This category describes establishments primarily engaged in the manufacturing of office furniture, except furniture chiefly made of wood. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing safes and vaults are classified in SIC 3499: Fabricated Metal Products, Not Elsewhere Classified. The products manufactured by the industry include office benches, bookcases, chairs, cabinets, desks, filing cabinets, modular furniture systems, panel furniture systems, office partitions, stools, tables, and wall cases.
Office Furniture (Except Wood) Manufacturing
The office furniture industry is necessarily tied to national employment, corporate growth, and the office construction industry: as the economy grows, so grows the expansion and profit of office furniture manufacturing. As the AKTRIN Research Institute stated in a 2003 industry report, "corporate profitability is one of the most forthright determinations for business office furniture acquisition."
Following a boom in the 1990s, the industry suffered general declines, during which time the three largest office furniture makers closed 16 plants and laid off 13,000 workers. The industry emerged from the slump in 2004, with shipments that increased for the first time in three years. The non-wood segment of office furniture posted revenues of $9.45 billion, the lion's share of total 2006 shipments of $10.8 billion. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) expects the industry to continue its progress, with total U.S. production of office furniture projected to reach $12 billion in 2008.
West Michigan—most notably in and around the cities of Grand Rapids and Holland—was home to the three leading office furniture manufacturers—Steelcase Inc., Haworth Inc., and Herman Miller Inc.—as well as a number of other firms. (Product lines at both Haworth and Herman Miller tended to focus more on wood office furniture, although the companies did produce non-wood pieces as well.) As a result, the area boasted facilities that produced about 65 percent of all office furniture manufactured in North America.
When wood was still the material of choice for most manufacturers, stationery stores and office equipment dealers handled sales of office furniture. The concept of "office design" was unheard of; companies purchased desks and other pieces as needed, setting them up in rows in big, open spaces, creating an office environment that very much resembled a classroom.
Later, as the demand for office furniture (including new non-wood products) increased and the market became more specialized and sophisticated, the major manufacturers developed their own sales staffs and dealer networks to handle large-scale orders. In addition, the introduction of new products such as computer desks and "systems furniture" (consisting of panels and other pieces that could be easily moved and reconfigured to accommodate changing needs) generated a need for office designers. The bigger firms began to offer design assistance to customers who were eager to get the most out of their furniture purchases. Smaller companies that were unable to support their own sales and design staffs turned instead to manufacturers' representatives to provide the same services to customers.
While a few manufacturers still sold directly to customers, most relied on other means of distribution. For example, contract office furniture dealers—those specializing in large-scale orders placed with industry giants such as Steelcase—handled nearly two-thirds of all office furniture sales, according to a joint survey conducted by BIFMA and the Business Products Industry Association (BPIA). The remaining sales were divided fairly evenly among six other categories: budget to mid-market furniture dealers; office product dealers; superstores, warehouse clubs, and other mass merchandisers; wholesalers; government; and mail order, direct sales, and other channels. Superstores, warehouse clubs, and other mass merchandisers continued to show strong growth.
Wood dominated the office furniture market until the 1930s. Metal filing cabinets and desks eventually emerged as popular, cheaper substitutes for the old wooden models. The military's need for steel briefly interrupted this trend during World War II, but in the postwar years the metal office furniture industry launched an aggressive marketing campaign touting the advantages of its products, emphasizing durability and safety (offices filled with wood furniture posed a fire hazard). The rivalry between the two camps gradually eased, however, as wood...