At furniture and wood products companies, new names of those in charge are popping up. Some are veterans reassigned; others are relative newcomers. The changes indicate companies are rethinking approaches and restructuring for the post-recession environment. Some examples:

After reporting a 20% order rise last quarter, Steelcase Inc. put Jim Keane in charge of the Steelcase brand across the Americas and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa); Jim Mitchell, Steelcase president, now reports to Keane; Steve Hayes left to become VP sales at Watson Furniture Group - after 22 years at Steelcase (he was director of global client collaboration and GM of Asian Sales). Steelcase sold a Canadian plant for $25 million on Nov. 30 (and closed a TX and MI plants and layed off 750) and spun off its 550-employee  IDEO design unit (it's headed by John Ravich in Palo Alto, CA) in a management buy-out.

Broyhill Furniture, a St. Louis division of Furniture Brands Intl., named Mark Stephens, it's VP sales and marketing since 2007, to succeed Jeffrey Cook as president. Cook resigned  to run A.R.T. Furniture. Founded in 2003, A.R.T. Furniture Inc. sells residential furniture made by Markor Furniture Intl., Tianjin, China; U.S. warehouses are strategically sited in Ontario, CA and Hickory,NC.

Furniture firm MTS Seating promoted Ken Auger to general manager of MTS Burgess LLC, a joint venture between MTS Seating and Burgess Furniture of the United Kingdom; and Ian King to National Sales Manager-Lodging. King learned the business pretty quickly; he joined the Temperance, MI-based MTS Seating as an information technology analyst in 2004.

Once Fortune Brands spins off its $3 billion Home & Security unit (a move pushed by the investment community), you will see new authority and some changesin top management as it establishes a new structure for its many wood and home interiors brands, including: MasterBrand Cabinets, Simonton Windows, Capital Cabinets, Dynasty, Georgetown, HomeCrest, Kemper, Kitchen Classics, Maple Creek and Schrock.

The changeovers also reflect recognition of challenges going forward. Dramatic shifts in demand will be one challenge. While the outlook for business is generally bullish, demand for business furnishings and casegoods are driven by people, and the U.S. economy is in slow-hire mode.

On top of that, usage patterns of furnishings are changing. In businesses, for example, everyone is doing more with less. Shared and smaller offices mean less of everything in wood interiors and furnishings.

Across all industries, space per employee has been reduced from 400 square feet to 250 square feet since 1985; by 2021 just 100 square feet will be the norm, accordingto research reported to the NY Times by Jones Lang LaSalle. The smaller, reformatted spaces will need to be made over, so that is a positive; but they are smaller.

Finally recovery increases competition for raw materials, and wood is no exception. The Department of Commerce reports a rise in prices for wood (still at historical low levels, but rising), metals and other essentials to solid surfaces, furnishings and case goods fabrications. At the same time, a growing demand for use of sawdust and woodchips for fuel and even gasoline, means that raw wood material will ultimately drive up the price for panels to be processed into furnishings.

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