Furniture Today – Survey: Home furnishings sales reps devastated by pandemic shutdowns

Original Post Date: 5/26/2020


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HIGH POINT – Home furnishing sales representatives have taken a substantial hit from the recent COVID-19-imposed shutdowns, with nearly all (99.8%) losing income and an average income loss of 73%, according to a survey conducted by Leflein Associates.

As a result, 70% said they have turned to government assistance to tide them over, with a majority (52%) applying for relief through the Paycheck Protection Program and just under 20% applying for unemployment.

Released by the International Home Furnishings Representatives Assn., the study highlighted the dramatic decrease in retail activity and the ripple effect it had on the furniture manufacturing community, while simultaneously identifying the potential for a quick recovery.

According to the study, 54% of survey representatives indicated that their customers had called to cancel orders. Conversely, 60% said their customers had reached out to place orders, and while those are likely to be re-orders, orders are once again being placed.

Reinforcing reports that e-commerce has been a critical lifeline for many furniture companies and an ongoing venue for consumer activity, the study indicated that 25% of IHFRA reps reported that online sales of furniture and related home accessories have kept them going as they work through issues related to the pandemic.

When asked to identify online sales of specific product categories keeping the reps afloat, standouts were accessories (35%), bedding (31%), home office (27%), outdoor furniture (25%), case goods (23%) and upholstery (22%).

This path, however, is not widely available across IHFRA membership however, with 40% of respondents indicating their suppliers don’t have a significant e-commerce platform and an additional 35% unable to participate in the e-commerce sales of those suppliers that do.

With many retailers still eschewing face-to-face visits, e-mail (95%) and phone (90%) remain the primary form of communication between reps and their dealers; only 28% said they were using video calls.

With virtual showrooms becoming an increasingly popular marketing tool for furniture suppliers, 70% of reps have deemed them “somewhat effective,” 18% described them as “very useful,” and only 12% said they were “not useful at all.”

“Armed with this timely information, we can effectively formulate strategies to help our members as we all work through this pandemic,” said IHFRA Executive Director Ray Allegrezza.

About the survey: 422 (28%) of the 1,500 IHFRA furniture reps emailed participated during the first week of May 2020. Leflein Associates is an independent market research company based in New Jersey that was commissioned to conduct the survey and aggregate responses, maintaining participants’ anonymity. For more information about this survey and Leflein Associates, visit the company’s website.

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