Office Furniture Industry Back on Track

Continued consumer optimism and consolidation within the industry have office and contract furniture manufacturers excited about the year 2000.

By John Iwanski


Geiger Brickel, which ranked 16th in the 1999 W&WP Top 25 Contract Furniture Survey with sales of $76 million, was one of several contract furniture firms involved in mergers last year. The company was purchased by Herman Miller, which now has sales of $1.8 billion, placing the company second in this years survey.

Though total U.S. office furniture shipments were down for the first time since George Bush was in the Oval Office, leading furniture manufacturers still felt that 1999 was a profitable year, according to Wood & Wood Products 12th Annual Survey of the Contract Furniture Industry.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents to W&WP's survey said that 1999 was either "very good" or "the best year ever" for their respective companies. The remaining 27 percent of respondents felt that last year rated "fair" for their companies in terms of overall business.

Those answers are encouraging considering that the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn. - International's figures indicate industry shipments actually declined last year by almost 1 percent. (See chart on page 90.) The decrease to $12.24 billion was the industry's first decline since 1991, when furniture shipments were down over 8 percent.

Though the dollar shipments were lower than in 1998, that figure should be taken in context of the industry as a whole, says BIFMA executive vice president Thomas Reardon.

"Some companies may have increased profits by 15 to 20 percent," says Reardon, "while a larger manufacturer may have a decrease in orders. A lot of times, that's what happens. We've seen some of the smaller manufacturers really have good years."

Outlook for 2000: Excellent

Surveyed manufacturers appear poised to build on success garnered in 1999, with 94 percent of executives surveyed expecting to do the same or greater amounts of business in 2000. Only 6 percent of those surveyed felt that 2000 would result in lower sales for their respective companies.

Though statistics are only available through the first two months of 2000, BIFMA figures show that the industry has increased sales 6 percent over January and February of last year. This percentage is in line with BIFMA's prediction of a 4 to 6 percent total increase for 2000 that the association made last year.

"Right now, the industry is looking very good," says Reardon. "Manufacturers are very upbeat and positive right now. And that optimism is translated down from other manufacturers and consumers. People seem very optimistic about what the next 12 months will bring."

Despite the fact that last year contract manufacturers witnessed a decrease in shipment value for the first time since 1991, most surveyed executives still felt last year was a good year for the industry and that this year would see an increase in profits.

"We saw excellent sales of wood casegoods in 1999," says Haworth Inc.'s Chuck Mueller. "We also had solid sales with wood side chairs and introduced a new product as well."

Companies also cited their commitment to niches and the role that niche markets have played in helping them increase profits. By developing these niches, companies have established themselves and also shown other companies keys to long-term survivability.

"We focus on our primary niche market and stay loyal and true to that," says Philip Swy of MTS Seati. "We are focused on this area as our primary concern. It's not rocket science. We just feel that the company has a commitment to a specific niche customer."

Consolidations Help Drive Market

Industry consolidation continued as several notable mergers and acquisitions took place since last May. Some were designed to boost marketplace. Other companies merged with businesses that provided access to markets that were previously untapped, expanding and increasing opportunities for profits and future expansions.

"I think we are going to continue to see (acquisitions and mergers) within the industry," says Reardon. "It's a healthy thing. It can be a very positive event, and in the case of the large manufacturers this year, I think it worked out well for all parties involved."

Leading the way was the purchase of Chicago, IL-based Shelby Williams Industries, ranked number 11 in last year's Top 25 survey, by Falcon Products of St. Louis, MO, which ranked 13th. Falcon Products now has total yearly sales of more than $222 million, moving the company up two places to number 11 on this year's survey.

Two of the companies in the top four also acquired members of last year's Top 25. Number two Herman Miller acquired then 16th-ranked Geiger Brickel, and fourth-ranked Haworth purchased number 15 Smed International. Both mergers have proved to be beneficial to all parties involved, and have thus far proven to be compatible fits, says Reardon.

"Companies get acquired for a variety of reasons, not just because a company is in trouble and is looking for someone to take over," says Reardon. "In the case of both Smed and Geiger Brickel, original management has remained in place and the transition has been extremely smooth, almost unnoticeable. And both Haworth and Herman Miller acquired profitable companies that are helping them fill market areas or niches they either weren't involved in at all, or were not as strong as they are now."

