Appliance shortage impacting Pittsburgh-area businesses, consumers

PITTSBURGH — A nationwide appliance shortage is having an impact on businesses and consumers within the Pittsburgh region.

Channel 11 reached out to several area business owners, who reported that the shortage began in March 2020 -- just as the pandemic was beginning.

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“We noticed it in the beginning with freezers,” said Ed Pelino Jr., owner of Bridgeville Appliance.

The uncertainty with the shutdown prompted consumers to stock up on frozen goods. Then, as folks stayed home, they were perhaps doing laundry more frequently, as well as cooking as opposed to going out to eat.

Matt Hillebrand, principal of Don’s Appliances, said the increased use of appliances shortened the life expectancy of some products, so consumers were in the market for new items sooner than expected.

Additionally, while at home, some opted to renovate with brand-new appliances as opposed to spending their savings on travel or entertainment that was off-limits during the shutdown.

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“We’ve seen sales by far outpacing production,” Hillebrand said. “With the COVID setback that we’ve all experienced, parts availability is an issue. ... There’s transportation issues from ports on the East and West Coast. Then you’ve got trucking issues. ... It’s a multi-dimensional problem that we don’t foresee being fixed any time soon.”

“Demand is high; supply is low. Basic economics,” said Nick Sprowls, owner of Sprowls City Appliance in Washington. Sprowls said his store sells “everything we can get our hands on.” He said dishwashers are in extremely short supply but noted it really “runs the gamut.”

Pelino agrees it’s “hit or miss on everything.”

Hillebrand told Channel 11 that “inexpensive products of any type” are particularly in short supply, so consumers should expect to potentially pay more in order to get an appliance as soon as possible.

The business owners also told Channel 11 that to get a product as soon as possible, customers may have to sacrifice a particular feature or color that they had hoped for.

At Don’s Appliances, the warehouse is packed with items, as its team has tried to purchase products in bulk to keep inventory up.

But if a consumer wants something that isn’t in stock, they “could be waiting upwards of 20 to 24 weeks,” Hillebrand said.

Pelino advised folks who are in the market or will be soon to place orders as soon as possible.

That goes for parts, too. If you’re thinking of simply fixing a broken appliance to avoid waiting for a new one, you may still have to wait.

Joel Norris, owner of Joel Norris Appliance Repair, said he’s had to wait months for certain parts from his manufacturer, meaning customers aren’t always getting immediate service.

“We’ll say, ‘It’s on back order. I have to order from my vendors.’ [Customers] will go on Amazon and order an after-market part and say, ‘Hey, I got it. Come put it on.’ But I can’t warranty that stuff,” Norris told us.

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As frustrating as the situation can be for business owners and consumers, the folks we interviewed noted that business is doing well, which isn’t bad news for an economy and job market that have been rocked by the pandemic.

“We’ve brought back all of our people we laid off,” Hillebrand said. “We’ve added some people. We’re adding some extra locations.”

“We’re very blessed,” Sprowls said. “Business is through the roof.”

Channel 11 has been covering a number of reports on the pandemic’s impacts on products in the “Summer Shortages” series.