Where Design's At: 2010 - 2011

For weeks, even months, I have been reading about how the Real Estate and Construction/Architecture/Interior Design markets are certain to recover in this New Year….Since fall, professional newsletters and webmail writers have touted the resurgence of construction and sales these related industries have longed for since the slippage started around 2007-2008.

Consumers need to look at this period as a transition phase…Each time I talk to a salesman or visit a showroom or gallery or talk to a contractor, I hear how they are holding on so that they don’t have to find something else to do, or give up on a career or a business they have worked in “forever”-maybe even started one or two generations ago. The Design Industry has learned to adjust to the pace of business that was reset in 2008, 9 and 10.
These “holiday weeks” have set a reality that should be shared:  The Design Industry is still poking along (mostly):  both “the trade” (that’s me) and “the public” (that’s most of you) will still have to “wait and see” for a while.

This Holiday Season, nearly everyone I work with on the production side has taken/given more days and half-days off than in years past.  It’s not consistent company to company, but when it started snowing in NYC and the snow was also shutting down northern Europe, I realized that not much would get done before January.  The inability of offices and/or warehouses to function with stranded workers and shipping concerns became just one more reason to close till next week.



For the past year or 2, here’s how things have been:
If someone want to buy a piece of furniture, fabrics for upholstery or drapes,  specific stone for counter tops or anything custom or unusual, the wait time has been at least as long as it was those years ago, when business was booming.

No one will warehouse anything that will not “move” quickly.  Again, that means anything from a kitchen bar stool to tile to upholstered furniture.  Companies have gradually and consistently stopped stocking and re-buying/re-manufacturing as soon as they run out.  It’s too costly for them to have so much on hand anymore.  Just before Christmas week, I was told that a client’s fabric selection was out-of-stock (meaning not on a shelf in some warehouse), and it would not be manufactured again until new and unfilled orders add up to 150 yards.  The pair of chairs we’re making needs 14.  With so many other possible choices and the slow demand, I would guess 4 months of waiting…and waiting.  Then the chairs still have to be made.  New fabric chosen and 93 yds. are in stock–ready to ship!

Yesterday?  A client decided that she wants to buy a light fixture I showed her in March, 2010.  She “needs it” mid-January.  It’s not in stock in Chicago and the supplier is closed till next week.  They won’t look at new orders till then, so… maybe 3 more weeks IF the manufacturer has it stashed somewhere closer than Europe, where it’s made.  Their previous 1-3 week lead time is probably a thing of the past.  Perhaps I can convince someone locally to sell from a showroom display, maybe not.  Oh, the salesman I worked with at the lighting showroom in March left a few months ago, too.  Mid-January for THAT item is unlikely. 

Maybe when these businesses reopen in January workers and salespeople will be more enthusiastic and ready to go, but that’s unlikely.  Without a backlog of orders no one is going to get very excited for a while.  The challenge for buyers will be to adjust selections to what’s ready to be delivered — or understand that a long wait is likely.  Factories are (mostly) staying open, but the production is still the same because they are cutting back days, hours and some workforce to stay afloat. 

This isn’t pessimism, its reality.

SURE, there are spenders and there are buyers, but not as many as these suppliers and professionals need in order to staff up.  Not yet.  It’s absolutely true that if your furniture is falling apart, you will have to replace (or redo) it.  You might not do it NOW, but you will have to sometime; and that’s true of your kitchen, your tile, your shades, and your toilet (that’ll probably be closer to an emergency) and as the consumers come back, the products will reappear and it’ll seem more normal.  Maybe next winter it won’t be as desolate. 

Till then, shop like this:  buy what you see, or expect to wait, or adjust your choices.  That means buy “off the floor” and “stock” items (no color changes or size adjustments) or samples.  Get professional help.  That means PROFESSIONAL HELP (see old blog posts, so I don’t have to repeat myself too much).  Check credentials and, which I have never emphasized before, maybe consider references if you are buying through a Design Professional who will be handling substantial deposits and orders (hey, I have heard those nightmare scenarios of people running away with deposits and from vendors, too).  Think it through!

It’s the first day of a New Year TOMORROW (!!)  (+40 min) and I wish you all a wonderful, Healthy Happy, Calm and PROSPEROUS 2011. 

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