The failure to talk enough about safety is “an incredible oversight for our industry,” Pat Bowling, vice president of communications for the American Home Furnishings Alliance, said at the organization’s Regulatory Summit Oct. 3. AHFA will work to remedy the problem, she vowed.
AHFA is an association of leading furniture manufacturers. The summit, held just outside Greensboro, N.C., Oct. 2-3, more than 150 participants from a cross-section of industry, including retail. The focus was furniture stability. Among the speakers were Commissioner Peter Feldman and two staff members of the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
One panel covered the retail perspective, presented by Jameson Dion of Home Furnishings Association member City Furniture, Greg Crowley of HFA member Crowley Furniture & Mattress and Chris Fox of Raymour & Flanigan.
Conference hears retail perspective
City Furniture and Raymour & Flanigan conduct extensive stability tests on products they sell to ensure compliance with safety standards. In addition, City Furniture participates in the Underwriters Laboratories stability verification program to provide an additional layer of assurance for customers that covered products meet safety requirements. Crowley’s Furniture & Mattress partners with a children’s safety organization in Kansas City, supporting community awareness campaigns and giving out about 25,000 free tip-restraint kits annually. Crowley makes safety an integral part of the company culture.
Bowling cited Crowley Furniture & Mattress for featuring safety messages on its website. The site includes links to CPSC’s Anchor It pages and videos showing how to attach tip restraints. She said a survey of websites for major manufacturers and retailers found that few of them do nearly as well – even when they make safety a high priority.
“A lot of the marketing professionals in our industry don’t understand the importance of what we’re doing,” Bowling said, referring to safety initiatives that “are out of sight for the average consumer.” That’s a wasted opportunity when furniture safety can be a “marketable product attribute” along with quality, price, sustainability or other values.
Bowling said AHFA will convene a forum of marketing executives from top furniture manufacturers and retailers to discuss safety messaging. A date has not been set.
A flurry of recall notices
The furniture tip-over problem has generated action in Washington, D.C.. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the STURDY Act in September. It would direct the Consumer Products Safety Commission to set a mandatory safety standard. Yet, CPSC is already in a rule-making process. In the meantime, it regards the voluntary ASTM standard as mandatory. Recently, it required recalls of several pieces of furniture that failed to pass stability tests outlined by ASTM.
Only hours after the conference closed, CPSC announced one major and one smaller recall. The larger involved about 1 million four-drawer Belmont chests made in Canada by Ridgewood Industries and sold exclusively at Kmart stores from April 2013 to November 2018.
CPSC also announced a recall of INK+IVY Renu dressers made in Vietnam by E & E Co. Ltd., doing business as JLA Home, of Fremont, Calif. About 1,800 units were sold online by bedbathandbeyond.com, jcpenney.com, kohls.com, macys.com, olliix.com, overstock.com and wayfair.com from January 2017 through September 2019. Although no incidents or injuries were reported in either case, “The recalled chests are unstable and can tip over if not anchored to the wall, posing
serious tip-over and entrapment hazards that can result in death or injuries to children,” the recall notices said.
CPSC testing shows 9 percent failure rate
Michael Taylor, a mechanical engineer for CPSC, told the summit that 9 percent of 187 clothing storage units tested recently tipped over with 50 pounds or less applied to the opened top draw. The ASTM standard requires them to stand with 50 pounds of weight.
That failure rate is too high, Feldman told the conference. Yet, it’s much better than failure rates found in previous rounds of CPSC testing. Doug Lockard, global commercial director for Underwriters Laboratories, said that industry efforts are making a difference. “I’m telling you, a change is happening around this,” he said.
Think safety when selecting vendors
Retailers can play a key role, according to Mike Gentine, a consumer products specialist with the Washington, D.C., law firm Schiff Hardin. Retailers stand on the front line of safety, engaging directly with consumers, he said. They should communicate consumer feedback to manufacturers, select vendors that make product safety a priority and contribute their experience to the development of safety standards, Gentine said.
The Home Furnishings Association urges members not to sell clothing storage units that do not comply with standards for furniture stability. HFA also holds a seat on ASTM’s furniture stability subcommittee.
In the keynote address to the conference, Commissioner Feldman said he believes in regulating with a light touch. At the same time, he noted that some furniture companies are skirting their responsibilities. “It’s a serious issue,” he said of tip-overs. “Fatalities have occurred. I’ve met with the families.” While stricter regulation may be coming, Feldman pointed to a need for better consumer awareness and education.
Consumers may be unaware
Joseph Galbo, a social media specialist for CPSC, reinforced that message.
“Not everybody knows that furniture can fall over,” he said. While the industry is “poised to do a lot of good in safety messaging,” it’s not there yet.
“Just saying this product comes with a tip-over kit is not enough,” he said. “Most consumers may not even know what a tip-over kit is.”
Grassroots education, like that done by Crowley Furniture & Mattress, is like the infantry in a military analogy, Galbo said. Paid social media provides the air support, which is essential for winning battles.
“Your marketing teams need to help you with this,” he said. “You have to market it. You just have to.”