Tom Reardon is the Executive Director of BIFMA – the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association. Its mission is to promote the growth and image of the business furniture industry by serving as an information resource, industry advocate and professional and trade development network.

Timber Products Company recently caught up with Tom to find out about the state of industry, top trends he is seeing in the marketplace and where the business is headed in the next few years.

Timber Products: What business and institutional furniture trends are you seeing in the market? 

Reardon: Work styles and the workplace are continually evolving, lately with a trend toward more open and collaborative spaces, often with more of a “homey” or residential feel. This trend toward more open workspaces has also highlighted the need for private work areas. Team members usually aren’t collaborating at all times; there’s also a need for more private spaces suited to task execution. The challenge lies in balancing the work environment to effectively manage the space for both collaboration and task execution.

TP: How has the business and institutional furniture market held up over the past five years?  

Reardon: Frankly, it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. We’re slowly recovering from the 2008 – 2009 recession that saw U.S. production fall 29.7 percent in 2009. We’ve rebounded a bit but it’s a slow journey. This production data reflects only office furniture and does not include other types of “institutional” furniture such as education, healthcare or hospitality.

TP: For architects, how important are green, sustainable furniture products?

Reardon: Making better, more informed choices regarding the environmental impact of products is a growing trend and one that is expected to continue. However, it will likely become even more of an expectation as time goes on. Much like “lean manufacturing” was a differentiator 25 years ago; today it’s just how manufacturing is done. I expect a similar dynamic in sustainability.

TP: What are some threats and opportunities facing your membership today? 

Reardon: Cost containment is always important; energy costs, healthcare and benefit costs, materials costs, etc. Attraction and retention of a qualified and skilled workforce can be a challenge, or it can be a point of differentiation as an employer. Expansion into other vertical market segments (such as healthcare, education, residential and hospitality furniture) is an opportunity that many manufacturers are pursuing.

TP: What strategy is BIFMA embracing for the next few years to serve its members? 

Reardon: BIFMA will continue to pursue programs and services that provide for a more effective and/or efficient industry. Establishing standards for mechanical testing of products or standards around environmental performance metrics provides a common method for manufacturers and our customers to evaluate product performance. And establishing environmental performance metrics is an area that is rapidly evolving right now. Market data is another area where we intend to focus over the next year. BIFMA has long maintained an industry market data program, but as our members have expanded into some of these other vertical market segments, so too our data program needs to evolve.

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