Home Furnishings Association members have reopened their stores across most of the country after some were closed for two months or longer.
It was a frustrating time for furniture retailers because, for the most part, their businesses were classified as “non-essential.”
The classification began with the federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, whose guidance was used by many states to determine which businesses they would allow to remain open during coronavirus lockdowns. But there were many inconsistencies. Some big-box stores, called “essential” because they carry groceries, cleaning products or pharmaceuticals, also sold furniture – while furniture stores could not. Some furniture stores were given permission to sell appliances. Some could operate, but without letting customers into their stores.
One lesson – which Ashley Furniture Industries CEO Todd Wanek stressed in an HFA webinar – is that furniture retailers must build stronger connections with state and local officials to get more favorable treatment if this happens again later this year, next year or at some future time. Here, in brief form, are the points furniture retailers should argue:
Furniture stores are essential
- As millions of Americans adjusted to new circumstances during the coronavirus crisis, some governors recognized as essential “businesses that sell, manufacture or supply products needed for people to work from home” (Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, others). To work from home, people need desks, chairs, computer tables, lighting. Children and college students learning from home have similar needs.
- Appliances, sold by many furniture stores, are essential to the safe and healthy operations of American households.
- Lift chairs, recliners and adjustable-base beds are essential for people with physical infirmities or who are recovering from injuries or illnesses – including COVID-19.
- Americans spending more time at home put more wear and tear on household furnishings. Comfort and utility become more important. New home furnishings, including sofas, armchairs and bedding, make home life more pleasant.
Furniture stores are safe
- Centers for Disease Control guidelines for businesses list measures that furniture stores are well-suited to achieve.
- Furniture stores typically employ small staffs and receive few customers for the space they occupy. They can keep people safe distances apart. Customer visits can be scheduled through appointments to further limit the number of people in stores at one time.
- Because stores are open six or seven days per week and 10 or more hours per day, they can operate staggered shifts for enhanced safety.
- Face coverings don’t hinder the work of furniture store employees. They also have time between customers for thorough hand-washing and other hygienic practices.
- Stores can be thoroughly cleaned several times a day.
All stores that sell furniture should be treated the same
- Many big-box chains that sell appliances, groceries, medical supplies – and also furniture – have been granted “essential” status with license to sell home furnishings products that furniture stores could not. This is a fundamental inequity that should not be allowed to continue.