”
Making those parts takes longer now. Factories have cut staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have closed temporarily because of outbreaks, creating more manufacturing delays. Then, say experts, consider the specific nature of appliances and consumers' needs for exact measurements and features.
“The more specific a product is in the supply chain context, the harder it will be to accommodate shocks in the supply chain,” said Scott DuHadway, an assistant professor of Supply Chain Management for Portland State University.
Unlike toilet paper and other generic products, DuHadway said the appliance supply chain will take longer to adjust to current demand. People are home more and they're wearing out their appliances, faster. Also, many people are choosing to remodel their kitchens at the same time.
“As consumers, we have to recognize—what are our needs, and what are our wants,” said DuHadway. “And how do we balance those with what's available within the market?”
Riegelmann said unless he has a specific item in stock, ordering it now requires a lead time of eight to twelve weeks. Before the pandemic, he said they'd have it in no more than a week.
With that in mind, he hopes people will wait on replacing appliances that still work, in order to give someone who really needs one, a shot. He also encourages customers to opt for repairing appliances when possible. In the meantime, his staff is doing everything they can to help customers.
“If their big refrigerator is dead, we get them a little fridge in the meantime just to get them by,” said Riegelmann. “We are selling floor models, we are selling anything we can to make sure that people get products that are able to cook and sanitize their dishes right now… It's bad and it might not be getting better until next year.”