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Home office market stays hot.



According to a recent LINK survey, by 1992, 31 million people will work at home.

The ballyhoo and excitement surrounding the newest furniture "growth" market reminds a lot of manufacturers of the last hot market. In the early '80s it was entertainment centers. Today, the focus is on home office furniture.

It is easy to see where all the excitement comes from, since all the studies done on home offices indicate an extremely bright future. As one manufacturer claimed, the numbers in the studies might differ, but the prospects are the same: Home office is a booming business.

One market research firm that has tracked work-at-home trends since 1986 is the New York City-based LINK Resources. LINK reports that in 1988, 4.2 million Americans started working at home for the first time, a dramatic increase from the 1.6 million who worked at home in 1987. LINK has tracked a 7 to 9 percent increase in the number of at-home employees and it believes that by 1992, some 31 million people will work at home.

LINK found that 60 percent of the workers are white collar and half of all those working at home are in professional or managerial occupations. A typical profile of the at-home worker is one who splits his or her work week between the home and office. Those figures, plus the hard-to-dispute sales figures for personal computers, FAX machines, copiers, modems and all the other elements of a home office, have resulted in the hybrid desks and systems for at-home use in much the same way that VCRs and televisions and sound systems created a whole new market for entertainment furniture.

WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS interviewed several leading manufacturers about their home office lines -- what they make, how it is selling and what they think home office's potential is.

Hekman's high end offerings

Hekman Furniture Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., developed its first computer cabinet in 1982 to accommodate a personal computer and printer for home use. The design did very well even when PC sales were flat. But Hekman president Dan Henslee says that by 1988 he noticed an increased interest in high-end furniture that would accommodate the elements of a home office.

Henslee described himself as an early fan of personal computers. "I have had one in my home since they first came out," he said. "We brainstormed in 1988 for what would constitute the ultimate furniture system for home computer use. Then we made it in the Hekman |style' -- that is, traditional furniture in mahogany and oak. Both have identical functions and we have since added a third style category, transitional, in the champaign style."

Part of the brainstorming process included studying the typical home office consumer. According to a survey called "Home Office Computing," the top five work-at-home professions include communications, sales, accounting, consulting and computer services. The study also found that home offices can be found in spare rooms (52 percent), living rooms or dens (18 percent), basements (13 percent), bedrooms (10 percent), dining rooms (4 percent), and the remaining 7 percent work "elsewhere."

The market study has paid off for Hekman, a subsidiary of Howard Miller Clocks. Said Henslee, "Sales have been beyond our wildest dreams. We did not know big the demand would be. We have developed the design so completely and thoughtfully that we know the home office lines are being bought by offices."

Henslee added the firm's specially designed units were targeted for home use, but they are finding that the pieces are also ending up in bank, government and law offices.

Henslee said the design team considered function and appearance above all, addressing potential elements of a home office including: PCs, answering machines, FAX machines and laser printers. "We looked for a common thread for home use and translated it to our price category. It couldn't just look OK, it had to look beautiful," Henslee said.

Henslee said the results are units that address the various types of home office workers. "One can occupy a small area and be completely closed up," he said. "This is designed for workspace in a small study, family room corner or an extra bedroom. Then we designed for the user with more room, utilizing a larger work area and probably spending many more hours a week there. We added a corner wrap and gave them more work surface. This too could be closed up when work is done."

A third profile emerged, that of the full-time home office worker. "For them we added another wrap with a kneehole desk. In any given room you can create a wall-to-wall office," said Henslee.

Henslee said the home office market is "going crazy. We hear projections that the numbers of home office workers will double by 1995 and you can't pick up any projections that are not extremely positive. By any measure the demand is expected to increase because our way of life is changing to include computers and workers at home."

Hekman's newest addition is a work center shown at the Fall Market featuring several modules including a chest that works as a printer stand desk and book case. Its key is flexibility in addressing the needs of a typical home worker, who may be doing more work at home.

Techline's contemporary RTA home office

Alice D'Alessio, vice president, marketing for Techline, said interest in the home office has been very positive for Techline, a division of Marshall Erdman and Associates Inc. with headquarters in Madison, Wis. "Home office sales are snowballing. Bedrooms used to be our biggest seller and still are number one, but the home office and office lines are increasing. Our bedroom chest 36-30 was one of our biggest sellers but now the file drawer that can be attached to a desk or put on casters is really hot," D'Alessio said.

Techline has been making home office furniture for the past two to three years and sales have been growing 30 percent a year. "The recession has affected us somewhat but sales are up over last year though not our usual 30 percent. The majority of our growth has been in the contract and office area.

"A home office used to mean a little desk in a corner of the kitchen. But today it can be the same small desk tucked away or or a system sophisticated enough to outfit a small business," D'Alessio added.

