Fast Furniture: Why it's Best to Invest
What is fast furniture?
You’ve heard of fast fashion: inexpensive, low-quality clothing that is produced quickly by large companies in response to trends. Fast furniture is the same: lower-quality products for lower prices, designed to reflect current trends. "Fast" companies are well known and their price points are enticing… extremely enticing. And although we are able to source these products, there are good reasons why we usually caution clients and guide them elsewhere.
So, what aren't fast furniture companies telling you?
Compromised Quality and Design
This one is no-brainer: if the price is low, quality is almost always sacrificed. To hit a certain price point, fast furniture companies skip durable and sustainable materials. They replace sturdy materials with cheap substitutes, like particleboard, which have limited lifespans and are difficult to recycle. Furthermore, the design itself is compromised. As a Herman Miller dealer, we see many knockoffs of iconic designs. For example, the Eames Molded Plastic Chair has been copied time and time again. The reason we don’t source knockoffs is because the original design is priced for the quality and design. The materials used in the original design are protected under copyright, so often knockoffs legally cannot be created with materials that would best serve the consumer. Frequently, this is seen in the seat material, which tends to be made of a cheaper, more rigid plastic which does not deliver the same level of ergonomic support or comfort. In the furniture arena, authentic design retains its significance because the word "authentic" is synonymous with quality. Authentic design is descriptive of the materials, research, and care poured into a piece of furniture.
Here are a few tells.
Fast furniture isn't built to last, and the warranties reflect this. Often, there is a short, 30-day return period. We have run into many situations where product arrives damaged or breaks under normal use. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the furniture industry, and can happen with any furniture manufacturer. The difference is the level of customer service. We partner with companies that address issues promptly and without hassle to the customer. With fast furniture companies, you often get entangled in strongly worded email battles or get stuck sitting on the phone for extended periods of time with customer service in an attempt to recoup costs. In contrast, contract furniture companies like Herman Miller provide strong warranties to back up their well-tested products. Herman Miller’s 12-year warranty covers nearly their entire product line and includes parts and labor. We have observed many frustrating experiences with fast furniture companies. We have learned that when product arrives damaged, we cannot guarantee that the manufacturer will replace or fix it – their customer service simply isn’t up to par with that of dedicated commercial office furniture companies.
Disastrous Sustainability Impacts
These cheaper products do not last long – they often cannot survive a move let alone live long enough to be donated, and this creates waste. In 2015, the EPA reported that furniture accounted for 9.69 million tons of waste sent to landfills. This is a big jump from the 7.6 million tons reported in 2005 – and the number is expected to increase. In 2008, the United States did see a furniture recovery or recycling rate greater than .05% for the first time since the 1960s. At just .1%, it's a dismal number to be excited about. And this was before the rise of many of the fast furniture giants we see today, who are producing the short-lived product we see everywhere. Fast furniture is increasingly hurting the planet.
Investing is Best
Furniture can be expensive and contract furniture is no exception. We get it. As a furniture dealer, we are searching for the latest, greatest, and the most affordable furniture solutions every day. Simultaneously, we are actively – and very intentionally – partnering with companies that align with our standards of quality and service. We have been developing these partnerships for nearly 40 years, carefully vetting vendors and building relationships to ensure the best project experience for our customers. So, when we see “fast furniture” options come up on a project, we tend to steer our clients away. Though the bottom line might weigh on your budget a little heavier initially, we guide you to a smart investment that is better for your people, your organization, and for our planet.