Market Opportunities for Small Wood Shops for Public Furniture

By Harry Watt | Posted: 03/01/2013 4:11PM


The USDA US Forest Service Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Princeton, West Virginia and the Wood Products Extension Department at North Carolina State University teamed up to conduct a marketing research project that focused on how local school districts and governments purchase furnishings in an effort to promote the use of wood to replace metal and plastic furniture and to assist local wood shops better understand this important local market.

Since the 1960’s there has been less wood furnishings and construction materials used in public buildings as concrete, metals and plastics have taken over sales that were traditional to the wood products industry. Local shops have largely ignored this important market when housing was booming and as the public furniture market increased its level of rules and regulations. Today with housing far down from its peak, wood shops should research the local public furnishings market as potentially one to grow sales and profitability.

This project contacted school districts and local government purchase department buyers in West Virginia, North and South Carolina. Twenty survey responses provided some interesting comments about the public furniture market:

• School buyers had a slight preference for wood over metal and plastic while government buyers had a stronger preference for wood.

• Neither group was well acquainted with wood species and wanted more education information about suitable wood species and construction methods.

• Both groups noted a strong preference for domestic over imported products.

• School buyers noted a strong preference for wood in staff offices, libraries, computer and media rooms, and arts and crafts rooms.

• School buyers noted that it would be helpful if wood shops could offer furniture in school colors and with school logos routed in parts of the furniture.

• Buyers reported that purchasing decisions were made with inputs from users, staff, finance department, upper level administrators, principals and facility managers.

• Outside professionals who were involved in purchasing decisions included vendors, architects, designers and consultants.

• Buyers reported that price, meeting specifications and long service life were the most important factors to selecting bid winners and that the policy is to award bids to the lowest qualified bidder.

• Buyers requested that wood shops interact more with the purchasing department buyers, to visit their staff and managers, and to provide samples.

Local wood shops should consider the local school and government furniture market as a replacement for the housing and construction market that has soften in recent years. Schools and local governments are supportive of local businesses and often have policies that favor local businesses. The public furniture market is influenced by the use of tax dollars and there is a high degree of professionalism in the purchasing departments that show up as rules and policies to insure taxpayer dollars are properly spent. The purchasing departments follow a “Best Value” concept where they seek the lowest qualified bidder that meets the specifications and can deliver products on time.

The project website is where there are summaries of the surveys for local governments and school districts can be found. The website contains additional information about the public furniture market and ideas wood shops can use to win bids. Additionally the website discusses the importance of having a good design and engineering system and offers examples of fifty wood products used in the public furniture market as SketchUp 3-D models with a supporting spreadsheet with a parts list and example costing worksheet. These files can be downloaded and studied as examples to support a wood shop becoming a public furniture provider.

Harry Watt of NC State University is the contact person for this project and can be reached at 704-880-5034 and The USDA USFS Forestry Sciences Laboratory supports the forest and wood products industry with research in marketing and utilization. NC State Wood Products Extension supports the wood products industry with educational and outreach events and offers individual assistance to North Carolina wood products manufacturers.

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