| Sep 25, 2009 |
The American Furniture Industry: What Will It Take to Survive?
Boh staff
By Staff

Baby Boomers don't care about owning fine furniture. Department stores aren't interested in stocking furniture. Design piracy flourishes. And marketing savvy is in short supply.

It's another sad chapter in the history of the American furniture companies, a perfect storm of consumer trends, market forces and industry intransigence. A detailed report, The American Furniture Industry: What Will It Take to Survive?, has just been published.

Compiled by Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos, a leading turnaround management firm, in collaboration with Michael K. Dugan, author of The Furniture Wars: How America Lost a Fifty Billion Dollar Industry, the report is based on research conducted over the past two months.

Of the furniture manufacturing companies surveyed, sales dropped over 10% on average last year, with some of the best known brands taking the biggest hits. Retailers were similarly afflicted as housing construction came to a standstill and consumers made do with the furniture they owned.

The economic downturn exacerbated long-standing trends. The industry as a whole has been slow to adopt cost-saving tactics, such as Lean Manufacturing. Nor have there been serious attempts to penetrate the export market, even as production moved offshore. And unlike other consumer goods industries, furniture companies have not become adept at marketing and distributing their products.

The industry has some unusual challenges, such as the fact that well-made wood furniture doesn't wear out, and only goes out of style at a glacial pace. And then there's the truth that price discounts don't work the way they do in other industries where style counts. If the price of dresses goes down, the report notes, women may feel the need to buy more dresses. If sofas are marked down, the customer just needs one, if any.

As manufacturing companies and furniture stores fall by the wayside, some companies will have a chance of surviving.

"Those will be the companies that are open to change," said Peter Tourtellot, managing director of Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos. "The industry needs fresh thinking about marketing and branding, information technology, and manufacturing and distribution."

The report can be downloaded at http://abtv.com/furniturewatch.pdf.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.