Leo Lübke is a veteran in the German furniture industry.
The 57-year-old has been in the industry all his life.
He spent his youth and childhood with and with Interlübke, the premium furniture brand from East Westphalia that his grandfather founded in the 1930s.
Later, Lübke was also head of the company for a time. Above all, however, the industrial designer has headed the seating furniture manufacturer Cor in Rheda-Wiedenbrück for almost 30 years. Lübke knows all the ups and downs of the past decades in the domestic furniture world. “What is currently happening in the industry is completely new to me too,” the entrepreneur reports in an interview with WELT.
What is meant are massive bottlenecks in supplier products - across the board.
So-called wood-based materials are in short supply, for example chipboard, and at the same time steel, which is used for fittings, hinges, springs or frames, as well as plastics and glass, plus foams and fabrics for sofas and mattresses, reports the Association of the German Furniture Industry (VDM).
Even packaging material is currently not available in the necessary quantities.
"The agreed quantities are shortened, postponed or even canceled entirely by the suppliers," reports VDM managing director Jan Kurth.
And the problems get bigger every week.
"The situation is getting worse and worse," says Kurth, referring to a recent survey by his association.
According to this, more than two thirds of the manufacturers have, in some cases massive, difficulties with the raw material supply.
“There is currently a lot of demand from apparently poorly prepared suppliers,” complain the furniture makers.
This results in a significant disruption of production planning and logistics processes.
The result: It becomes significantly more expensive for consumers, and delivery times are extended by several weeks.
Great demand with low capacities on the market
At Cor, for example, customers now have to wait two and a half months for new armchairs and sofas.
"We no longer get any clear commitments for quantities and prices from the suppliers," reports company boss Lübke.
In the case of East Westphalia, the main focus is on foams that are used for the seats.
The problem: There are only three chemical manufacturers in Europe who produce the starting material toluene diisocyanate, or TDI for short, for the foams, two of them in Germany and one in Eastern Europe.
One of these plants failed for some time after a breakdown and is not running as smoothly as it should.
So there is a lack of large quantities in the market, which is also used by mattress manufacturers and the revived auto industry.
As a result, prices go up.
In any case, Lübke reports that the foam deliveries that are still possible have been more expensive month by month for the last six months, most recently by 60 percent since November.
Source: WORLD infographic
Chipboard is also scarce and expensive.
Because the few manufacturers had completely stopped parts of their production at the beginning of the pandemic due to a lack of demand and organized the necessary supplies from existing warehouses.
But then the orders skyrocketed again within a short period of time.
And because the start-up of the corresponding systems does not work immediately, the suppliers are now lagging behind.
Just like the steel manufacturers, whose blast furnaces, which have been temporarily shut down, have to come back into operation.
In some places it is rumored that the material suppliers deliberately allowed themselves a little more time to restart their systems and thus used the opportunity to improve income and margins.
The steel industry, which has been starving for a long time, is now getting 1,100 euros per ton instead of the traditional 500 to 600 euros.
VDM boss Kurth does not want to reproach the industrial partners: "I am not accusing anyone of intent."
Chipboard producer Pfleiderer also points out its own procurement problems.
Wood is not the topic here, but the melamines and methanol it also contains are.
At the same time, however, one was also surprised at how quickly the global economy and thus demand picked up again.
Now they are already working extra shifts and are also hiring additional staff, according to the industry giant.
In addition, maintenance intervals would be shortened.
Source: WORLD infographic
Negotiations, however, are tough on the part of the supplier.
"There are currently no more compromises," reports Andreas Wagner, for example, the managing partner of Rotpunkt Küchen from Bünde in East Westphalia.
“In the past, a supplier asked for a ten percent surcharge, and after a number of discussions it has increased to four to five percent,” describes the entrepreneur.
“Meanwhile, the motto is: eat or die.” And then there is no material.
But that's what the industry needs.
After all, the pandemic actually spurred furniture demand after the first corona shock with an initial dip in consumption.
Numerous companies report that German citizens are investing in their own homes because vacation trips and other leisure activities have to be canceled.
Also premium manufacturer Rotpunkt Kitchens.
"In the first quarter, incoming orders are double-digit," says company boss Wagner.
The majority of this is international business, but German kitchen studios also submit new orders almost daily, which at Rotpunkt are usually in the order of 10,000 to 20,000 euros.
No improvement in sight
In the coming months, buyers will have to go a step further.
“We can no longer cushion the current price increases for raw materials on our own.
They are currently flying around our ears, "says Wagner, referring to the additional costs for chipboard, glass fronts, fittings, but also plastic strips with which the edges of cabinet doors, for example, are faced.
After all, the rate of price increase for edging material, for example, is 18 percent.
Rotpunkt Küchen has therefore recently informed its own retail partners that the list prices will be increased by three percent from June.
And that doesn't have to be it yet.
“I hope that this slight increase is enough.
But I can't guarantee that, ”says Wagner.
That depends on the further market development.
Source: WORLD infographic
The VDM, according to which material prices have risen by an average of more than 20 percent in the last six months, expects the situation to remain tense.
“We don't see much improvement in the coming months.
On the contrary: once consumers are really allowed to go into the shops again, demand could even continue to rise, ”believes Managing Director Kurth.
That was already the case in March, when there were cautious openings for a short time. Kurth reports a 40 to 50 percent increase in incoming orders alone. “Anyone who needs something specific in summer or autumn should therefore order now.” Pfleiderer does not see any normalization in the foreseeable future either, at least in the area of chipboard. Even long-term forecasts are difficult. Rotpunkt boss Wagner expects the situation to calm down in 2022 at the earliest - and even further deterioration in the short term.
Especially since the increasing panic of buyers is making the tense situation even worse.
“We are currently buying all the material that is available,” Wagner describes.
And the kitchen manufacturer is not alone in this.
Because across the industry, there is a fear of no longer being able to deliver because certain parts are missing.
Cor, too, has changed its purchasing policy because of this.
“So far we have been lean and have received many raw materials just-in-time.
In the past few months, however, we have made the warehouse as full as possible, ”says company boss Lübke.
In doing so, however, the suppliers do not manage to substantially fill the empty warehouses again.
But that is a problem for short-term orders.