Blog: New government numbers make 2019 stats ‘read like a novel’

Melisa D. Galvin

Just as our current sales are gaining some momentum, I am looking at all the numbers for 2019. Old news, you say? From our perspective, 2019 is turning out to be one of our most, if not THE most, important in recent years. Since the 1990s, my firm has been publishing perhaps the most insightful document you need to see about what is recurring in our industry.

Our 2020 Furniture and Mattress Import/ Export Study may sound like just an academic overview, but if you immerse yourself in the information, it reads like a novel. Part of this is because it gives the past 10 years in every table so you can see trends. It looks at the progress on total consumer consumption of residential furniture and mattresses year-by-year and contrasts it to its largest subset furniture store sales.

Here is a shocker: The government just restated the total consumption number in a big way. According to this valuable information, and the most reliable we have, total consumption of residential furniture and mattresses through all types of retail was not the $114.174 billion we were told for 2018, but $124.161 billion. The government located $10 billion in sales they did not know we sold. Our industry has been growing faster than we knew or that anyone gave us credit for, and in 2019 our total consumption reached $130.043 billion. (It will not reach that in 2020, by the way.)

But all is not good news. The government also restated the subset furniture store sales downward. Instead of the $65.357 billion in furniture and mattress sales in 2018, the government now reports it was $61.561 billion. Where did it go? There were sample errors but also a distortion because our industry has so many complex routes of distribution.

In 2019, the new stats show furniture store sales were $61.456 billion. On the old stats, furniture stores were about 57% of all furniture and mattresses sold; now it is not quite 50%. Where is the other half? The Internet, department stores, discount mass merchants, the Internet, the warehouse stores, the Internet and places like grocery stores, office stores and, of course, the Internet.

But the story doesn’t stop there. In every major product category, imported furniture declined. Mattress imports have been in the press a lot, and imports from China all but disappeared by year end 2019. In other categories, because of the tariffs, Chinese furniture declined in every major category, but it remains very important, sometimes because there are few alternative sources.

The juggling among the Asian nations is fun to watch but don’t forget Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Reach for your stars and stripes because 2019 was the rare recovery year in wood, upholstered and metal furniture made in the U.S. Is this because of the decline in Chinese imports, a currency shift, new technology or did a rising tide raise all the U.S. boats? Not every U.S. furniture manufacturer did well in 2019 by a long shot, but some did really well and made the difference.

Someone once said you cannot tell the players without a scorecard. It is true.

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