For the better part of the past decade, Americans have given their consumer loyalty to the cheapest bidder, regardless of the product or service in question. The furniture industry has been no exception; foreign manufacturers that are primarily known for their cheap products have somehow gained traction in the American economy (lookin’ at you, IKEA).
But now that the economy is starting to stabilize again, the furniture industry is benefitting quite a bit. Not only are consumers picking domestic brands and “Made in America” assurances, but manufacturers themselves are starting to choose domestic labor over foreign factory workers.
It’s no secret that corporations often outsource their jobs overseas merely because workers in impoverished countries can be paid significantly less money than the U.S. minimum wage.
It appears that this trend is starting to change. An influx of human rights campaigns in recent years has brought global attention to the problem of underpaid sweatshop workers (mostly in East Asian and Central American countries), and industries across the board are starting to find that outsourcing jobs is actually costly and injurious to American businesses.
Chinese labor costs, in particular, have risen dramatically in recent years, and according to a report released by management firm Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos (ABTV), it appears that Chinese labor has a manufacturing cost advantage of less than 5% for the furniture industry (compared to manufacturing costs in the U.S.).
Furthermore, consumers are demanding more “Made in America” products, and they’re willing to spend the extra money that these products cost.
CNBC recently published an in-depth examination of independent furniture stores, and it’s clear that the industry is shifting. One store owner in Virginia noted that he had seen a 20% rise in sales just in the last two years alone, and that consumers seem to be choosing American-made furniture for one major reason: the quality is simply better.
“It’s been known for a very long time that quality furniture is superior, but many are often tempted by initial prices,” says Gary Kapner of Creative Wall Coverings. “What many don’t consider however, is that low cost furniture very often does not last, where well made furniture can be passed down through generations.”
Although the U.S. craftsmen may never possess a monopoly in the global furniture industry (like they did during the first half of the 1900s), it’s clear that consumer trends are the driving force behind this change — and this change is definitely a good one for the American economy.
IKEA can produce as many “Five Minute Assembly” pieces of furniture all it wants, but until the instructions are in English and the pieces are made with real wood, things are looking up for small furniture manufacturers in the U.S.