Businesses and organizations are constantly hosting donors on site, through various fundraisers and often charity events. These moments are the lifeblood of many organizations, yet so often important details are overlooked. The furniture found in one’s office, for example, is capable of speaking loudly in many ways. You may offend a donor at not offering them a fine leather sectional to sit on, while giving the wrong impression of your organization’s spending habits to another. It’s a fine line, and fine furniture is a topic personal to each group’s mission and personal dealings. Spending money on cheap furniture that has to be constantly replaced is also another source of unnecessary expenditure. In this article, we’ve interviewed a donor of ours who has worked as product developer within the furniture industry for the past 15 years, and while he isn’t able to talk many specifics about his work—he sheds a lot of light on many other aspects of the furniture industry. Hopefully, this interview will help you better understand what the best furniture options for your organization are, the best furniture brands available for you to purchase from, and the ins-and-outs of finding affordable furniture. For reference, many of the brands that are talked about in this interview can seen in the Best Furniture Brands article recommended by Mark below.
Below is a transcript from our conversation with Mark:
RSA: Mark, thanks so much for joining us today, I think that this might be a really exciitng tangent from our normal topics around here. Perhaps we could start by you telling our readers a little bit about yourself, and your experience within the furniture industry?
Mark: Absolutely! I’ve been in the furniture industry in some capacity most of my life. I grew up in Thomasville, North Carolina which is in the epicenter of many of the world’s best furniture brands. As a kid, I used to get summer jobs in a couple of factories, that’s before most went overseas, and later went to school for furniture design in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
RSA: Michigan, Really? Why so far away from the rest of the furniture world?
Mark: Many people don’t realize it, but Grand Rapids Michigan used to be a powerhouse of furniture manufacturing, and is still host to some of the most-authoritative furniture design education programs. It’s funny, but High Point University to this day still doesn’t have a furniture design program! So, I learned the ins-and outs up there, and then came back to North Carolina to work.
RSA: I see, and you started out working as an in-house designer for a large international brand correct?
Mark: That’s right, although ‘international’ is a stretch for their size at the time I was there. I started working for Lexington Furniture, which is now a larger company called Lexington Home Brands. I was basically the office jockey that handled a lot of the boring day-to-day tasks that the senior designers didn’t like to be boggled down with. You know, drawing all the peripheral pieces after the designers and engineers had done all the heavy lifting—and sharpening a LOT of pencils! That was in the early days of software like AutoCAD, and we still did a lot of work by hand. Many people don’t realize, but even the biggest furniture brands in the world are still ‘behind the times’ in a large sense compared to other industries like Architecture and Interior Design.
RSA: That’s interesting! So we talk a lot with organizations that are working hard to balance budgets, and weighing their options for the best ways to invest what precious little dollars the get. We were talking earlier, and you had mentioned some really interesting concepts about leveraging furniture to help meet some goals.
Mark: Yeah, enough about me right? Haha, seriously though my life has been pretty boring—professionally speaking—but it has afforded me some serious insights about money and furniture. Mostly, I don’t know of another industry that is as inefficient as 90% of the furniture market. The best brands in furniture still have really outdated distribution models and marketing practices. Now, I’ll give it to them, they do ‘get’ younger generations, but I attribute that mostly to just word-of-mouth around the office from designers and decorators that work on projects with them. Without being boring; basically there are huge markups in the furniture industry, and all the best brands do it. You’ve got your Hooker Furniture, Bernhardt, Stanley, and even my old flame Lexington Furniture selling furniture at insane prices in stores. For example, a chair that costs $90 to make in China might retail in the United States for $450!
RSA: What?! That’s crazy! Are all furniture brands like that?
Mark: Well, that’s were I hope I may be able to offer your readers a bit of advice. When most people hear furniture brands, they thing Costco, Walmart, BigLots! and maybe even IKEA. These manufacturers make the cheapest possible product they can get away with, because they know they won’t have any competition. I mean, if you’re buying furniture from BigLots! or Costco—how many other stores are you checking prices on? Most people don’t realize there are thousands of furniture brands in the world, though the best furniture brands are pretty easy to pick out from the crowd.
