Weekly Editorial

Unlocking the Value of Research

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • October 9, 2023

The Insider_Weekly_Editorial Section_10.9.23

We recently featured Paul Holland and Solomon Coyle in the latest issue of viewpoint magazine, and for good reason. Our friends at Solomon Coyle are doing critically important dealer research and benchmarking. I have known Holland and David Solomon for years and consider Solomon Coyle an excellent industry resource.

Today, I’d like to continue our discussion about the importance of research. The office furniture industry has a few excellent sources for research such as Solomon Coyle and BIFMA, but when looking for specific numbers from specific product categories, it can be difficult to find any information at all.

Let’s start with something as simple as the total size of the office furniture industry. If someone asked you to accurately come up with a number for the total size of the industry, what would you say? $15 billion? $20 billion? Did you count demountable walls? How about phone booths? The problem is, we don’t even really know where the industry begins and where it ends, much less its overall value. Someone once joked that the office furniture industry is about the size of the cat food industry, which seems about right to me.

I had a journalist friend who worked for Wards, a respected automotive publication. The company could tell you exactly how many Ford F-150s were produced in a given week, along with the same information about Honda Civics and any other car you’d like production numbers on. We simply don’t have that kind of information available in our industry. No one really knows how many Aeron chairs MillerKnoll produced last week, for example, except MillerKnoll.

The lack of clarity makes it difficult for everyone. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming companies for protecting their production numbers. This isn’t the auto industry. I understand that smaller, privately held companies don’t want to share production numbers. But we need to figure out, as an industry, how to better track our overall performance. Right now, there’s too much guesswork to effectively run a business.

While production numbers might be out of the question, perhaps we can talk about an industry-wide market research project. It is sorely needed because we know too little about what our customers want since the pandemic ended. Why can’t we get together as an industry and conduct some consumer research — ask our customers what they need, how hybrid work is affecting their performance, and space needs in a post-pandemic workplace?

I’m not holding my breath for it to happen, but if you are as concerned about the lack of overall research in our industry as I am, you can start working on it yourself. If you are a dealer, set up a customer focus group and invite them to a monthly lunch in your showroom, not to sell them something, but to get their views on the effectiveness of their workplace (and yes, that will lead to sales). You can also integrate survey forms on your websites and use surveys as part of every purchase. Research is critical in helping companies like yours make more informed decisions on product pricing and marketing.

If you don’t have staff to conduct the research you need, there are folks who can help, including Write Office, the copywriting, research and marketing company that is part of OI Publications. Reach out to me at rob@writeoffice.com if you want to get started.

In the meantime, I would encourage our industry to start developing research together. We need more visibility to understand the market and make better decisions.

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