weekly feature | Dec 1, 2021 |
The state of the design industry, by the numbers

There’s an old proverb that can be read as either a blessing or a curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Interesting is certainly one way to describe the moment. Crazy is another. To sum up the madness of the COVID era in the design business—from skyrocketing demand to a broken supply chain to rapid technological leaps—probably requires more than just one word. It’s also worth looking at the numbers.

To take a snapshot of a wild time, Business of Home rounded up stats, dollar signs and figures from around the industry. They paint a picture of a business in an unprecedented period of disruption—and opportunity.

Cargo ships lined up at the Port of Los Angeles

By now, BOH readers will hardly be surprised by doomy news about the global supply chain, but it’s worth looking at this shocking statistic. Though the Biden administration has ordered “America’s port” to run 24/7 (it’s not quite there yet), as of last Tuesday, the number of ships waiting to unload is the highest it has ever been. The wait time from dropping anchor to docking in Los Angeles is also at a record high: 18.6 days.

The price of a containership from Asia

In good news, that’s down from record highs of more than $20,000 in August. The drop has led some industry analysts to speculate that shipping providers are losing their pricing power and surcharges on imported furniture may fade away. However, the cost of a container is still five to seven times what it was pre-COVID, and it’s not clear whether this drop is purely the result of market factors or a seasonal lull (anything that hasn’t left China by now won’t make it to the U.S. by Christmas). Bottom line: Overseas shipping is still historically expensive.

The percentage jump in furniture prices

Inflation has come to the home industry. A combination of supply chain snarls, labor shortages and outsized demand has sent the price of furniture and bedding up 12 percent over the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is so surprising because it’s almost double the rate of overall inflation across all consumer goods, and it goes against historical industry trends: Furniture almost never gets this expensive this fast—it’s the biggest jump since the 1950s.

Vanguard’s sign-on bonus for an experienced upholsterer

There’s never been a greater demand for home furnishings, and it’s never been harder to meet it. It’s an especially ironic position for domestic manufacturers, who don’t have to contend with overseas delays and the price of shipping containers. Instead, their biggest challenge is often labor—finding enough experienced local workers in an industry that has been gutted by globalization (concerns about COVID, direct stimulus payments, and a lack of access to daycare for parents are all playing a role). As a result, domestic manufacturers have increased wages across the board, and many, like Vanguard Furniture, instituted signing bonuses for skilled workers.

The percentage of interior designers who say their business has grown during COVID

First, there was the mass halting of projects in the spring of 2020. Then came the deluge, as designers everywhere were inundated with requests from stir-crazy clients looking for a refresh. That pace has continued into 2021. According to a BOH survey, only 10 percent of designers say their business has stayed flat or shrunk over the last 18 months. By contrast, a quarter of designers say their business has grown over 50 percent.

RH’s revenue for the second quarter of 2021

It’s no secret that the COVID era has been rocket fuel for manufacturers and retailers in the home business. That’s especially true for those who cater to the affluent—in 2020 and 2021, the rich got richer. Though most luxury home brands are private companies and don’t share their revenue figures, RH’s recent earnings report is a reasonable proxy for the continued strength of the home boom at the higher tier of the market. Between last April and July, the company brought in close to a billion dollars, 40 percent more than during the same period in 2019.

The percentage drop in Wayfair’s stock from its all-time high

It’s hard to think of a business more poised to ride the pandemic home-spending surge than Wayfair—it sold furniture without forcing customers to strap on a mask and brave a crowded store. The company’s stock price bore that thesis out. In March of 2020, it had slumped to a five-year low, just below $30. A year later, shares were going for $343, a gain of more than 1,000 percent. However, the company’s most recent earnings report was a bit of a disappointment, and the stock has dropped by more than a quarter in value. Though home brands are still posting record revenues, some of the Wall Street euphoria has clearly worn off.

The cost of one hour of Amber Lewis’s time

Before COVID, e-design was often seen as a downmarket service. But the rapid adoption of remote work at all levels of the economy quickly changed that. There’s no clearer sign that e-design has lost its stigma than The Expert, a platform that connects consumers to acclaimed designers for hour-long Zoom consultations. Amber Lewis is one of the company’s priciest designers, but many are charging more than $1,000 for 55 minutes of virtual advice.

The number of virtual showhouse rooms

In 2019, this number was zero. But the mass event cancellations of the COVID era led to some outside-the-box thinking, and birthed the onset of online-only experiences like BADG’s Obsidian Virtual Concept House, BIDN’s Iconic Home, and Seasonal Living’s virtual designer showhouse. By our unscientific count, there have been 74 rooms designed for virtual showhouses to date. Will that number keep growing as rapidly even after COVID recedes? Only time will tell, but the phenomenon certainly isn’t over yet—Martha Stewart Living magazine and influencer marketing agency Embello are teaming up for a new showhouse that will open its digital doors in March 2022.

Minutes to sell $450,000 worth of digital furniture

If you’ve heard of only one NFT, it’s probably digital artist Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days, which sold in March for a jaw-dropping $69 million at auction. However, a month prior, Argentinian artist Andrés Reisinger sold a collection of nonfungible tokens representing 10 pieces of “impossible” furniture he had designed. The collection—consisting only of digital images—sold out in 10 minutes for almost half a million dollars. The story has a twist: Months later, Dutch furniture brand Moooi put one of the pieces, the Hortensia armchair, into production. At a base price of $3,248, the physical object goes for considerably cheaper than its NFT counterpart.

Homepage photo: Shutterstock

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