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Residential furniture orders continue to grow, Smith Leonard reports

Orders for residential furniture through November 2018 remained 6 percent ahead of 2017, according to the latest survey released by Smith Leonard. The High Point, N.C., accounting and consulting firm includes a furniture practice group headed by partner Ken Smith.  

“Based on recent conversations, we had expected to see a bit of a slowdown in new orders in the last couple of months of the year,” the monthly report’s executive summary states. “The results of our latest survey of residential furniture manufacturers and distributors indicated a 3 percent increase in new orders in November compared to November 2017. This increase followed a 7 percent increase reported in October and 9 percent increases in September and August.” 

Furniture Insights: Monthly Results from January 2019 by Smith Leonard.
Courtesy of Smith-Leonard.com

The report notes that the November increase seems small but was somewhat distorted because November 2017 orders were so strong – 11 percent over November 2016. 

Two-thirds of November 2018 survey participants reported increased orders for the year, Smith Leonard said. Furniture shipments were 8 percent higher than November 2017. Year-to-date, shipments were 3 percent ahead of 2017. 

Percent Increase/Decrease compared to prior year.
Courtesy of Smith-Leonard.com

Also: “Factory and warehouse payrolls and the number of factory and warehouse employees continue to be in line with the current business conditions. The number of employees was down a bit from last year, but the total payrolls were up over the last year.”

Webinars will help explain new formaldehyde regulations

Two federal agencies are offering webinars to explain new requirements for imported composite wood products and component parts and finished goods that contain formaldehyde.

The one-hour webinars are scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern time on Feb. 26 and March 6. Participants should register for the Feb. 26 webinar at here and for the March 6 webinar here. They are offered by the Environmental Protection Agency and Customs and Border Protection.

One portion of the webinar will discuss general rule requirements for importers of regulated composite wood products and component parts/finished goods, for which the compliance date began on June 1, 2018. Another portion of the webinar will discuss the TSCA Section 13 import certification requirements, which go into effect on March 22. These two webinars are intended for importers, import brokers and other interested TSCA Title VI regulated stakeholders who may import products into the customs territory of the U.S. that are, or contain, TSCA Title VI regulated composite wood products. The webinars will also include time for questions and answers at the end of the presentation with staff from the EPA and Customs and Border Protection.

The final rule and guidance materials can be found here. If you have any questions about the formaldehyde emission standards for composite wood products regulatory program, please contact Todd Coleman at coleman.todd@epa.gov or (202) 564-1208. 

Ashley Workers and St. Jude

Ashley workers’ ‘dollar a week’ giving adds up to big donations for hospitals

A dollar a week adds up. Ashley Furniture Industries’ “Dollar a Week” giving program recently produced a donation of $38,300 to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital from the company’s Mississippi employees.

The medical facility in Memphis, Tenn., treats more than 250,000 children each year in a 255-bed hospital that features state-of-the-art technology and family friendly resources. Over the past 13 years, Ashley employees have contributed nearly $200,000 to the hospital.

Through the Dollar a Week initiative, Ashley’s Mississippi workers also awarded $26,476 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, one of the world’s premier pediatric cancer research centers where children diagnosed with cancer are treated at no cost.

“Our employees should feel very proud today for their impactful donations to these organizations. It’s truly remarkable to see their continued support and commitment year after year,” Ron Wanek, founder and chairman of HFA member Ashley, said in a news release. 

CalChamber sets HR ‘boot camps’ to tackle new employment laws

Some 50 new laws in California deal with employment matters, from required sexual harassment training to meal and rest breaks to lactation accommodations. It’s hard for businesses to keep up. 

CalChamber will hold a series of seminars throughout the state to help. It calls the sessions HR “boot camps.” 

“Paying employees correctly is always top of mind for HR Boot Camp attendees, and we’ll be sure to take into account some of the new laws for 2019, such as changes to lactation accommodation requirements,” Erika Pickles, co-presenter and CalChamber employment law counsel, said in a news release. 

Each session, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., costs $399. 

