Has the bloom faded in home office?

Resources say ‘no’ as demand remains strong and they continue to add products that will allow consumers to trade up in the category

HIGH POINT — What shaped up to be one of the most popular wood furniture categories in 2020, doesn’t appear to be slowing down in a major way, according to suppliers and wholesalers that have expanded their presence in the segment.

In fact, sources note, home office sales are continuing to rise across a wide mix of product, from writing desks to executive desks and companion seating and storage pieces.

That’s good news for a segment of the industry that has competed for attention against most upholstery resources in recent years.

While shipments of some products may be slowed due to the challenge of flowing goods from overseas, demand has remained relatively strong. Offices may be calling many back to physical offices, but many employees – new and existing – have negotiated the ability to work from home at least a few days if not the entire workweek.

On the flip side, sources note, many have already purchased desks, file storage units and other pieces they need to work from home, thus creating a perceived slowdown in recent months. Supply chain challenges have also contributed to a drop in some office sales.

But as the work from home trend continues, observers are hoping consumers end up seeking step- up goods from larger desks with larger work surfaces to credenza deck units that combine work space with plenty of storage.

“Obviously with the supply constraints that are well known, it has been a challenge to get product, and we have seen a softening of that category in general,” said Kyle Johansen, executive director, merchandising at Minneapolis, Minn.-based retailer HOM Furniture. “Plus the people who were planning to work from home have already got what they needed and found solutions.”

Kyle Johansen

Still, he thinks that one of the perks companies will continue to offer moving forward will be the ability to work from home, which could drive future demand.

“I think the office category will be an even stronger category in the next several years than it would have been without the pandemic,” he added, noting that office chair sales are a smaller subcategory that continues to grow as people seek to upgrade their current seating whether they’re using a dining table chair or an inexpensive – and likely uncomfortable -office chair.

He also said that HOM continues to do well in executive desks, writing desks and even hi-low, sit/stand desks.

“Those have been really popular,” he said of the sit/stand desks. “A lot of people use them in our office. That has been a nice niche product.”

Jeff Harris, president and CEO of Jamestown, N.C. -based retailer Furnitureland South, said that the home office category continues to do well, particularly in seating and commercial grade office product people are buying for their homes. So much so, he added, that the company is looking to expand its office display.

Jeff Harris

“We are updating and expanding the category as we expand the office area,” he said, adding that lift desks, and ergonomic-type office seating also are doing well.

“Those things continue to be great for us,” he said.

That said, many case goods resources are continuing to expand their lines, including some that have not had a major presence in the category previously. Stickley Furniture, for example, has offered plenty of writing and smaller scale desks over the years. However at the October market, it had a major expansion of the category, with  nearly a third of its 90-plus new pieces in its Origins by Stickley collection in home office.

The mix was wide, with multiple 48-inch and 60-inch-wide desks with and without storage drawers. The collection also has companion  one and two-drawer file cabinets, bookcase hutch units and low profile and tall bookcase unis in 30-inch, 48,-inch, 60-inch and 72-inch heights. The collection also offered two new swivel-tilt arm chairs with and without arms.

“This is the most extensive program we have done,” CEO Aminy Audi told Home News Now, noting that the company is responding to the way that people live and work at home. “People have re-examined the things they have lived with for a long time…It bodes well for the industry and sets a pattern that will be here for a long time.”

Added company President Edward Audi of activity in the home office category, “We have not seen a slowdown. I think it will continue to be a hot category because people are still working from their homes.”

Some said that they have a slight slowdown in the category, which they partly attribute to record high sales last year. There also appears to be more competition as companies such as Bernhardt and A-America recently have gotten into the category, while others such as Intercon recently have returned to the category.

Plus there is the challenge of getting goods shipped from overseas, which delays the written orders from turning into actual sales.

However, long-time office specialists such as Martin Furniture, Home Insights Furniture, Parker House and Legends Furniture said they too are seeing continued demand in home office.

“It is doing well,” said Tim Donk, director of marketing and business development at Legends Furniture of the domestically made program. “We had a 25% increase in sales last year and that is holding this year.”

This desk, file cabinet, bookcase and entertainment wall are part of Legends Furniture’s Nantucket collection, shown at the October High Point Market.

He said he expects the momentum to continue as home office has been a focus at recent markets, including the latest October High Point Market, where Legends introduced new desks and companion case pieces.

“It will probably increase as we have added new groups to the category,” he said, noting that small scale executive desks and writing desks remain popular.

Richard Olmeda, president of case goods resource Home Insights Furniture, also said demand in the category remains strong.

“Many people who are working from home and will continue working from home, they are looking for a full home office environment,” he said. “They are not working off the dining room table, but in the third or fourth bedroom. They need something more than a (table) top and four legs and some file storage. They need a real home office environment and that is where we come in.”

He noted that sales and ultimately success in the category, however, depends on the ability to ship finished goods.

“Obviously it is impacted by everyone’s ability to ship and deliver goods to floors,” he said. “You can have all this demand, but it can be all for naught if you can’t get the goods shipped and invoiced.”

Given the backlog, Olmeda noted that a big question mark is how much demand there will for new goods in the near term.

“We have a couple of introductions in the category,” Olmeda said before market, noting that there will likely be some interest in new product as overseas factories get back to normal production capacity in the first or second quarter of next year.

Ultimately, he expects demand to remain strong in the category over the long term based on people continuing to work from home.

This display of small home office product was seen at the Martin Furniture showroom at the October High Point Market. The items are popular as they can be shipped in small parcels via UPS or FedEx.

“It is alive and well and should continue to grow,” he said. “It is not just a fluke during the Covid years. It is a sea change in how people in the U.S. work… Whether they are employed full or part time, people are resisting the whole idea of going back to their cubicles. I don’t see that as going to change back.”

Other home office resources also said that demand in the category remains strong, including Martin Furniture and Parker House, both of which also had new product at the October market.

Martin is doing well with a wide range of items, from writing desks and filing cabinets to larger executive desks and library walls designed for large, dedicated offices. Freestanding bookcases are another top-selling item in the line.

Parker House said that sales in the category also remain strong, which is also driving a wide mix of introductions in the category, ranging from functional writing desks to bookcases and large library walls not to mention office chairs.

This desk and credenza deck unit are part of Parker House Furniture’s Shoreham collection, which is seen here in a two-tone finish. The design was inspired by the architecture seen in coastal New England towns.

“We are enhancing the category,” said Marietta Willey, vice president, product development and merchandising, of the mix and styling that includes pieces designed for female professionals. “It is not being tucked away in a basement or above a garage. These items are being placed in the middle of living spaces.”

Among the products Parker House showed at market were boomerang-shaped three-drawer desks in white and brown finishes and new executive desk and companion credenza hutch units in the Shoreham collection first launched in June.  The same collection featured bookcases with detachable crowns that allow the units to be bunched.

The company also showed several new office chairs, including smaller scale chairs for female executives along with inline pieces in its Elevation collection. The Elevation line features a task writing desk with a sit/stand design that allow it double as a partner’s desk, along with a companion bookcase and a rolling file cabinet with lift-top functionality.

Such a wide selection from these and others could continue to be good for retailers and consumers, particularly as they trade up in the segment to higher price or styled goods.

“I don’t think it is going away,” said Kyle Johansen, of retailer HOM Furniture. “We are not going to back off – we plan to keep the office department stocked and are aggressively ordering for what office could be.”

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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