Will your new sofa ever arrive? What about that custom-order table? At Green Front, we know that furniture orders are taking longer than ever, and we also know how frustrating that can be—especially when you’re redoing a room or furnishing a brand new house. So what’s up with the months-long delays, shortages, and hold ups?
As a third-generation, family-owned business, we’ve been at the front and center of the furniture industry for years. We’ve seen it all, so we want to help our customers understand some of the recent shifts and what we’re doing to address the residual effects of the global pandemic. Join Green Front President Den Cralle as he explains some of the industry’s challenges, how Green Front has pivoted to meet them, and what customers can expect moving forward. We’re hoping that, through this conversation with Den, we can shed some light on how we’re working to keep things running smoothly here at Green Front, while also maintaining realistic expectations in these unprecedented times. Most importantly, we’re hoping that we can help you plan for your own needs.
So, will that sectional ever ship? Yes—but you might just have to wait a little longer! Read on for more insight into the furniture industry, a preview of our newest manufacturers, and a teaser for the style trends you’ll see taking hold in 2022.
GFF: With people staying home during the pandemic, furniture sales have increased over the past year and a half. Can you talk about how you’ve seen this play out at Green Front?
Den Cralle: It’s been almost two years since the pandemic started. At first everyone was freaking out because no one knew what was happening, but we definitely saw that people were staying home. And as people were home, they began to realize they needed a new sectional. And then it became, My whole room is a little dated or It’s just not fitting my needs at this moment. And finally it became: Let’s redo the house — let’s buy a new house! That’s literally what I’ve seen in the industry. You start with a sofa, and then you end up overpaying for a new house. And I bought a house during the pandemic too, so I’m definitely one of the statistics!
GFF: Has the pandemic changed your customers’ needs or preferences? What kinds of furniture/styles are people looking for now?
DC: People are buying outdoor furniture now so that they can entertain outside in late fall, whereas before people were only buying it in the late winter getting ready for the spring and summer. Everyone’s domestic life is dramatically different right now. You don’t see people wanting a new dining table and chairs. Instead, you see more mixed-use — a lot more counter stools, bar stools, and using the kitchen as a sort of hub, a place to work from and to learn from. The kitchen is more of the dining room these days. Also, sectionals! If I could magically turn every piece of furniture into a sectional, I could retire tomorrow because everyone wants them. People aren’t going to the movies. They’re sitting in their living rooms and dens. That’s their home base. If you have Wi-fi, then you can work from your sofa, you can entertain from your sofa. It’s more about just living and working in this new way. People want something cozy. I think people are less worried about impressing their friends and are instead wondering what’s going to fit their lifestyle. My advice? See what kind of space you have, see what furniture you have, and see how you’re using it. Then buy furniture that fits your new domestic life.
GFF: Throughout the pandemic, more people have been shopping online. Can you talk about Green Front’s digital transformation over the past year and a half?
DC: We established GreenFrontRugs.com pretty much right when we shut down for the pandemic in 2020. It’s been going great, and I think customers have really enjoyed it, but it is still secondary compared to the in-store experience. When it comes down to it, the Farmville location is a destination. Come down and spend a day! Also, we have spacious buildings, so we didn’t get that initial fear when people were in tight spaces. People always felt comfortable coming to these airy tobacco warehouses, and that’s still our core business model. The online store shows people what we have, but we’re always going to be adding more, so people should come to one of our three locations to get the full experience of a massive selection of rugs, furniture, and accessories.
GFF: Recently, the furniture industry has been facing a lot of shipping delays. How have these challenges affected Green Front?
DC: I think there are multiple factors to this. The first is with containers. We do a lot with importing from Asia, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia, so container prices have gone up dramatically. The cost used to be four to five thousand dollars per container, and now it’s over 20,000. You can fit a lot of furniture onto a 40-foot container, but the dramatic increase in shipping costs really does affect the per unit cost. A lot of manufacturers are raising their costs, so we have to raise ours. On top of that, nationally, there aren’t enough dock workers or truck drivers, which is really making it hard to get the product in. The good thing is that we have so many different vendors that we’re always getting something in, even if one specific shipment is delayed. Also, luckily, Green Front has always had super low prices, so you know we’re still going to stay as competitive as humanly possible.
GFF: How about the strain on the supply chain, especially with certain materials like foam and fabric?
DC: On the domestic side, we’re struggling with upholstery. In February of this year, the ice storm in the Texas-Louisiana area really affected the petroleum industry, which is critical for foam. Most upholstery made in the States is produced in North Carolina, so you already have COVID happening and labor issues and now it’s hard to get foam. If you want to special order a sectional, for example, it literally takes over half a year, if not more, to get it made. There are also fabric shortages. So, no matter how much you want it, no matter how much you scream and cry, it’s not happening. I think it’s going to be important for our customers to really understand what we’re going through as an industry.
