Home » Blog » Why is furniture so cheaply made yet expensive?

Why is furniture so cheaply made yet expensive?

By Jeff Frank

The simple answer to this question is that the manufacturing cost of furniture is a combination of:
  1. Cost of materials
  2. Cost of labor.
  3. Cost of manufacturing overhead (administrative, sales, rent, equipment, machinery, etc.)
  4. Cost of transportation.
  5. Manufacturer’s profit margin.

On top of all that are the retailer’s expenses and profits.

These will usually double whatever price the retailer paid to the furniture’s manufacturer.

4 thoughts on “Why is furniture so cheaply made yet expensive?”

  1. The difference in colors and quality between most retail furniture is almost not existent. Just look at the color new homes are painted, all bland with flat paint. Semigloss colors cost more to make, therefore builders don’t use them. Short term thinking in business to improve profits results in short term quality

    • In my 45 years in the furniture industry, most people have asked for neutral colors. Up until just a few years ago that always meant tans and beiges.

      Beginning 4 or 5 years ago, greys suddenly caught on, and have even surpassed the tan/beige palette.

      As an upholstered furniture manufacturer, the way I observed this is by the new fabric lines that are introduced each year.

      Until about 5 years ago, if a fabric colorways consisted of 50 different colors, at least 15 of those would be in the tan/beige family and 1 or 2 would be greys. Several of the tan/beige fabrics would be among the most popular. The greys would be slow sellers.

      Currently, out of 50 colors for a fabric, 10 – 15 will be greys and only 5 – 8 will be tan/beige. 4 0r 5 will be white or off-white

      Whites have become very popular over the past 5 years, in line with the increasing popularity of high performance (stain-proof) fabrics.

      Some fabric colors go in and out of fashion. 3 or 4 years ago, it was almost impossible to find dark greens. At times it has been difficult to find light blues. Over the past few years, there have been fewer reds.

      15 years ago, one of my best fabrics was a salmon color. After about 5 years it was discontinued by the mill, and I was never able to find that same shade of salmon again.

      In general, bright/bold colors sold more slowly than the muted tones. Orange was always the most popular of the bright colors, but never came close to the demand for neutrals and whites.

      Yellow and Black were always slow sellers. Purple was frequently requested, but there are so many purple color variations and we rarely had the specific shade our customers were looking for.

      Each year the Pantone Color Insititute selects the “Color of the Year.” For 2023, that color is Viva Magenta (Color #18-1750 on the Pantone color chart.)

  2. I Hate the CHEAP LOOK of today Furniture…..WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE DESIGNER!! ….Their designs are Awful… and sure everyone has a different idea of what they want choice wise…. BUT WHAT ABOUT US…We’re still out here looking for Good tasteful high quality furniture thats timeless call us old fashion I don’t give a whoot!! Cause this so furniture that everywhere now is GARBAGE! DID I SAY GARBAGE… LET ME BE CRYSTAL GGGARBAGE.
    SHAME ON THE FURNITURE INDUSTRY TO CATER TO ONE GROUP/MARKET. I’m keeping my so call old fashion furniture/High quality antique etc. …and i hope i don’t meet a furniture designer anytime soon because he/she might just get Slapped for putting this TRASH!! On the market…I’m Out!!

    • I assume you are specifically referring to mass produced upholstered furniture.
      There are several reasons why current designs are “awful” and look similar.

      It begins with the transition of the furniture industry from being dominated by small and mid-size retailers to today’s situation where the Top 100 furniture retailers account for 83% of all U.S. furniture sales. (The Top 50 furniture retailers account for 52% of U.S. furniture sales.)

      Small furniture manufacturers have been decimated. The number of small manufacturers has been declining since the 1980s, when Asian imports first appeared. During the Recession of 2007 – 2010, 40% of all remaining U.S. furniture manufacturers (and 20% of retailers) closed down or were bought out by bigger competitors.

      That brings us to the current situation, where the majority of U.S. furniture sales are made by major retailers buying from large manufacturers. The large retailers have enormous power to dictate to the manufacturers. They are very aware that “price” is the major factor in the consumer purchasing decision. As a result, they virtually dictate pricing to their suppliers for the biggest selling “sale” items.

      If they can’t get the price they want from one manufacturer, they simply go to another supplier who needs the business and will meet their demands.

      The result is that, since 2010, popularly priced upholstered furniture has been designed primarily for maximum production efficiency. Furniture is designed to be manufactured as fast as possible by low skilled (low paid) workers who can be trained within a few days to perform one small, specific part of the production process (such as upholstering an outside arm, inside back, etc.)

      In addition, all parts and components that cannot be seen use the lowest cost materials possible. If cushions feel comfortable when they are new in the showroom and will hold up for one year (until the retailer’s warranty expires) it is considered good enough.

      Multi-year and extended warranties are loaded with small print clauses that exclude the most common consumer complaints and problems (such as collapsing cushions and peeling bonded leather.)

      Warranties can literally include dozens of exclusionary clauses, many of which are very cleverly worded to deny coverage in ways a normal person would not think of. For example, use of cleaning or fabric protection products void most furniture warranties.

      Many warranties have broad coverage for “accidental” damage only. Consumers do not realize that this excludes all problems that occur over time (which is the large majority of consumer complaints.)

      After one year, most warranties require the consumer to pay for repair “labor” and “transportation.” With upholstery, this can be hundreds of dollars. The result is that many (most) consumers do not follow up on warranty claims.

      Prior to 2010, the average mass-produced sofa had a 10 year lifespan. Currently, the average lifespan is closer to 5 years (and less for many large reclining pieces.) High quality furniture is still available, but it is expensive, and not affordable by most furniture shoppers.


Leave a Comment