Employee Recruitment and Profit Margins Top List of Concerns

With unemployment at the lowest rate in recent memory, employee recruitment/retention and employee compensation topped the list of concerns for contract and office furniture executives. Thirty percent of executives said they were extremely concerned with recruitment and retention of employees, and 50 percent said they were very concerned. Twenty-two percent were extremely concerned about workers compensation, and 44 percent of executives were very concerned about employees wages.

Respondents also noted that they were utilizing a variety of options to solve their staffing and retention difficulties. Finding workers was a top priority for most surveyed companies, and executives said that all avenues were being explored.

"Right now, we are pursuing alternative recruitment strategies," says Paul Simons of The Mayline Group. "We are looking at every option to source and hire the personnel required."

Robert Hubler, CEO of Indiana Furniture Industries, adds that his company is not only looking to hire competent workers, but also wants to train and retain the workers the company has and increase automation to reduce the strain on its employees.

"We are continuing to invest in training for our existing employees, as well as making wage and benefit changes" says Hubler. "We also are investing heavily in equipment purchases to reduce our labor requirements."


News at the Top

The Top Five

Steelcase Inc.: Founded in 1912, no. 1 ranked Steelcase's product line includes seating, storage, furniture systems, interior architectural products and technology products. A new wood manufacturing plant in Gaines Township, MI, is expected to be fully occupied in 2001 and house 700 employees. The plant will reduce the amount of emissions by 70 percent compared to an existing Steelcase wood facility in Kentwood, MI. The new plant will allow Steelcase to switch from a largely solvent-based finishing system used at the Kentwood plant to a water-based finishing system. One of the company's current initiatives is to convert its steel finishing systems to new, low-emitting powder coating technology. Three financial goals Steelcase plans to achieve by 2003 are to grow net sales to $6 billion, achieve a 14 percent operating income margin and reduce operating expenses to 22 percent of net sales.

Herman Miller Inc.: Herman Miller (no. 2) is a 75-year-old international firm engaged primarily in the manufacture and sale of furniture, furniture systems, products and services principally for offices, health-care facilities, and residential environments. In 1999, the company acquired Geiger Group Inc. (Geiger Brickel), No. 16 on last year's W&WP Top 25 list. Geiger Brickel is a manufacturer of high-quality wood furnishings for the contract furniture industry, including casegoods, freestanding furniture and seating. In March 2000, to introduce an increasing range of new materials to its furniture line, Herman Miller formed an alliance with textile design firms Jhane Barnes Textiles, Luna Textiles and Maharam. Each firm's signature designs will be integrated into the standard options available on Herman Miller products, many on an exclusive basis, according to the company.

Hon Industries: Hon (no. 3) specializes in the design and manufacture of value-priced office furniture. In March 2000, Hon's Hearth Technologies Inc. subsidiary finalized the acquisition of two leading hearth products distributors, American Fireplace Co. and the Allied Group, which had combined 1999 sales of nearly $200 million. Hon said it intends to continue to pursue strategic acquisitions with complementary products. Corporate goals include having 30 percent of sales come from products introduced in the last three years, increasing productivity by 8 percent each year and working to be the leading supplier of office furniture to the nation's largest office products dealers, wholesalers and super stores.

Haworth Industries: In its biggest acquisition ever, Haworth (no. 4), an international office furniture manufacturer, purchased Smed International of Calgary, ALB, a modular office interior manufacturer with 1999 sales of $248 million Canadian (U.S. $171 million). The acquisition was completed in March 2000. In addition, Haworth also recently acquired a majority interest in Groupe Lacasse, a leading North American designer and manufacturer of laminate office furniture, located in St. Pie, QUE. Lacasse reported 1999 Canadian sales of $93 million (U.S. $64 million). In other news, Haworth received the 1999 United States General Service Administration National Furniture Center Evergreen Award in recognition of its recycling leadership, waste reduction and innovative environmental programs.