The schedule is: 

  • Modesto, Feb. 22 
  • La Jolla, March 29 
  • Oakland, April 12 
  • Costa Mesa, April 26
  • Sacramento, May 9 
  • Walnut Creek, June 14 
  • Pasadena, Aug. 22 
  • Sacramento, Sept. 12 

For more information and registration, call 800-331-8877 or click here

Sen. Doug Jones

Error in tax-cut bill could harm HFA members

Sen. Doug Jones (above), the Democrat who upset Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s 2017 special election, didn’t take his seat in time to vote for or against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. But he does want to fix it.

There have been plenty of political arguments about the effect of the tax cuts, Republicans’ signature legislative accomplishment during the Trump administration. But there’s no dispute about a provision that all but wiped out a tax break for businesses like furniture retailers that expand or renovate their property:

It was a screw-up.

The bill writers meant to create a better depreciation allowance. Instead, a drafting error changed the language to make it worse. As a result, the recovery period for a normal business expense was extended from 15 years to 39 years, far beyond the reasonable life of any business improvement.

The inadvertent change makes it much less feasible for a furniture retailer to renovate his or her showroom, warehouse or distribution center, which discourages growth, employment and other economic benefits – just the opposite of what was intended.

You can read a good overview on this snafu here.

So, a “technical correction” bill was written last year to fix this and other flaws in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In all the end-of-year chaos of the government shutdown, however, the corrections didn’t pass.

Well, it should be easy to try again this year, right?

“Should be,” maybe. But we’re talking about Washington, D.C., with more than the usual level of dysfunction and partisan warfare.

Democrats now control one-half of Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives. They opposed the tax cuts bill in the first place, and some of them look at this problem as one that’s owned by the Republicans. They have little interest in helping the Republicans fix it.

Petty? You bet. The Democrats should be ashamed. For the sake of partisan advantage, they may not address an issue that could mean a lot to small businesses in the districts they represent.

On the other hand, there’s no arguing the fact that the Republicans had an entire year to deal with this error and didn’t. Why not? Some observers say they didn’t want to acknowledge such a stupid blunder, let alone make it right.

Well, whatever the explanation, the problem remains. The question is whether anyone can rise above partisan politics and do something about it.

Which brings me back to Jones, a Democrat who represents a very conservative, and normally Republican, state. He aims to introduce a bill in the Senate to correct the error and is trying to enlist a few fellow Democrats to sign on. Several are needed, because a Senate bill must get 60 votes to clear a preliminary hurdle and earn a final vote on the floor.

This is a matter of real importance for Home Furnishings Association members, so the HFA has joined a coalition of business groups pressing for a correction. The coalition has targeted several moderate Democratic senators and is organizing lobbying efforts to urge them to support Jones’ bill when it emerges. They include Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Gary Peters of Michigan, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Angus King of Maine (who’s technically an independent).

So far, word within the coalition is that Manchin and King will support Jones’ bill. Others may be favorably inclined as well.

It’s pretty much assumed that all GOP senators would favor the bill, which Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania likely will co-sponsor with Jones.

The HFA’s Government Relations Action Team will ask HFA members in key states to call on their senators and urge their support. If a bill can pass the Senate, maybe it will have a chance to advance in the House – although some Democrats there indicate they likely would attach it to something that would be unpopular among Republicans. Darn politics!

This is the sort of government-relations work the HFA does on behalf of members. I am privileged to serve as the staff liaison for the GRAT, working with our Washington lobbyists at Dutko GR.

We are planning our annual Washington Fly-in, which will be May 13-15, and we hope to see some of the important players on this issue while we’re there. If you’d like to go, please give me a call or shoot me an email.

It’s a shame that it’s become so difficult to get even simple, beneficial things done in Washington, but we can’t accomplish anything if we don’t try. Your participation, and your voice, can only make us stronger and more effective.

Doug Clark is content manager and government-relations staff liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org. For more on government relations, go to the Policy Matters blog and read government relations articles in RetailerNOW.