RSA: That makes sense, I mean; a lot of industries are like that aren’t they?
Mark: Absolutely, I’m sure I’d be talking about the overpriced nature of rental cars if I’d worked for Hertz for 10 years!
RSA: Haha, I get your point!
Mark: So the bottom line is that a lot of people think that spending $500 on an entire bedroom set is a quality investment, and for that price they’ll be set for years! The truth is, big corporate companies such as Costco and WalMart know that they can sell an entertainment console if it’s priced at $125, regardless of how well it’s made. So if they can get it manufactured in Vietnam for $15, they’ll roll it out all day long. We’ve all seen WalMart furniture, and it usually wobbles just by looking at it!
RSA: Tell me about it, that pile of scrap you saw on the front porch coming in was from WalMart!
Mark: Oh man, that’s the story with them! So if you’re aware of some of the high quality furniture brands on the market, you’ll be able to really start comparing prices to find a good deal. Not ‘WalMart’ good, but if you know the furniture brands that you can trust to deliver quality goods, then you can go online and really save.
RSA: You mean buying the furniture online, yes?
Mark: Correct. The internet has really grown in recent years with respect the amount of furniture that is for sale on there. While the rest of the furniture industry has been pretty stagnant, sites like Wayfair.com have been eating other local store’s lunches. They’ve seen sixty percent plus growth for the last couple of years, while stores like Haverty’s and Rooms to Go have all been plus or minus three to four percent—basically no change. People are comfortable buying big items online now, and Wayfair has really shown an impressive ability to retail Home Goods and Furniture. They work closely with the Top furniture brands in the world, and I think have like 10 million products listed on their site? It’s crazy, it really is. They weren’t even a company 10 years ago and they’re already doing 6 Billion a year now. If you know which brands to shop for though, you can go on sites like Wayfair—or hell; you can even get quality brands from Amazon these days—and anyways you can save like 40% on average. Google doesn’t have many great articles about the best furniture brands, so it’s really hard to pay for most people outside of the furniture industry to learn about which one’s are trustworthy and which ones aren’t. I did see one great article the other day from some site I’d never heard of, Sodalicious or SoFine, So—something; anyway they had a really great article with a lot of review of some of the best furniture brands. Maybe you can find that and link it up for your readers, I’ll try and email it to you later.
RSA: That’t be awesome! So what advice would you have for small organizations such as us for buying furniture; a
Mark: I’d say pay close attention to which furniture brands are out there. Brands like Bernhardt, Broyhill, Lexington, Hooker, all have tremendous products but can be a little expensive for many people. There are other furniture brands that offer pretty good stuff, but make a few concessions to hit better price points. These are brands like Liberty Furniture and Coaster. Dig around on the websites of these manufacturers, and then take your mission to Wayfair or Amazon. You’ll be able to furnish an entire office by shopping online for what many businesses would pay for a single desk. And hey, this is true even if you’re buying crappy WalMart furniture—even it’s still cheaper online! A great idea could even be to shop the clearance sections on sites like WayFair, which have designs from really high end furniture brands, for prices up to 70% off—and you could use those for your charity auctions! You could make 25%, a couple hundred bucks, and still offer people an amazing price! Hey, maybe I should start doing that!
RSA: No way—we called it first! Seriously though, that sounds incredible—thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today Mark. And thanks again for all you’ve done for our organization these past few months.
Mark made some really great points about the waste and overpricing going on in the furniture market, and had some really novel ideas about how to ‘hack’ the system and get some cheap furniture! Since we’ve talked to Mark we’ve ordered several new pieces of furniture for our office (which we really had been putting off too long) and paid less than what the Habitat for Humanity down the street wanted for the stuff they had. Mark really wasn’t kidding—buying furniture online is crazy cheap. Ultimately, your organizations goals and mission are unique to your and your community. No pieces of furniture—whether from BigLots! or the best furniture brand in the world—will help overcome misguided goals. I hope this unique conversation has helped spark a line of thought that may help you and your group better understand that sometimes thinking outside of the box is the only way to move forward!