Commercial/Contract Furniture/Consumer Hardlines Industry News: Orders Remain Negative, but Trend toward Flat against Tough Comparisons; Sales Continue to Benefit from Backlog, Albeit at Slowing Pace

  • This note addresses the Business Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association’s (BIFMA) Monthly Market Pulse (MMP) of incoming orders and sales for January 2023. About 50+ BIFMA member companies voluntarily submit monthly sales and orders to a national accounting firm that aggregates and reports composite data. Neither BIFMA nor any individual member has access to the raw data. We show the monthly data from 2019 to January 2023 under Industry Statistics.
  • North America incoming orders fell 1.9% Y/Y, sequentially better than -9.2% in December. Orders for Class D, the largest manufacturers, fell 1% Y/Y. Class D comprises the publicly traded manufacturers under coverage at WTR, including Steelcase (SCS), MillerKnoll (MLKN), HNI (HNI), and Kimball International (KBAL).
  • The January 2023 sales were trending lower, but remained positive at +6.9% versus 2022. Sales from the large manufacturers remained positive at +6%.
  • We view the trend in orders as the critical bit of information. The year-ago comparison presents a high hurdle at +24.4%. Since mid-2022, the flow of business seems to be normalizing after the rollercoaster ride of pandemic shocks, supply chain disruptions, and recovery. In this context, a -1.9% order flow should be seen as positive, on the margin, for the office furniture makers under coverage. BIFMA has reported negative orders in seven of the past eight months. January represents an easing of that negative trend against a still challenging comparison.
  • On a related topic, return to office (RTO) seems to have gathered momentum modestly since January 1. Office security firm Kastle Systems measures and reports (weekly) its client security card “swipes” versus a January 2020 baseline (100). The index reached 50.1% in late February and remains there. RTO in large markets improved. New York and San Francisco, two RTO laggards, were up 2.5% for the week ending 3/8 to 47.7% and 46%, respectively.

Net NA Orders, Y/Y% Change

Source: BIFMA, Water Tower Research

Net NA Sales (Shipments), Y/Y% Change

Source: BIFMA, Water Tower Research

Note on the BIFMA data: In 2016, BIFMA expanded its MMP to include Canada, Mexico, and the US. It also added product categories beyond office furniture. The aggregated data are reported in percentage form only and classified into five buckets based on the annual sales of its members: Category A: <=$25 million; B: $25-50 million; C: $50-150 million; D: >$150 million; and North America (NA) total.


Water Tower Research (“WTR”) is a professional publisher of investment research reports on public companies and, to a lesser extent, private firms (“the Companies”). WTR provides investor-focused content and digital distribution strategies designed to help companies communicate with investors.

WTR is not a registered investment adviser or a broker/dealer nor does WTR provide investment banking services. WTR operates as an exempt investment adviser under the so called “publishers’ exemption” from the definition of investment adviser under Section 202(a)(11) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. WTR does not provide investment ratings / recommendations or price targets on the companies it reports on. Readers are advised that the research reports are published and provided solely for informational purposes and should not be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy securities or the rendering of investment advice. The information p...