Techline, which manufactures furniture, cabinetry and home office furniture, has two methods of distribution. Its RTA line is sold through stores -- some 350 different retail stores nationwide. Traditionally, said D'Alessio that has been a very strong source of business. "A consumer sees a living room, bedroom or dining room in our showroom and they can take it home and set it up themselves. The other line of cabinetry has to be installed with countertops."

The company established independently-owned Techline Studios, with 45 locations nationwide. A growth area for both has been the home office line, which Techline constantly adds to and upgrades. Techline's signature look -- the sleek, contemporary frameless designs are made of thermoset melamine laminate-surfaced, high-density wood particleboard. Cabinet joints are secured with hardwood dowels and metal cam studs and locks. Edges are finished with a heavy PVC edging and the company also features constrasting edging.

RTA has been an important sales tool for Techline, whose customer's like the ability to take pieces home for immediate use. One big seller has been the computer center, which offers space to hold a computer, printer with a slot for paper and a hutch top to hold reference books and manuals. D'Alessio said the Techline products offer versatility and the ability to expand work surfaces by using different size panels. The customer can customize. Techline's very standard look makes it easy for the consumer to add pieces that will always coordinate. A recent introduction is the expandable computer hutch top which can adjust to fit desks 48 inches to 65 inches in width. The storage space available for the many computer items has made it popular with clients, said D'Alessio.

Also new is a vertical file system, designed in response to people's demands. The company is also in the midst of designing a line of chairs for home office use, she said.

Riverside: The largest U.S. home desk manufacturer

Riverside, the largest domestic manufacturer of residential desks in the country, has answered the call for home office needs. Randy Austin, president of the Fort Smith, Ark.-based company said home office sales account for approximately 60 percent of the company's sales volume.

Austin said the elements that are specifically designed for home office use include rolltop desks, home office wall systems and computer desks.

Riverside introduced a computer desk some seven years ago in a variety of price points and styles. "We are continuing to address the market with as many new and fresh ideas as we can," Austin said. "Home office is the burgeoning market in 1990. Consumers want room to function and it offers a big opportunity to the manufacturer who will answer those needs. We have been adding pieces steadily and are creating new pieces all the time."

Austin said the biggest challenge now is to create more interest on the retail floor. "The retailer may be reluctant to showcase the products properly. The typical showroom has a computer desk set up for the salesperson. We want them to retail the furniture as carefully as dining room and living room pieces -- do mockups of home office and display the pieces properly."

Another challenge, Austin cited, is offering the right mix of functionality with a design that looks great while keeping it at price points that the consumer can handle. Riverside's Cherry Creek computer rolltop desk, which is also available in light and dark oak, is filled with touches that benefit computer users. Behind the locking tambour top is a pidgeonhole area with a phone jack, wiring holes, modem storage, disk storage and pencil trays. Underneath are two pull-out writing shelves for extra work space. The kneehole drawer front pulls down to reveal a pull-out and removable keyboard tray. The two left-facing pedestal storage drawers have Accuride guides and three removable divides. The right storage drawer comes equipped with a removable disk box with six partitions. Also included is a locking file drawer with letter and legal size rods, pull-out printer tray area with a wire paper basket and a five outlet power bar on the back panel plus a master on/off switch in the printer area. No space is wasted with the design. The kneehole area has storage space built in.

Hooker marries form and function

Henry Long, vice president of sales for Hooker Furniture, Martinsville, Va., said the biggest challenge is to create a good marriage of form and function for home office users. Hooker has manufacturing plants located in Martinsville, Va., Roanoke, Va., and Kernersville, N.C. "We think computer furniture and the home office items need to encompass function, but still look good, because furniture is supposed to look good," he said.

Hooker introduced a wall system in 1990 that contains a desk and space for printer, file drawer and storage. It was very well received, even in what Long called a "tough market."

"The interest reminds me of the reaction to home entertainment furniture. Designing for this market presents the same sort of challenges. We have to look at what the consumer will be putting in and on the systems and create something that is good looking and functional," he said.

Long said his company will continue to design for this market because the personal computer market that had everyone excited in the early '80s has come back strong in the last two to three years. He echoed others in saying that the designs have to be functional but should not be too expensive that they price themselves out of the market. "I saw one desk by a competitor with a special electro-magnetic safe holder for diskettes built in. I would think a consumer could buy that a lot cheaper separately, if that is a concern."

Long said he sees a response from the good manufacturers with quality and style. "The early stuff seemed to be imports with little thought to the design," he said.

PHOTO : Home office furniture is "snowballing" for Techline RTA furniture, left, designed and manufactured by Marshall Erdman and Assoc. of Madison, Wis. Though targeted for home offices, Hekman is finding that its desks like the one below, are also being used in formal office settings.

PHOTO : Home office sales account for about 60 percent of Riverside's business.

PHOTO : Hooker's new wall/desk unit contains space for printer, file drawer and storage.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:working at home
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Project 1991: the shape of things to come.
Next Article:'Thin is in' for veneer sanding by Bill Beaty.

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