In recognition of the potential impact the issue of furniture tip-over may have on the industry, the Greater Metropolitan Furnishings Association held a webinar last week titled “How will the new anti-tipping laws affect your furniture business?”
The webinar was hosted by GMFA President Harris Kirsch, moderated by GFMA retail member Lenny Kharitonov, president of Emma Mason Furniture, and featured panelists Chris Andresen, senior vice president of Dutko Government Relations, and Mark Schumacher, CEO of the Home Furnishings Association.
As a service to our audience, Home News Now attended the webinar and is providing a summary of key points here:
Andresen kicked off the webinar by noting that as a federal lobbyist who has worked with the HFA for almost 15 years, the furniture tip-over issue has emerged as the one with the potential to have the greatest impact on the home furnishings sector.
He next shared some history with the audience. “Back in the early 2000s, the furniture industry along with the parent consumer groups created a voluntary tip-over standard through ASTM, a standard-setting body. Over time, that voluntary standard has been updated and revised to reflect various market and data points.”
He went on to point out that, in the 20-plus years regarding this issue, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, had, until recently, not stepped in to create a mandatory standard despite ongoing input from the furniture industry telling the CPSC that having a mandatory standard would address some of the issues it currently is concerned about.
“Then, in November of 2022, the CPSC published a mandatory standard safety rating for clothing storage units that goes into effect May 24 of 2023,” Andresen noted.
Andresen expressed dismay that, while the industry supports a mandatory standard that would protect children and other individuals from tip-overs, the CPSC’s new standard would outlaw most existing models of clothing storage furniture starting May 24, effectively pricing them out of the market for most consumers based on the cost of compliance, from reengineering of products to higher shipping costs.
“And with the May 24 deadline just weeks away, the CPSC noted that they tested thousands of products and did not find one current clothing storage on the market today that would achieve that safety rating, that minimum safety rating of 1,” Andresen observed.
Both Andresen and Schumacher also expressed frustration with the CPSC on this issue, particularly since other groups, including many parents, were attempting to address the issue of child safety and tip-over issues via the STURDY Act.
Andresen explained that there was something that had already moved through Congress called the STURDY Act. And that was something that HFA, the American Home Furnishings Alliance, the furniture industry, parent and consumer groups, and the House and Senate had worked together on. STURDY passed two days before Christmas and signed by President Biden on December 29.
He went on to point out that the STURDY Act was, “Congress stepping in to set requirements for the CPSC moving forward on furniture tip-over.” He also said what that means is that, “If there is a voluntary standard that meets certain requirements that are listed in the act, the CPSC shall adopt those voluntary center requirements instead of any other rule that’s in the book there may be in effect at that point in time,” Andresen explained.
“Now you’ve got a situation where the CPSC is required by law to evaluate this revised standard that the industry, collectively as well as parent consumer groups, have expressed strongly to the CPSC that this revised ASTM standard does meet the requirements and should be adopted,” Andresen continued.
But now, the CPSC has that May 24 effective date in play and maintains that the STURDY Act does not affect that timing.
And as a result, the industry is in paralysis.
Trying to clarify the confusion about compliance dates, the HFA’s Schumacher said, “Anything that you have in inventory on clothing storage units, dressers, bureaus, armoires, chests, you can still sell those after May 24. However, anything manufactured or imported, and again it’s sort of the same date after May 24 of 2023 has to meet that minimum safety requirement. That’s what we’re facing.”
He added, “The requirements that CPSC is trying to push through as of May 24 are not only almost impossible to comply with, but they will horrifically impact any retailer going forward dealing with those units because the CPSU rule is going to become a safety issue for you and your teams because the amount of counterweight that’s going to have to be added to some of these units is up to 100 pounds per unit.”
Schumacher challenged the attendees to, “Think how that’s going to be for your warehouse team, your delivery team to handle it. Think about what that’s going to mean for shipping costs. It’s going to put those through the roof and you’re going to have to shoulder a chunk of that. And then remember, too, that when that customer gets that new unit that is horrifically heavy and difficult to maneuver. And if they have problems in the home, I guarantee you they will call you, because you sold it to them.”
Schumacher also warned, “What’s also very unclear about the CPSC rule is the issue of how these units are going to be tagged. While the manufacturers are responsible for putting a lot of that forward, it’s going to be the responsibility of retailers to tell the story properly, to make sure the customer understands this new rating system, etc. It is a mess. We all want safer furniture, but the CPSC rule is egregious, and they are ignoring the law that they’re supposed to be complying with, which is a key element here. This group has been completely adversarial to our industry through this whole process,” he said.