Knoll Inc.: Founded in 1938, Knoll (no. 5) manufactures a complete line of office products and has a network of more than 300 dealerships supported by 100 showrooms and regional offices in North America. In November 1999, Knoll announced that it had completed a going-private merger with a newly formed entity organized by Warburg, Pincus Ventures, L.P. The new entity merged with and into Knoll. As a result of the merger, all shares of Knoll common stock, other than shares owned by Warburg and members of Knoll management, received $28.00 per share in cash. There were approximately 17.7 million shares owned by the public, representing about 40% of the shares outstanding.

The Next Tier

The Global Group: For the third year in a row, The Global Group (no. 6), found itself in the top six in W&WP's survey. Global is a multi-national Canadian-based company founded in 1966. Global's Teknion Corp. (no. 8) went public in 1998 and is listed separately in this year's survey.

Kimball International: Kimball (no. 7) is divided into two business segments: the electronic contract assemblies segment and the furniture and cabinets segment, which manufactures store display fixtures and furniture for the office, residential, lodging and healthcare industries. In late 1999, Kimball acquired privately held Jackson of Danville, a manufacturer of custom and in-line fully upholstered seating products and wood framed chairs marketed under the brand names Health Wise and Jackson of Danville for the hospitality and healthcare markets. Jackson has manufacturing facilities in Danville and Greensburg, KY. Kimball also announced plans to construct a 130,000-square-foot, veneer mill for its Evansville Veneer business unit. The mill will be adjacent to Kimball's Indiana Hardwoods dimension lumber processing facility in Chandler, IN.

Teknion Corp.: In 1999, Teknion (no. 8) introduced three new lines of office furniture and systems: Amicus, a line of highly adjustable task seating; Altos, an architectural wall system; and Leverage, a value-engineered panel system. Teknion also completed strategic acquisitions of Halcon Corp., a manufacturer of executive wood furniture; Roy & Breton Inc., a laminate office furniture manufacturer; and Lion Seatings Sdn. Bhd. (Malaysia), a manufacturer of filing, storage and seating products. Teknion has also increased its manufacturing capacity by 625,000 square feet.

KI (Krueger International): Founded in 1941, KI (no. 9) manufactures office, commercial, institutional and educational furniture. In 1999, KI completed expansions totalling 456,000 square feet divided among seven of its facilities. The largest expansion was 144,000 square feet of manufacturing space its Green Bay, WI, Bellevue location. Also in Green Bay, a 7,000 square expansion was added to the maintenance and tool areas. At two other Wisconsin locations, Spacesaver Corp of Fort Atkinson added 32,000 square feet of manufacturing space and KI's Manitowoc plant acquired 54,000 square feet. KI's plant in Pontotoc, MS purchased a 102,000-square-foot facility; operations in High Point, NC, purchased a 60,000-square-foot structure; and KI's facility in Pembroke, ONT, completed a 50,000-square-foot addition.

Virco Mfg. Corp.: Virco (no. 10) is a supplier of tables, chairs and storage equipment for offices, schools, convention centers, auditoriums, places of worship, hotels and related settings. In early 2000, Virco announced that it is transforming its static Web site to a dynamic commerce site that will allow for real-time synchronization of sales, manufacturing and distribution. The integrated commerce site will allow customers to order items, track the sales and delivery status of orders and access their accounts receivable balance. The company celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2000.

Falcon Products: Falcon Products (no. 11) is a designer, manufacturer, and distributor of tables and seating for the commercial furniture industry. In 1999, Falcon acquired Shelby Williams Industries (No. 11 on W&WP's Top 25 Contract Furniture Makers' list last year), a manufacturer of banquet chairs and hotel furniture. Along with Shelby Williams, Falcon also acquired Thonet, a manufacturer of seating and tables for office, education and healthcare applications. The acquisitions give Falcon 15 manufacturing facilities worldwide and more than 3,900 employees.

Winsloew Furniture: In August 1999, Winsloew (no. 12) completed a going private transaction by merging with Tirvest Furniture Corp. The company's public shareholders received $34.75 per share in cash. Also in August 1999, Winsloew acquired Miami Metal Products Inc. (dba Pompeii Furniture). Pompeii is a leading producer of aluminum casual outdoor furniture and a major supplier to the hospitality industry.

