Why Does Furniture Look the Same in All the Stores?

by | Apr 28, 2000 | Ask the Expert, Furniture Design, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Your observation is correct. Mass produced furniture currently offers fewer styles & designs.

High-end furniture still offers a wide variety of looks & designs. But you will rarely find them in large or chain retail stores.

A small number of retailers currently dominates U.S. furniture sales.

In 2020, the top 10 furniture retailers accounted for over 50% of total U.S. furniture sales.

Each of the Top 10 reported over $500 million in annual sales.
In 2020, the 100 largest furniture retailers sold 85% of total U.S. furniture sales.
Almost all of the Top 100 retailers exceeded $50 million in annual sales in 2021.
*The figures listed above are from the May 24, 2021 edition of Furniture Today.

Small & mid-size furniture sellers, account for only 15% of U.S. furniture sales.

Many of these specialize in high end, custom-built furniture.
Small independent retailers, selling low and mid-range furniture, now belong to Buying associations.

Buying associations leverage the combined purchasing power of hundreds of small retailers. Together, they have buying power equal to the large retail chains.

Decades of industry research have indicated that Price is the most important single factor influencing a furniture shopper’s purchasing decision.

Customers are willing to pay more for upgrades to the things they can actually see (and feel.)

This includes better fabrics, power reclining options, etc.

Many customers are not as willing to pay for upgrades they cannot see or feel.

Better quality foam that lasts twice as long is one example.

Better quality frames & foundations are another.

The huge mega-retailers have tremendous power over their suppliers.

Large manufacturers must sell their products to the limited number of major retailers if they want to survive.

  • 20 years ago it was possible to buy a basic sofa for $399. It is still possible to buy $399 sofas.
  • Costs of lumber, foam, fabric, transportation and labor have all increased over that time period.

Improvements in manufacturing technology are one reason prices have not skyrocketed. Another reason is using styles & designs that can be made quickly using low skilled workers or automation.

Current mass produced furniture is designed to be built at high speed. Many processes are automated. Labor costs are minimized by using cells (groups) of low cost workers, each trained only in a small number of highly specialized tasks.

Skilled upholsterers are expensive. It requires many years of experience to become an expert.

Unskilled workers, working in cells can be quickly trained to become expert in only a single small area, such as upholstering outside arms only.

Over time, they may be cross-trained to become expert in a few other small, specific tasks.

This expertise is limited to simple, repetitive tasks only.

 Complex designs, requiring deeper knowledge & higher skills cannot be done.

When furniture styling is limited to simple designs that can be produced at high speed, the result is generic looking furniture.

The U.S. furniture industry was very different 40 years ago.

In 1980, the Top 10 furniture retailers accounted for less than 5% of total U.S. furniture sales. The Top 100 accounted for less than 25%.
40 years ago, 75% of U.S. furniture was purchased through small or mid-size retail stores. There was no internet or online sales.
Thousands of small independent furniture stores existed. Most had less than $10 million in annual sales.
The small stores were supplied by thousands of small U.S. furniture manufacturers.
Small furniture manufacturers have been in steady decline since the 1980s. That is when cheap Asian furniture first became a major source of supply.
The final blow was the 2008 Recession. Over a 3 year period, 40% of remaining U.S. furniture factories closed down.
The Recession also affected U.S. furniture retailers. 20% of small independents sold out to larger competitors or closed down.
Before 1990, thousands of small U.S. manufacturers supplied furniture to thousands of small retailers.
Today, a limited number of huge furniture retailers buy from a limited number of large manufacturers.
Jeff Frank

Jeff Frank

Furniture Consultant

Jeff Frank is a 45 year  furniture industry veteran. He created this blog to provide detailed facts, inside information & advice for furniture shoppers. 




 Shopping for furniture can be complex and frustrating. Salespeople have limited knowledge & experience about the products they sell. If you’re looking for real answers before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, check out our furniture buyer consulting.


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