Foam shortage affecting furniture, automotive industries

Mar. 18—TUPELO — A shortage of the chemicals used to make foam has caused a ripple effect across the furniture industry, but it isn't alone in trying to deal with the growing problem.

The automotive industry also is affected, as foam is used for the seating inside vehicles.

The foam shortage in the furniture industry has been an issue since the fall but has been exacerbated by the recent deep freeze in Texas and Louisiana, where most of the chemicals are produced for foam.

"We're working four days per week to try to deal with the shortage," said Jim Sneed, CEO of Affordable Furniture in Randolph. The 300-employee plant, like so many others, can't build furniture if it can't get foam.

Other companies are taking entire weeks off work, or working every other week, adjusting schedules along the way to deal with the shortage.

"We started seeing shortages in November or so, and we heard that companies in Europe and China were willing to pay more for the chemicals than companies were in the U.S.," Sneed said. "So those chemical makers started adding surcharges to what they were selling to furniture companies here. So far, I've seen a 5% surcharge, another 5% surcharge, and I hear another round is coming that could be 10% or more."

The cost of furniture manufacturing has already increased with the rise in steel costs and other raw materials, and the foam shortage is only making things worse.

Pride Mobility in Pontotoc isn't as large as many of its nearby residential furniture makers, but the company still uses foam. Managing director Dwight Hardison said the shortage means delivery is delayed for retailers and consumers.

North Carolina-based Kellex, which specialized in seating for the hospitality and senior living industries and has a facility in Tupelo, in an email described a "severe supply chain shortage of foam and other poly/pad supplies to the furniture and other foam-dependent industries.

Our foam suppliers have notified us that we will soon see an interruption in their ability to supply us with our regular allotment of foam. This disruption will come in the form of a reduction in our standard foam allocation. Unfortunately, this foam shortage will impact our upcoming production, making it necessary to temporarily add an approximate two-week shipment delay."

The automotive industry is also keeping close tabs on the foam shortage, as well as a shortage in computer chips.

General Motors, Stellantis, Toyota, BMW, Hyundai, and Kia all told Automotive News that they're monitoring the situation.

That's good news for the more than 2,000 workers at the Toyota Mississippi plant in Blue Springs, where a foam shortage has yet to result in any problems.

"Due to COVID and recent severe weather-related events, Toyota has been informed that a supply shortage will continue to affect production at our Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi and Mexico plants," said Kathryn Ragsdale, corporate communications manager for the plant. "Our manufacturing and supply chain teams are working diligently to resume normal operations as quickly as possible by evaluating the supply constraint and developing countermeasures to minimize further impact to production. At this time, we do not expect any impact to employment."

As for the furniture industry, which employs some 40,000 directly and indirectly in Mississippi, the shortage couldn't come at a worse time.

"I feel terrible for the retailers because they're selling furniture better than they have in a long time," Sneed said. "Unfortunately, they can't get the furniture they need quick enough from the manufactures, but there's not a lot we can really do about it until the supply chain catches up. When that will be, who knows?"