A question was asked if retailers could stockpile inventory in anticipation of the upcoming May deadline.
Andresen explained, “The problem right now, and we know this directly from some manufacturers, is that it’s not as if they can simply crank out rule-compliant storage units. Today, to meet that deadline, they are going to have to reengineer every SKU of theirs that falls under this rule.”
And, he added, even if that were possible, “the CPSC has implemented anti-stockpiling provisions, which means that as a retailer if you decided to buy twice as many dressers as you did last year, you’re not able to because the CPSC has capped that.”
Why STURDY makes more sense
Schumacher said a key difference between the CPSC rule and STURDY is that, “ STURDY is calling for this entire year as a timetable to develop compliance, not this arbitrary May 24 date.”
With STURDY, there’s a nice, lengthy runway that would allow for a lot more planning and a lot more pragmatism when it comes to trying to meet the new standard,” he stressed.
A basic, but critical question was then asked. Specifically, how is a clothing storage unit being defined?
Andresen replied, “I can tell you that. I’ve seen pictures of various things that you would not think would be a clothing storage unit. But this is what we can tell you as far as the scope goes at the CPSC rule and this is one of the areas where they’ve been aggressive. They start with a minimum height requirement of 27 inches. So, anything over 27 inches in your product line that has extendable drawers is considered to be a storage unit.”
A question was asked wondering if interlocks might be a simple solution that could satisfy the CPSC.
Schumacher said, “The biggest concern about the interlocks is reliability and availability. We know that they don’t hold up well in shipping, especially if you’ve got a heavier unit. So, they are talked about, but it’s not a fix-all. It’s more of a complementary piece.”
Andresen added, “One of the things I can say to with respect to the CPSC is that the main difference between ASTM and CPSC is the CPSC rule that it’s not a pass-fail test; it’s a minimum safety rating and it’s one test that combines all these things together.
“The difference with ASTM is it’s a series of tests. It’s three tests that are run separately and, as Mark said, much easier to reproduce and measure. They’re very objective. But they’re the same elements, just done separately things that were put here,” Andresen explained.
Someone next asked if there was a chance that the May 24 deadline could be extended.
Schumacher said, “The CPSC has resisted any extension. They’ve been asked multiple times by various groups, but they have resisted that. They’re moving on like crazy. STURDY requires the CPSC to do certain things and at the moment they’re not. So, now, while it seems like there are these two tracks, their focus right now is on their own rule.”
Schumacher also said that concern prompted the AHFA to have filed a suit asking for an injunction to stop the CPSC from moving forward with their rule which was denied but is currently before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Andresen added that, while the CPSC is independent, they are dependent upon Congress for funding. And Congress can certainly apply as much pressure as possible.
“So, a letter has just been sent to key senators who were part of the STURDY Act asking them to pause what they’re doing and to focus on the STURDY Act and put it into law,” he said.
Advice for retailers
Andresen also had this advice for retailers: “If you’re a retailer and you’re buying clothes storage units made after May 24 of 2023 and you’re not asking questions to assure compliance and you’re putting them on your floor and people are buying them, that’s when you get in trouble because you need to have that chain of custody and have all the documentation right.”
Underscoring the severity of the fines for noncompliance, Andresen cited Ikea.
“You know the most high-profile issue from tip-over is Ikea. I want to say they paid close to or over $50 million in fines.”
He also said, “Look at some of the recent cases where the CPSC fined Peloton over $10 million with some of their treadmill issues.”
A question about a remedy was raised and Andresen said, “Earlier someone asked about a remedy and the remedy is a recall if there is a noncompliant unit that is tipping in someone’s home. I can tell you that the CPSC is requiring retailers to go back in and take those units out of people’s homes and that’s at your cost, by the way, as a retailer, and potentially, as a manufacturer.”
Commenting on the complexity of the CPSC rules, Schumacher noted, “The CPSC rules are over 600 pages and there is a lot that deals with identification tags. Your team is going to have to be able to not only make sure that they are properly displayed, but they’re going to properly explain the rating system to the customer. This is where your liability lies in making certain that they understand everything about this requirement.
“So, you can’t just lay it on the manufacturer. It’s going to hurt the retail side a lot because you, you are the last line of defense to the consumer. And if that’s not properly communicated, you’re going to be liable,” Schumacher said.
To listen to the full webinar, click here.