Our target market is a person who wants to have very fine furniture with the latest in technology, combined with an old fashioned sense of fine woods and fine woodworking. This person can be in the corporate towers, small or medium business, or in a home office. The common bond is the appreciation of quality, and the lack of price constraints.
Our segment definition is of itself strategic. We are not intending to satisfy all users of office furniture intended for use with personal computers, but, rather, only those who are most demanding. We are definitely out to address the needs of the high-end buyer, who is willing to pay more for quality.
In our particular market, we also seek the buyer who appreciates two attributes: the quality of furniture workmanship and the excellence of design, with an understanding of technology and ergonomics built in.
We understand that our target market needs more than just office furniture. The need grew out of the special needs of personal computing, when combined with office furniture -- keyboards at correct height, monitors at correct height, proper channels for cables, and other amenities. Our target customer wants to have all of that plus fine furniture. There is a need for quality, reassurance of wood and good workmanship. We don't just sell office furniture, we sell office environment and design, plus workmanship.
Our market has finally grown to recognize the disparity between most of the standard office furniture sold through channels, and our own products.
The development of the high-end office worker, office owners, and baby-boomer executive is an important trend for us. We now have people who are using computers who also appreciate the old-fashioned workmanship of good furniture.
According to [source omitted], the market for office furniture is growing at XX percent per year, and is projected to increase. The market for PC-related office furniture is growing even faster, at YY percent per year, and is projected to top $XX billion by the year 2000.
Most important is the growth in home offices with personal computer equipment. As the cost of the computer goes down, steadily, the number of home offices goes up. According to [omitted], this is about 36 million right now, growing at 15 percent per year. Households spent $XX billion last year to equip home offices, and 15 percent of that was spent on furniture.
The office furniture industry has undergone a great deal of change in this decade. The growth of the office superstores made a few large brands dominant. They produce relatively inexpensive furniture that makes compromises in order to stay at the low price level.
Makers of higher quality furniture are in general shuffling for niches to hide in. Although Willamette Furniture Mfr. was essentially developed around a niche, many of the more traditional furniture makers are looking for niches, trying to deal with declining sales as the main volume goes elsewhere.
The main volume in the industry is now concentrated in four main brands, all of which compete for retail sales through major retail chain stores: Office Depot, Office Max, Staples, and others. These same four are also concentrating efforts as well in the major club discount stores, the Price Club, Costco, Sams, etc.
The growth of the office superstores made a few large brands dominant. Designs are similar and quite competitive, costs and cost control is critical, and channel management and channel marketing are the keys to these business' continued success.
In mainstream office furniture, the rise of the office store channel has siphoned a lot of volume from the older and more traditional manufacturers. The channels that sold the more traditional lines are also suffering. What's left are smaller brands, smaller companies, and divisions of more traditional furniture companies.
There are also some traditional manufacturers still making desks as part of furniture lines focused mainly on home furnishings. Some of these have looked at times at our niche, and are competing for the same dollars.
The four main manufacturers are selling direct to the office superstores and buying discount clubs. This accounts for the main volume of distribution. The office furniture customer seems to be growing steadily more comfortable with the retail buy in the chain store.
The major corporate purchases are still made directly with manufacturers. Although this is still a major channel for some of the more traditional manufacturers, it is essentially closed to new competition. The direct channel is dominated by two manufacturers and two distributors. The distributors will occasionally take on a new line -- happily, this has helped Willamette Furniture Mfr. -- but the main growth is in retail.
Published research indicates that 51% of the total sales volume in the market goes through the retail channel, most of that major national chains. Another 23% goes through the direct sales channel, although in this case direct sales includes sales by distributors who are buying from multiple manufacturers. Most of the remainder, 18%, is sold directly to buyers by catalogs.
In the mainstream business, channels are critical to volume. The manufacturers with impact in the national sales are going to win display space in the store, and most buyers seem content to pick their product off the store floor. Price is critical, because the channels take significant margins. Buyers are willing to settle for laminated quality and serviceable design.
In direct sales to corporations, price and volume is critical. The corporate buyer wants trouble-free buying in volume, at a great price. Reliable delivery is as important as reliable quality.
In the high-end specialty market, particularly in our niche, features are very important. Our target customer is not making selections based on price. The ergonomics, design, accommodation of the computer features within the high-quality feel of good wood, is much more important than mere price. We are also seeing that assembly is critical to shipping and packing, but our customer doesn't accept any assembly problems. We need to make sure that the piece comes together almost like magic, and as it does, it presents a greater feel of quality than if it hadn't required assembly at all.
Acme Computer Furniture
Acme has been operating since the middle 1980s, and grew up with computer-related furniture. It was one of the first, certainly the first we are aware of, to develop personal computer desks and market through advertising in computer magazines. Today they are about twice our size. They have a very nicely done catalog and good relationships with two distributors.
Strengths: good marketing, strong advertising budget, relationships with distributors, strong direct sales.
Weaknesses: the product is more standardized, and of lesser quality, with less sense of design and materials and workmanship.
ABC Manufacturing is a division of Haines Furniture, the second largest manufacturers of mainstream home furnishings. Haines bought ABC three years ago and is focusing on our niche. We see very good quality product, and an excellent sense of design, but little movement in channels or catalogs.
Strengths: financial backing, product quality.
Weaknesses: ABC has not seemed to understand our niche, where to find the buyers, how to market as a specialty niche instead of the more traditional furniture channels.