Furniture makers struggle to rebound

June 4, 2010
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The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association saw a 5 percent uptick in orders for March.

“We appear to be starting to recover a little bit,” said Tom Reardon, executive director of BIFMA. “We saw some order in improvement. That’s the first time we’ve seen a plus sign in front of those percentage changes in about a year and a half. Anecdotally, the people that I’ve been talking to have indicated that March and April were trending upward.”

The industry as a whole, however, is still down year-to-year, which tends to be a cyclical trend in the office furniture industry.

“We do expect calendar 2010 to be another negative growth year. We’re predicting about a 4 to 5percent drop this year. The first quarter was down about 11 percent. That should moderate and become less and less,” he said. “But we do expect positive growth next year.”

It is also important to note that the statistics BIFMA publishes are only for the office furniture sector. Many furniture manufacturers have expanded into other vertical markets such as health care and education. Those numbers are not applied to BIFMA’s current figures, but have helped many companies take less of a hit compared to previous years.

“We have not yet begun to publish statistics on that. We’re working on it … but right now our numbers are strictly on the office furniture volume,” he said.

“Our impressions are that the companies probably aren’t doing as bad as the 30 percent decline we had last year because they have been diversifying into other markets. I think the education and health care side of it has held up a little bit better than the commercial office side.”

BIFMA has been busy promoting its “level” certification program. Level is a sustainability standard that is administered by an independent third-party. The program was announced a year ago and involved seven manufacturers representing 120 products. Currently this year, there are 11 companies with more than 250 certified products. Reardon believes that in the few days remaining before NeoCon, more companies will introduce level-certified products.

“I think you’re probably going to see at least another half-dozen companies or more within the last two weeks leading up to NeoCon,” he said.

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