Category analysis: Furniture

Businesses are looking at flexible, space-saving and design-led furniture for their offices. OPI assesses the trends.


Like style for the home, fashions in the office environment are perpetually changing.

Right now, there seems to be a real trend amongst companies to choose flexible furniture offerings that contribute to open workspaces. In times of austerity when annual pay rises are not exactly readily offered, businesses often look to invest in their interiors as a method of staff retention.

Many of these patterns and fashions were showcased at the recent residential and commercial furniture trade show NeoCon in Chicago, Illinois, which attracted over 40,000 attendees and boasted 700 showroom exhibitors.

Byron Morton, VP of Leasing at Merchandise Mart Properties, which owns the venue for NeoCon, says: “We’re seeing a lot of sleek moveable furniture, ergonomic office chairs, modular seating, carpet squares, textured glass panels that can be used as wall dividers and lighting that’s smaller, greener or more efficient.

“The office design trend is moving away from closed cubicles to more open workspaces, with lots more meeting and collaboration areas. Individual workspaces are smaller but more efficient, made possible partly by the popularity of thin screen computer monitors, which require much less desk space.”

Knowing what is en vogue in the sector is always crucial, and the reports stemming from NeoCon are sure to be of interest to buyers and category managers at office supplies resellers around the globe. Dealers looking to gain traction in the furniture category can utilise this information to target their customers and advise them on product choice.

“A new generation of office workers is entering the US workforce and they bring with them a new work style with different needs,” notes Morton.

“Offices now need to accommodate social and collaborative areas, so we are seeing a lot of lounge, café and outdoor products, as well as the need for private spaces, which has brought several acoustic-based products and pods to the market.”

Recent activity from some major OP players shows some interesting moves within the furniture category, with OfficeMax rolling out furniture and office space consultancy in its new small format stores. 

Meanwhile, lately launched a new office furniture collection featuring style-led designs as part of a major SKU expansion online.

One of the largest independent dealers in the UK, Langstane, said in the spring that 2012 was its “best ever” year, adding that all four main products groups – including furniture – showed encouraging growth.

Reflecting on the wider market, Marketing Director of UK dealer group XPD Steve Robinson comments: “In general, the furniture market still appears to be relatively depressed with dealer share remaining largely unchanged from 2012.”

However, he suggests that dealers are seeing an increase in enquiries that hints towards the beginning of sales improvement. Dealers’ customers are also starting to see the replacement of dilapidated furniture as more critical, rather than optional, he argues, which is partly fuelled by the desire to improve staff morale.

“Some small amount of confidence is returning and more proactive clients want to be seen to be investing,” he explains.

“Inevitably, dealers must now fight harder to gain the furniture sale. Consequently, knowledge levels have had to increase and many dealers have focused on some members of staff becoming furniture specialists or champions – this is not exclusive to furniture but is happening in other sectors as well.” 

Linked to this trend, some dealers are even getting involved in workspace design where they take a more hands-on, service-led approach with their customers.

One example in the UK is Southampton-based A&A Business Supplies, which has its own business furniture division complete with separate website. The company has a team of furniture and interiors specialists who assist and guide customers through all the stages of concept, design and installation, providing a holistic furniture service.

A&A’s designers use computer aided design technology to produce office layout proposals and, as XPD’s Robinson references, work with the attitude that office conditions “play a significant and unrecognised role in employee retention and productivity”

Dealers seeking advice in this field may look to consultancies to kick-start the generation of ideas. One expert in this territory is Elizabeth Densmore, the proprietor of Canada-based Office 2 Office (not to be confused with the leading UK stationery reseller of the same name) which provides guidance on office efficiency.

Her Twitter feed @officeintell is a rich source of tips for businesses looking to tidy up their data or improve their working environments. With specific reference to how companies can use furniture to boost the workplace atmosphere, Densmore has put together some thoughts for OPI below. 

Furniture trends in 2013

How important is a business’s choice of furniture in terms of creating the right working environment for its employees?

The correct atmosphere creates a positive work environment. Office furniture plays an important role in being comfortable and functional. Today the lean office is much more conscious of the significant ergonomical benefits of a healthy office. An employee should feel excited to come to work. An important area is allowing employees to create their own workspace. There is a noticeable increase in employee productivity when they are surrounded by their own personal touch.

What advice would you give to office products resellers when selling furniture?

Office furniture today needs to be more compact and accessible. For instance, the ideal printer would be able to scan, fax and fit in a compartment that does not obstruct movement while sitting at your desk. A feature would be a slide-out above or below the desk.   

To what extent has furniture become an important part of generating a positive office environment?

A positive office environment provides energy to the space. This creates excitement, a buzz your employees want in order to be productive and produce great results. High-end furniture attracts talented employees because of the posh environment it creates. It feels good to be surrounded by beautiful, trendy, vibrant office décor with brilliant, stylish colours.  

How, in your experience, has the design and feel of the workplace changed in recent years?

The design and feel of the workplace is seen as less is best. Office equipment is also smaller, more compact. I still remember an enormous copy machine that at the time was considered state of the art. The entire office was in awe of this new technology, which apparently was going to speed up production. The challenge was it had so many moving parts it was continuously out of order. It ended up costing more in time being fixed and slowing down production. 

And no longer are there monstrous file cabinets. Many businesses today save all their information in the cloud and scan information. There is significantly more space to move around in an office with smaller file cabinets.

What trends are you witnessing in furniture choice this year? 

The trend for office furniture is moving towards a more cooperative, open concept office environment. Very basic, much like a conference with office chairs, these spaces are known as pods. Gone are the days of a stationary office with the 9-5 mentality. Today the only equipment necessary for a workstation is a laptop. The company or the team you work for can be located anywhere in the world because the internet has made it possible to connect us anywhere at any time. Office space will also become limiting and finding space will be at a premium. Standing desks will become more common as people will have the feeling of freedom to move more. Some find it ergonomically healthy to have the option to stand, sit or a combination of both throughout the day.