Have you ever wondered why furniture seems to be so much less expensive online?
The verdict is in, people are buying on the internet – like mad! What a godsend it has been, to get us through lockdown after lockdown – especially during the gift-giving seasons: wedding gift housewares, father’s day barbeque tools, children’s clothes -and even groceries and cosmetics. But furniture? That’s a full stop! Somehow, homeowners got on a slippery slope with their shopping and began picking out furniture without ‘kicking the tires’, pulling on the drawers in and out, or seat testing the upholstered furniture. What’s next, buying cars and houses sight unseen?
If you want to buy a quality piece of furniture such as a sofa, and one you will find comfortable, you are going to have to get into a showroom and take a close-up look, or better yet, work with a designer, and TRUST them! They went to design school, after all and studied more than just plumbing walls and electrical plans.
Here’s what you need to know.
Don’t be fooled by lower prices
Online pricing for furniture is deceptive – very deceptive. There are plenty of low to mid-priced sofas available but few of them worth the money. Why? They simply won’t hold up.
Beauty is only skin deep
I have had too many homeowners hire me to help them find quality furniture after purchasing on the internet and being fooled by a “pretty picture”.
You simply cannot assess quality from a photograph. When we asked in a poll recently, “which sofa would you buy?”, we shared a picture of two nearly identical sofas. Most people, design pros included, would be hard-pressed to determine which one would last for 40 (or many more) years, and which would end up in landfill in a few short years. If you are working with an e-designer and they are sourcing furniture for you, please be sure you have made clear to them what level of quality you are looking for, and what your expectations are. On the other hand, if you are a designer working with e-design clients, be sure and let them know that your mood-boards are for inspiration only unless you can stand behind the quality of the furniture.
Value Analysis/ Value Engineering isn’t just for cars
Grab a coffee (decaf just won’t do here) and bear with me while I delve into a bit of an explanation so you get the basics. VA/VE, or Value Analysis/Value Engineering is a term that doesn’t get mentioned often enough in the home furnishings market. To fully understand the practice of “Value Analysis and Value Engineering”, it is helpful to know where the term comes from, and why the practice was established. Va/Ve, or value engineering to be more brief, simply put, is the practice of tinkering with the ratio between function (or in the case of furniture, quality), and cost. Its origins go back to the time of the second world war and was used widely in the automotive industry when availability of parts became scarce causing the need for products to be analysed for a solution to work around the shortage. First established by the General Electric Company, a focus was established to analyse item’s function, and identify ways to reduce costs, improve the product, or both.
What could all of this have to do with furniture, and buying a good sofa, you might ask? Well, plenty! The furniture industry has been under a lot of pressure to offer better pricing to stay competitive for the past thirty-five or so years since my grandfather’s firm closed its doors, and even long before then. A large percentage of the furniture sold in retail stores today is either mass-produced, or made off-shore and offered at much lower prices than seen in higher-end retailers and through designers. It it has become increasing difficult to sell quality furniture. Homeowners, with an appetite for better pricing have had a taste of internet purchasing with very mixed results and land-fill is accumulating at an alarming rate with cast-off furniture that just didn’t stand up.
To go just a bit deeper and then we will come up for air, quite a few North American furniture manufacturers produce multiple levels or tiers of quality allowing for the big name stores to offer white label furniture under their brand that is not the same quality as a designer will provide. It has become common practice to cut back on materials and steps in the process to offer quality at various levels. The quality, doesn’t affect how pieces photograph for the internet, and for online catalogues, so the consumer is easily fooled.
Unfortunately, this has become common practice.
Know that your designer’s got your back!
So many times, and in so many ways, designers are asked to explain what value they bring to the table. Certainly, their inside knowledge of the construction process, their ability to visualize and plan the outcome from the start are very important strengths but Do Not underestimate their purchasing knowledge. Designers attend trade events and tour manufacturing facilities to learn the behind-the-scenes steps to constructing quality furniture built to last. Their product knowledge is second to none, and can help you really understand what goes into the price that makes one sofa very different from another. They are educated about fabrics: fibres, filaments, dying process, weaves, treatments (an more); as well as furniture: construction processes, materials, options for customization and so much more. An experienced designer can help you find the right piece that is ideal for your needs AND your lifestyle. Pets, children with sticky fingers, beer and red wine spills, high traffic areas, all go into their understanding of why a particular piece made by a specific manufacturer with the right fabric for your needs like no-one else can!
But what goes unsaid, and gets called into question so much of the time, is that they really, really have your best interests at heart. I have attended many trade events where designers gather to learn the best new products so they can bring you exactly what you need.
Want to know more?
There is so much product knowledge to be acquired that I have launched a course where I go into everything you need to know about sofas/sectionals, and upholstered goods all wrapped up in one online course. We tell you everything you need to know and a few things we think you ought to know (but don’t know to ask about). This is for you whether you are a designer, a decorator, or a homeowner looking to buy a piece of furniture and aren’t sure what to ask about.
Our cheat sheets, guides and checklists will have you well-armed. The best part? This self-guided program is available to you online to absorb on your own time, at your own pace. Need to review a section? NO problem, just go back the where you left off. You don’t need to show up at a certain time for a class that is only offered when you can’t make it, and you have access to the notes to refer to over and over again. Trust me, you can’t take it in all at once!
I will never forget the day my grandfather took me by the hand and showed me the insides of a sofa. Somehow that lesson stuck with me and made a big impression. I must have been only 8 or ten years old, but I was enthralled! In this course, I’ve done a deep dive into lessons learned from my family heritage in the furniture industry and years in the design industry and am sharing all the lessons you really need to make better upholstery purchases.
Whether you are a homeowner looking to buy a sofa/sectional, or you are a designer frustrated by clients “shopping you”, this will arm you with what you need to know: product knowledge – the key to knowing how to sell or How to Buy a Better Sofa!
Not ready yet?
4 responses to “How to Buy a Better Sofa”
Such an important topic, Judith! Thank you for sharing your knowledge from your expert experience!
It IS important. Homeowners are being mislead and that really troubles me. There is more good reason than ever to hire a designer like yourself to help them make good investments.
This is such great information for consumers. And I agree, it’s so hard to tell the quality of an item online
Such valuable information, I am so glad you talked about this topic, people are often driven by price rather than quality. Great information in this post!