June 1, 2009
Furniture manufacturers pick the products that should succeed despite the downturn.
With rampant job cuts, corporate belt-tightening, rising office-vacancy rates, and a serious slowdown in construction, the national economic collapse has hit the furniture industry especially hard. Steelcase, the world’s largest office-furniture company, posted a fourth-quarter loss of $65.7 million, with revenue down 27 percent. Herman Miller was off more than 25 percent from its second quarter last year. Even the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association sees little good news for the year ahead. Its latest forecast predicts 2009 office-furniture shipments will contract 19 percent by volume. To try to understand how the design industry is weathering the financial storm, we surveyed companies large and small, asking them to choose a product they think will be key to their success in the new economy. Their selections—enduring classics, recent best sellers, and brand-new NeoCon introductions—demonstrate the kind of innovation and quality design that, with luck, will keep the industry afloat until the economy turns around. —Paul Makovsky