When the clock struck 12 on Jan. 1, 2020, there was ample reason for optimism throughout the furniture industry. The economy was chugging along. Unemployment was at near-historic lows. Housing indicators were solid and presaged continued growth in demand for home furnishings.
Retail sales were growing, at a conservative pace but growing nonetheless. After a year of dealing with the disruptive impact of tariffs, there were indications that the necessary mitigation steps were falling into place. Whether it was a shift in sourcing or pricing adjustments on those things that couldn’t be re-sourced, there was a clear sense that steps were being taken to move forward with some level of confidence.
Even heading into January’s market season, the virus seemed a distant concern. The first diagnosed case in the U.S. came on Jan. 20, just five days before the formal opening of the Las Vegas Market. At that point toilet paper was still easy to find, as was hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Outside of the healthcare industry few had ever heard the term PPE.
The focus heading into and coming out of market continued to be on making plans to capitalize on the industry’s positive momentum.
As it turns out, this was a bad year to have plans.
It was almost exactly three months later that the virus hit the fan and everything shut down. Since that time, the industry has been in a near-constant state of flux with all plans subject to constant adjustment, evaluation and readjustment. Markets have been delayed, moved, cancelled and reinvented.
Consumer demand for furnishings has exploded, while supply chains have imploded. Not only does everyone now know what PPE is, a good portion of the industry is actively engaged in its manufacture and turning it into a new business sub-segment.
And as we head down the home stretch of 2020 and begin looking ahead to 2021, it’s increasingly apparent that the term “planning” is a relative one, subject to myriad conditions that remain beyond anyone’s control and necessitating a level of flexibility that seemed unfathomable as little as one year ago.
Whatever 2020 was “supposed to be,” it clearly was not. And whatever expectations there are for 2021, it seems likely they, too, could change at a moment’s notice.
But if you think this is an expression of sadness or despair, let me note the many positives to emerge from 2020. As I’ve written previously, levels of communication and transparency are at all-time highs. Most companies have achieved new levels of flexibility, developed internal problem solving skills that might otherwise have gone undiscovered, and partnerships have been clarified and, in most instances, strengthened.
Not everyone will make it to the other side. But the overwhelming majority that do will be far stronger for having weathered this storm. And perhaps most importantly, from a purely business sense, consumer demand for home furnishings is higher than it’s been in generations. A massive generation of new consumers is suddenly focused on their homes in a way they never were before. Certainly no one envisioned that when the year began.