American of Martinsville: American of Martinsville (no. 13), a manufacturer of office furniture, merged with La-Z-Boy Inc. in 1999. In 2000, the company plans to open a new upholstery facility.

Irwin Seating: Irwin Seating Co. (no. 14) is a worldwide manufacturer of public seating for movie theaters, auditoriums, arenas, performing arts centers and convention centers. In December 1999, Irwin purchased a majority interest in Butacas y Silleria S.L. of Barcelona, Spain. Formerly known as Sistemas AP, the company's name was changed to Irwin Seating (Europe) S.L. Irwin was founded in 1907.

Inscape (formerly Office Specialty): Inscape (no. 15), a manufacturer of office furniture (formerly known as Office Specialties), adopted its new name in June 1999. "Inscape better reflects what we offer our customers today," the company noted in its annual report, "and will better accommodate other complementary lines of business we may adopt in the future."

GF Office Furniture Ltd.: Founded in 1909, GF Office Furniture (no. 16) is a manufacturer of steel and executive wood furniture for the middle and upper contract office furniture markets. In 2000, the company plans to continue focusing on its goals of exceeding customer expectations through product design innovations, top-quality products, full marketing support services, competitive pricing and a lifetime warranty.

Trendway Corp.: Trendway's (no. 17) roots extend to the 1960s under the premise of building simple, easy-to-assemble office furniture, a coporate credo that continues today. In 1999, the company won a first place Innovations Award, presented by Buildings and Buildings Interiors magazines, in the category of Workspace Flexibility Solutions.

Jami Inc.: Jami (no. 18) manufactures a variety of office furniture including modular furniture, conference table and seating. Divisions include Abco Office Furniture, Fixtures Furniture, Harter and Precision. Products are distributed nationally through office products dealers.

OFS, division of Styline: Styline (no. 19), a manufacturer of office furniture, has made a strong commitment to the environment by restoring thousands of acres of worn-out agricultural land by planting over 15 million trees, creating hundreds of wildlife areas, constructing and stocking dozens of small lakes and ponds with a variety of fish and reducing VOCs by about 15 percent by using air-assisted guns for applying lacquer topcoats.

Mayline Group: In 1999, Mayline (no. 20), a manufacturer of specialty furniture, acquired Network Cabinet Products of Denver, CO, a designer and marketer of local area network (LAN) racking systems, support furniture and standard and custom data cabinets and electronic enclosures. Mayline also acquired Tiffany Industries of Conway AR, a manufacturer of office work stations and associated products, and Acme Design Technology of Crozet, VA, a designer and manufacturer of filing and storage systems. Acme Design was subsequently renamed Kwik-File. (See story)

Five on the Rise

Hussey Seating Co.: Founded in 1835, Hussey (no. 21) specializes in spectator seating systems for theaters, sports stadiums and similar venues. The company has supplied seating for several major sports venues in recent years including Coors Field in Denver, CO; Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, KS; and Jack Cooke Kent Stadium in Washington, DC.

Miller Desk Inc.: Founded in 1954, Miller Desk (no. 22) manufactures traditional and contemporary office furniture. In 1999, it focused on product development and continued improvement of manufacturing processes.

MTS Seating: MTS Seating (no. 23) manufactures hospitality furnishings for restaurants, hotels and similar businesses. In 1999, MTS entered into a joint venture with GB Burgess, a leading manufacturer to banquet seating in Great Britain, to form MTS/Burgess LLC. MTS also opened a 3,000 square foot show room in Las Vegas and is partnering with supply sources to develop a line of fully upholstered furniture and expsoed wood chairs for lodging guest rooms.

Haskell Senator International: Haskell Senator (tied at no. 24) introduced more than six new product lines in 1999, including Wallstreet, Integrated Elements, Starting Line, ISIS, Axis, Freeway. In 2000, the company plans to introduce three new wood desk lines and a new panel system with advanced network cabling and communication capacity.

Indiana Furniture Industries Inc.: Founded in 1905, Indiana Furniture (tied at no. 24) began construction on a $5 million facility in 1999 that will increase its capacity for case goods manufacturing by 50 percent. The plant is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2000.


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