Who will be the biggest winners and losers after the pandemic?
Our most trusted commercial office furniture manufacturers across the country have been shutting down factories, limiting the workforce, and lowering salaries. As much as we in our industry would like to consider ourselves an "essential business", we're not and should not expect any government bail out besides what we can manage to receive through the PPP program. It's not just the manufacturers that have been hit the hardest during this time, it's also the wholesalers and dealers who are having a very difficult time finding buyers.
Few if not very little organizations are thinking about a major office expansion or remodeling project. Employers’ immediate focus is on getting all of their home-bound office workers as productive as possible, as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
Although efficient productivity has an obvious end result of profits, do the home-bound employees have an adequate desk/office situation in order to jump on a zoom call without being interrupted by kids or noisy neighbors? Do they even own a desk? Simple office setups similar to that of what the employee had in the office can cost up to $1,200 for a private office, and $900 for a cubicle setup.
As a consequence, standing desk sales are brisker than ever—online. The thing is that few of these desks are being purchased from the traditional contract furniture manufacturers and dealers who likely outfitted the desk they used to sit at in the office.
Before the pandemic, office furniture acquisition decisions were usually made by a small committee of people, typically including facilities managers, architects and interior designers, HR and Finance representatives. These purchases were ordinarily pushed through as large capital equipment “projects,” with the furniture depreciated over five to ten years. In a tectonic shift that has essentially democratized the purchasing of office furniture, the vast majority of new standing desks are now being purchased directly by the employee, and then being partially or fully reimbursed by the employer (“expensed” rather than “capitalized,” in accounting lingo).
Taking this decision out of the hands of a small committee and distributing it to each employee allows workers the option of choosing a desk that nicely fits their home office space and décor, rather than their corporate office look. Some are using the subsidy to upgrade to something even nicer than they would have otherwise gotten.
For the most part these employees are shopping online to find something that suits their home—and perhaps more importantly—their assembly skills. Contract furniture, after all, is designed for professional installers to put together. Not all of these companies have friendly video instructions, pre-drilled pilot holes or even robust packaging to survive being shipped individually.
The consensus among industry followers is that for the titan commercial furniture manufacturers, along with rafts of commercial architects and interior designers, contract furniture dealers and installers, there will be a dearth of new business for at least the next two to three years as most employees continue to stay working from home until things sort themselves out.
We are now embracing e-commerce as the solution to online shopping. We still have an amazing showroom that is open and welcomes any buyer looking for an office furniture product or solution.