The furniture industry is fairly old school, and it’s not like one factory does everything. There are so many components involved in the construction of just one sofa. With my new house, we’re doing a Theodore Alexander sofa for the library. We just picked it out, and I don’t even want to hear the lead time. I’m going to have to wait, just like everyone else is going to wait. Hopefully, as we progress and things start getting better, lead times are going to be cut, but right now that’s the world we live in. You know, between that ice storm, COVID, and all the repercussions, it has just exacerbated into this huge supply chain issue. I think one of our saving graces at Green Front is that we have so many great partners and vendors that we’re always getting something in. It’s just that if you want a specific piece—a certain sofa—it’s going to take forever.
GFF: So it sounds like customers should expect longer wait times for a lot of pieces and, potentially, less choice. Is there anything else you’d like customers to know?
DC: So the furniture industry has never seen this much demand. Here at Green Front we’re seeing it in real time—on Saturday it’s crazy, on Wednesday it’s crazy, on Monday it’s crazy! I just want to tell our customers: we’re always getting something in, we always have things, but supply chain issues plus crazy demand equals not as much product. It’s just simple economics. I know that can be frustrating when you’re redoing a room or outfitting a new house. I totally get that. But we sell furniture, we don’t make it, so I think people need to understand that we’re just one part of a massive global industry.
GFF: With all of these challenges in the past couple of years, Green Front has had to adapt. What are you doing that’s different?
DC: A lot of furniture is made in Asia, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. When shipping overseas, you have to deal with the cost of containers and understaffed ports, so one cool thing we’ve been focusing on is finding new manufacturers closer to home and removing the TransPacific factor. We picked up a line from Mexico, Alfonso Marina. We also just picked up a line from Brazil, Uultis, and one from Canada, West Bros, which is a little bit more modern. We’re focusing more on our neighborhood—our global neighborhood—with North America. I think industries and companies will change in order to meet challenges and demands. You’re going to go to where it makes the most business sense. I think that’s something that we’ll see more of in the next few years.
GFF: Green Front is at the front and center of the furniture industry. Any other trends that you’re anticipating might emerge in the coming year?
DC: One thing that’s more about style is getting away from minimalism. I think people realized during the pandemic that you really want your home to be yours and to be a place to live. There’s this joke about “grandma millennials” who are going towards this yesteryear vibe, but it’s just that traditional is coming back. I think that’s a natural progression, the ups and downs of any style. It’s all cyclical. I’m definitely starting to see more of that maximalism—wallpaper, brown wood—it’s not just gray anymore. With rugs it’s a little bit more vintage, a sheared-down look with pops of color. It looks like it could have been in someone’s home for a long time. I think it just adds character.
I’m also seeing outdoor spaces becoming the next important room. I think home builders are going to really start concentrating on outdoor spaces because people are putting a lot of money into their outdoor living space. You have to make your house your own little oasis, and a big part of that is outdoor furniture. Outdoor furniture itself is changing too. What the manufacturers are doing is pretty awesome. It’s not just a box with cushions on it. Instead, these pieces look like indoor pieces. Just check out what Summer Classics and Lane Venture are doing these days. Their pieces have feel and texture and shape. At Green Front over the last few years, we’ve redone our whole outdoor area grouping and our selection. I see that as the fastest-changing part of the industry.
GFF: Anything else you want your customers to know about the state of the furniture industry?
DC: When ordering something, be prepared to wait, but if you come to Green Front, you can usually just buy off the floor. We have a huge warehouse, and we have stock for many items. We have trucks coming in all the time. It just might not be the truck that you want or the truck that has your sofa on it. We’re doing our best, but we’re facing those same labor shortages and dilemmas that everyone is facing, no matter the industry. I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t see it getting better in the next month or two. This is going to be something we’re going to have to work through, and hopefully our customers will be patient with us. We’re going to do our best to get you situated, but it’s just tough for everybody right now.
The other big thing going on right now is the move to online shopping. While we do have greenfrontrugs.com, we don’t have the capacity, capability, or want to sell big furniture online. You know, we had a TikTok of me with this sleeper sectional. It was cool, and it got a lot of views. But then we had people from Wisconsin and Texas asking, how much is it and when can I get it shipped? We’re still a small family business. Not every furniture company is a Wayfair or wants to be. We try to sell good products with the best prices we can possibly have. There may be ways to get furniture faster, but you’re probably getting a worse product.
So, please, be patient with us here at Green Front! We’re working hard to get you the products you want at prices you can feel great about. It’s just that the getting has been a bit trickier lately. As the industry recovers and adapts, we’re hoping to see things speed up so that we can get you more of what you want faster. Here’s to the new year, new furniture, and new trends in 2022!