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Office Furniture Retailers Need To Get Personal

The June 13, 2011, edition features HomeWorld’s Office Furniture Report, our annual analysis of retail RTA furniture and seating developments for home and small offices with a primary emphasis on the office superstore channel.
The RTA and office seating industries benefited by dramatic expansion of the Big Three office superstore chains. By carving out spacious selling floor commitments to office furniture, and by capitalizing on surging desktop computer growth, office superstores put furniture front and center in their merchandising and promotional strategies.
But what have you done for me lately? It’s a question being asked by both office store merchants and their furniture suppliers as the retailers wrestle with how to recharge overall foot traffic and suppliers labor for reliable growth again from a channel core to their business.

New Thinking
The right answer can only come from collaboration. Both sides seem quite active in their efforts to infuse new thinking into the challenge with the shared goals of a) identifying a demographic sweet spot that can lead the next wave of office superstore devotees; b) pinpointing how the target consumers’ changing lifestyles are altering home and small office needs; and c) recalibrating merchandising strategies around proprietary innovations that address those needs.
Keywords in the solution to the office superstore/office furniture challenge are adaptability and personalization.
Today’s prime office superstore customer seems more likely to be a Gen X mother balancing her home workspace needs with those of her husband and their adolescent children. Today’s home office is as likely to be the den, the bedroom, the kitchen, the patio or the dashboard— maybe all of the above— as it is an office-dedicated spare room.

Smaller Setups
Need for space-gobbling desks housing multi-component desktop computers, peripherals and all those CD/DVD slots has been replaced in many cases by need for smaller setups for wireless laptops or tablets, perhaps even several workstations that can be placed throughout a home.
In situations where comprehensive, full-sized office furniture is required, consumers will embrace the option to transform such work centers into configurations tailored to unique users.

Increased Productivity
People will want task furniture on a smaller scale without sacrificing usable task space. They will want products that can at any given time be task specific, yet also can convert easily into a piece suited for a different task. Imagine an office chair that converts to a gaming chair that converts to a lounger.
Consumers will want value-added expandability as needed, whether it’s built into the original purchase or available aftermarket at an affordable rate.
What about the small business customer? Office superstores and suppliers have to respond to shrinking per-employee work space allotments by companies downsizing facilities or halting expansion in pursuit of the same thing retailers crave: increased productivity per square foot.
Flexibility is valuable in offices employing more part-time staff and requiring different people on different schedules to share the same workstation.
On top of it all, everyone still wants style from their office furniture. That, too, must adapt easily and affordably to satisfy myriad, often fickle preferences.
Adaptability and personalization aren’t exactly the most efficient concepts in national big-box merchandising. But merchants and suppliers astute and responsive enough to deliver flexible workspace solutions that can be custom-fitted to consumers— and modified on future shopping visits as needed— could usher in a new growth era for the office superstore as a furniture destination that invites repeat business.