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BIFMA reflects on the issues of the day.

The office furniture industry experienced a great deal of activity in 1995. The $9.4 billion industry saw a flurry of mergers and acquisitions. It galvanized to announcements that the Federal Prison Industries was planning to expand even further into office furniture manufacturing and distribution. It supported a trade show and then dropped its support.

All in all it was a very busy year for Russell Coyner and his staff at the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn., which tacked on the word "International" to the end of the group's already long name that most refer to as BIFMA.

WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS recently questioned BIFMA personnel about these recent activities and other issues of interest for the office and contract furniture industry.

W&WP: BIFMA has lobbied to curb the growth of prison-made contract furniture. Recently, Unicor, the branch of the Federal Prison Industries, has proposed to expand its manufacturing operations into systems, dormitory furniture and even further into the seating arena. How will this affect your members' growth? What is BIFMA doing to combat this expansion?

BIFMA: Needless to say, we are very concerned about FPI's stated intention to increase its use of the mandatory preference in the seating segment of the federal market. This intended action was announced before the UNICOR board of directors made a decision on their disputed increase in the systems furniture segment. Legislative action seems to be the only remedy for this issue.

W&WP: After several years of working to develop a travelling trade show, BIFMA signed on with the International Facility Management Assn. to develop trade shows and educational seminars under the World Workplace banner. Recently, IFMA and BIFMA announced that this partnership was being dissolved. What was the reason for the dissolution and will BIFMA and its members continue to strive for a travelling trade show?

BIFMA: BIFMA entered the joint venture with IFMA with the major objective of widening the attendees to create an industry event. We also attempted to create an exhibit environment which would draw a significant number of continuous attendees. Our exit and member surveys showed that we did not fulfill this objective. BIFMA is moving forward with an initiative to develop an industry consensus on customer needs relative to product displays, education and exhibits. We will be meeting with several associations, including IFMA, NEOCON, and WestWeek in addition to other real estate and show management companies to examine these needs for the office furnishings industry.

W&WP: The Knoll Group, one of the country's largest makers of office furniture, recently announced it had agreed on a $565 million buyout agreement with the investment firm of Warburg, Pincus. The deal came on the heels of a number of other mergers and acquisitions by members of the industry. What is fueling this activity and why would a firm such as Warburg, Pincus invest in the office furniture industry?

BIFMA: Current conditions in the office furniture industry typify those of a mature market; i.e. relatively slow growth, increased price competition, consolidation, etc. The recent merger and acquisition activity is one of the conditions of a mature market. While we are unable to comment on a specific company's action, overall, the office furniture industry is healthy and continues to out-perform the Gross National Product with anticipated total industry growth in 1995 of 7.4 percent and predictions of 4.2 percent growth in 1996 (these growth rates are prior to inflation adjustments).

W&WP: There have been a number of issues that have affected the office furniture industry. Other than the issues already debated here, which issues will BIFMA be focusing on in the coming year and why?

BIFMA: The office furniture industry has a number of issues that have been identified as important to its continued health and prosperity. They are: expanding the utilization and understanding of the BIFMA Safety and Performance Standards throughout North and South America, while working closely with ISO to promote acceptance of BIFMA philosophies and methods; maintaining the most accurate and comprehensive industry statistics program; acting as the voice of the industry to the government on industry-specific issues such as Prison Industries growth; developing ergonomic standards; product liability reform; and environmental concerns.

W&WP: As an association, BIFMA has begun to look outside the U.S. borders, going so far as to include the word International in its name. Why did BIFMA decide to do this and what benefit does this have to your members and the industry as a whole?

BIFMA: BIFMA has looked outside of the U.S. for many years, currently having 27 international members. Recently, in conjunction with the NAFTA Treaty, we have pursued a closer relationship with Canadian and Mexican members, electing Monty Brown, president of Teknion (Canada) and Rafael Aguirre, president of Comercial DM Nacional (Mexico) to the BIFMA board of directors. The addition of the word "International" to our name merely recognizes and symbolizes the need to think and act on manners in a global manner. The ISO Technical Advisory Group 136, which is drafting International Standards for office furniture, is one of the key international activities identified, and on which BIFMA is active. The marketing impact of the ISO 9000 series can be compared to the potential impact of other ISO Standards.
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Title Annotation:Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association
Author:Coyner, Russell
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Panel Discussion
Date:Feb 1, 1996
Previous Article:Blockbuster deals usher out 1995.
Next Article:Geiger gears up for greater growth.

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