May 15, 2012 - We recently conducted a bankruptcy auction for one of the last hardwood furniture manufacturing companies in the US.  What follows is our assessment of what is happening in the hardwood furniture manufacturing industry.

The US furniture manufacturing industry includes about 20,000 companies with about $60 billion in combined annual revenue.  Major companies include Steelcase, HNI, Herman Miller, La-Z-Boy, Sealy, and Furniture Brands International.  Some segments, such as mattress manufacturing and office furniture manufacturing, are highly concentrated, but the industry as a whole is fragmented: the largest 50 companies generate less than 40 percent of revenue (Hoovers.com).  The global furniture manufacturing industry generates about $400 billion annually according to the World Furniture Confederation.  Major companies include Natuzzi (Italy), IKEA (Sweden), Samson Holding (China), and Steinhoff International (South Africa).  Many of the USAuction bidders line up before doors open at the bankruptcy auction for Crawford Furniture
furniture manufacturers have international manufacturing operations.  The volume of home furniture sold depends heavily on the level of home sales, while office furniture sales depend on the health of the US economy.  The profitability of individual
companies is closely linked to volume, since many costs are fixed.  Smaller companies can compete effectively if they produce specialty items or high quality workmanship that can sell for a premium price (Firstresearch.com).  The biggest long-term
challenge facing the wood furniture industry is increasing imports.  These have risen sharply in recent years as the industry has globalized.  In the past two decades China, India, Russia, and the Eastern European countries have entered the market.  Encouraging imports has been falling tariff rates, first through tariff reduction programs as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and then, pursuant to the Uruguay Round negotiations, through zero-for-zero tariff reductions for major exporting countries.  The result is that today furniture entering the United States enters duty-free.

There are several negative factors that point to a continued downturn in furniture manufacturing in the U.S.  While many of these factors would be sufficiently important to seriously impact the industry individually, together they have created a perfect storm for the economy in general and the furniture manufacturing industry in particular.  These factors include a peaking and subsequent fall in the price of housing that resulted from the housing price bubble in many parts of the country.  Consumers have cut Blackbird auction staff in the auction ring at Crawford Furniture
spending on durable goods like cars and furniture at a 14.1% annual rate in the last quarters.  The last increase in furniture production came in 2006 with a peak of $80.5 billion (U.S. Department of Commerce Industry Report).   According to the U.S. Census Bureau, hardwood furniture imports have increased from 19% in 1992 to 64% in 2008. During this time period there was a 44% decline in employment for those in the hardwood furniture manufacturing industry.  Although there has been no increase in manufacturing in the recent years, signs exist that the U.S. hardwood furniture industry may have opportunities to slow, stop, or even overturn its recent decline.  Off-shore manufacturers, by far the most successful locations to capture market share over the last 10 years, are struggling with numerous issues which are likely to increase their cost of production.  Domestically, the United States has seen an increased interest in environmentally sustainable, carbon neutral, green product demand. Local production is finding renewed interest as it serves both the increased interest in green certified products and increased expectations of customers with respect to the customization of the products they are willing to buy.  Currency developments are also working against other regions, as are worries about transportation costs and product safety.  An argument can be made that opportunities exist for the U.S hardwood furniture manufacturing industry to recreate what was once a proud part of the industrial landscape in the United States (The U.S. Household Furniture Industry: Status and Opportunities).  However until the American consumer changes it’s low cost mentality and relearns that cost vs quality vs value often leads to a higher priced, better made item, this and other industries face strong headwinds toward a solid recovery.

Based in Buffalo NY, Blackbird Asset Services is a boutique auction and valuation firm that caters to secured creditors and bankruptcy professionals. With a national practice, our auctioneers and appraisers work all over North America and conduct USPAP certified appraisal reports as well as on site and online auction sales.