Shipping and logistics for furniture businesses has been transformed, a byproduct of changes in U.S. retailing and manufacturing operations, and a result of the housing crash. Logistics is so critical to residential furniture businesses that in 2009 the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) established a Specialized Furniture Carriers (SFC) group, furniture-carriers.org.
“In the midst of all the industry changes, the value provided by specialists in the hauling and delivery of furniture has been lost by many,” says David Purvis, AHFA vice president of manufacturing and operations and executive director of Specialized Furniture Carriers, “This is especially true for online retailers.”
The secret to transporting furniture damage-free is to ship furniture with furniture. Properly loading a trailer interlocks the furniture creating a stronger unit than with just the individual items. This stronger unit also protects the fragile side of the carton.
As the point of sale moves into the home of the consumer, “Damage-free delivery is now as important as the retail showroom,” says Purvis.
Growth & Developments
Also having a major impact are CSA2010 rules governing long distance freight hauling by truck. Drivers are required to rest at specific intervals, and safety standards have ratcheted up. For furniture companies and cabinet manufacturers that operate their own fleets, shipping is now much tougher, says Jack Hawn, CEO of Zenith Global Logistics, Conover, NC.
“We have not seen a big rush back into the [logistics] market,” Hawn says. “Government requirements are so strict I doubt many will.”
Hawn says he is instead finding that residential furniture manufacturers in the recovering market are becoming more reliant on third-party carriers such as Zenith.
Zenith in fact grew dramatically during the downturn, snapping up warehouses around the country and expanding its fleet by 70 trucks. Hawn says Zenith, which also specializes in international shipping and distribution, has moved its operations in tandem with U.S. furniture businesses, which sourced first from China, then moved on to Viet Nam and Malaysia as labor rates rose. So far the nascent U.S. reshoring of furniture production has not impacted Zenith’s business, Hawn says.
A big growth area in the logistics field is the “last mile” delivery and “white glove” services that’s being driven by the trend for online ordering. Companies are turning to specialist furniture carriers like Zenith and those in the SFC to prevent damage during shipping, and even make field repairs to manufacturers’ standards.
“Carriers who handle furniture are specialists in the field,” AHFA’s Purvis says. “These are niche carriers providing a special service: they know how to handle furniture without damaging it.”