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Why is Furniture Quality Getting Worse & Prices Going Up?

By Jeff Frank

Question:

Why is furniture quality going down while prices are going up?

Every year the quality of furniture declines and the prices go up.

Wood is rarely used in manufacturing now. Only Mennonites still build out of wood.

The saw dust wood from Vietnam and China is a disgrace.

I worked in an Ashley store and a month would go by with no sales. Art D.

Answer:

Just as it is my duty to point out false statements or exaggerations made by furniture stores and brands, it is also my responsibility to correct mis-statements made by shoppers or store employees.

Although prices have increased since the end of the Pandemic, retail furniture prices have actually changed very little over the previous 40 years.

In the 1980s (when I was a buyer for a major furniture retail chain) basic sofas were sold at $399 – $499.

Today, there aren’t as many sofas selling for $399, but there is a huge selection at $499 – $599 that are similar in quality to those sold 40 years ago.

The small price increase occurred over a time span when prices of many essential raw materials and labor costs have at least quadrupled.

Reclining sofa prices have increased, but that is because there were very few reclining sofas being sold 40 years ago, and sophisticated power mechanisms were not available.

Solid wood furniture is still being built by companies not associated with Mennonites or the Amish.

Although a lot of solid wood furniture is now made overseas, there are still some major mid-price solid wood manufacturers in the U.S., including Kincaid and Vaughn Bassett.

Also, there are thousands of craftspeople making solid wood furniture in small woodworking shops.

China is no longer the largest source of imported furniture. High tariffs on Chinese furniture have shifted production to Mexico, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and other sources.

Presumably, “Saw dust wood” refers to MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard).

MDF is compressed saw dust and adhesives glued to thin laminated plastic or veneered wood surface materials.

MDF was widely available 40 years ago.

Although there were some very cheap, poor quality MDF items sold then (which are no longer available), better quality MDF bedroom and occasional furniture prices were not much less than similar pieces being sold today.

MDF quality now is far superior to what it was 40 years ago. Prices have increased far less than many other categories of goods and services.

Manufacturing technology has come a long way, making large scale “wood” furniture production far more efficient.

During the Pandemic, furniture stores were largely deserted.

Online sales were far stronger than in-store sales for a period of over a year.

In-store furniture customers are gradually returning, but with the increased reliance on the internet for shopping, people are visiting far fewer stores before making their purchase.

Ashley’s problems were very similar to those of other large furniture retailers. They responded with an aggressive campaign to increase their internet sales, a strategy that appears to be working, even as customers return to its stores.

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