People, Planet, Profit
The furniture industry has seen a steep decline in the last decade and a half, with a 25% reduction in business many manufacturers and distributors have been forced to make cutbacks in jobs and facilities. However, that doesn’t mean the industry is drying up like a worm on the sidewalk, it’s simply changing, like a worm that is actually a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly…. or something like that. Office culture has become a dominant factor in the way we design, use and market furniture, there is a growing demand to “modernize” space and “go green”. Designers aren’t simply thinking about what motivational cat poster to hang up in the break room or what shade of faux leather to upholster the waiting room couch in. Consumers in the office furniture industry are considering things like ergonomics, technology integration, carbon footprint and of course cost; and while the products have changed according to the wants and needs of the consumer, advances in technology have also been a driving force in the evolution of office furniture as an increasing number of companies go paperless and begin to utilize wireless technologies and smaller hardware. The days of the large, clunky desktop and obnoxiously loud fax machine are gone, in favor of sleek laptops, tablets and smartphones which take up only a slight fraction of office real estate and give project managers and designers much more space to work with allowing for more collaborative areas that appeal to (many) young professionals. Technology has also made the industry exponentially more earth-friendly, as advances are made in materials that have less impact on the environment many manufacturers are using these fabrics, laminates and plastics in products that appeal to the environmentalist in all of us to help increase sales.
To accommodate the demands of this new wave of consumers, manufacturers are offering custom and semi-custom products with options that suit the changing environment of the modern office. Though this requires an innovative sales and design team, the ability to adapt and to change with the market is crucial to the survival of any company in the furniture industry. Smart manufacturers and distributors have expanded their product line to appeal to more than just the traditional office setting with products geared toward medical and educational facilities as well as the hospitality industry. Many companies are also seeing more and more business from private and residential projects as designers place less focus on the category that a piece of furniture is marketed under and more attention is paid to price and quality.
Overall, this is a mature industry that is being re-invented to encompass a much broader spectrum of clientele and this is happening at a time when many office managers are realizing a need to modernize space. The combination of these factors should ultimately contribute to the growth of the industry, but only for those who are willing and able to grow with it.