United in resistance: Furniture industry execs react to CPSC tip-over rule

HIGH POINT – Last October, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to approve a new furniture stability standard that has since created a firestorm in the furniture industry.

Per the rule, furniture manufacturers and suppliers have until May 24 to make sure any clothing storage furniture they sell meets the standard. This despite the December 2022 passage of the Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act known as STURDY, a bi-partisan piece of legislation whose solutions included input from industry, consumer and parent groups.

The majority of the industry is united in its resistance to the CPSC rule, which most see as confusing, unenforceable and likely to create more problems than it solves. Furniture manufacturers are concerned that as much as 100 pounds will have to be added dressers and other units, considerably ramping up prices and creating safety concerns for employees and delivery teams. Further, they say, the testing method described by the CPSC is ambiguous and may end up producing varying results.

Both industry associations and individual companies have come out in favor of effective testing standards.

However, the industry consensus is that the CPSC rule is not such a standard. In a letter to the industry encouraging companies to lobby Congress against the CPSC rule, AHFA CEO Andy Counts said, “The CPSC promulgated a standard so complex and ambiguous as to make it unenforceable. Further, the CPSC failed to perform a true-to-life cost/benefit analysis of the impacts of this new standard thus completely glossing over the fact that the rule will make new, compliant furniture cost-prohibitive for many consumers. Finally, the CPSC standard gave the industry a mere six months, requiring compliance by May 24.”

As the deadline approaches there is growing concern within the industry about the potential impacts of the rule.

Josh Carter
Josh Carter

“The CPSC ruling will change the dynamics of the industry,” said Josh Carter, senior vice president of product management at Magnussen Home. “Manufacturers that don’t specialize in bedroom will have a hard time and will have to answer whether they want to stay in the category.

“One thing that will make Magnussen stand out is our heavy presence in Vietnam,” he said. “We will be able to watch product more diligently. Others might not be able to. Who has the compliance department? Who has team in place? Those companies will fare better.”

Some of the things Magnussen is looking at, Carter said, are interlocking drawers, adding thickness to the back panel and physically adding weight to units.

Solid wood bedroom and dining importer A-America says meeting the deadline will be difficult but possible.

Christian Rohrbach
Christian Rohrbach

“I have a trip planned in March to Asia with our engineering team. We’re going to look at several different options, some drastic and others less so,” said President Christian Rohrbach. “If you prepare for the worst case scenario, you’ll be in better shape than the competition.

“If we have to add interlocking drawers, it would certainly increase prices. What’s it all going to do to retailer deliveries? Are containers going to max out quicker on weight? Let’s say you add weight to a piece; is it still going to be tippable? Accidents still could happen. An untippable dresser isn’t tippable until it is,” he continued.

“We have to be ready by that date. Of course, it’s going to be difficult. Putting a price tag on safety for kids isn’t fair. Regardless, we’ll be ready.”

Legends Furniture, which supplies bedroom, entertainment and home office furniture, hopes the deadline for the rule gets pushed back.

Tim Donk
Tim Donk

“This situation is a mess,” said Tim Donk, vice president of product. “There will be up to a 35% increase in costs. It could add 120 pounds to a dresser.

“We’re staying on this and watching it closely,” he added. “As things develop, we’ll be as agile as possible. We will probably have to re-SKU all existing bedrooms. There’s liability all the way down.”

Donk said the CPSC needs to supply the industry with more direction. “The ‘sunny’ part is that the CPSC hasn’t totally established what compliance means. There are no labs to certify testing. There’s just not enough information.

“We just want a realistic deadline,” he said. “We’re talking about millions of pieces of furniture.”

Like A-America, promotional to mid-price importer Elements International says it is possible to re-engineer product in time for the deadline, but it will be tight.

Mike Wurster
Mike Wurster

“I think meeting the deadline is probably possible,” said Mike Wurster, president. “Getting the testing done will be hard. Third-party testing will be used. We have good relationships, but not perfect. Tens of thousands of SKUs will have to be tested.”

Wurster said the rule will create logistical issues, notably increased costs and greater risk of worker injury.

“For ocean freight, it won’t add cost for us, but for domestic trucking it would be a problem,” he said. “Weight is a component of charge. The main place of concern is safety of teams that are handling boxes. If it endangers employees and customers, it doesn’t feel like the right rule.”

Wurster says the rule will drive the price of furniture up, alienating buyers.

“It’s going to cost more to make furniture. And by making furniture more expensive, people are likely going to buy less furniture and hold on to old furniture longer. The effect of the rule on safety will probably be negligible. If you make furniture more expensive, it’s not good for consumers.”

Neil McKenzie, director of product development at the high-end Hekman Furniture, says there’s still lots of uncertainty.

“Due to the uncertainty of what the final ruling will be on what is enforced, it is tough to be real specific,” he said. “But we do feel Hekman will be better positioned than many due to our scale and current weights. Some limitation to the drawer opening will likely be necessary. We are watching developments closely and weighing options to mitigate the final ruling.”

Speaking on background, a spokesperson for a furniture retailer said the CPSC severely underestimated the cost this would add to furniture.

“The CPSC goes through a rulemaking process,” the spokesperson said. “They had to provide a cost-benefit analysis (lives equal money when calculating, a 5-year-old is worth x amount, etc.) but they underestimated the costs required for the industry to implement this standard. They have lab technicians and government employees that are disconnected from the furniture industry and don’t understand all of the intricate variables in our supply chains.

“The new standard is extremely rigorous. It could take 80 to 160 lbs. of additional counterweight to pass this standard. That adds tons of costs. A $299 nightstand is now $499.

“They didn’t factor in other costs either. Carbon emissions go up when heavier furniture is being moved. Injuries in the warehouse go up. There will be more injuries with children when a case inevitably does fall on them as furniture will weigh more.”

The CPSC rule goes into effect May 24. Beyond that date, furniture manufacturers and suppliers will have to comply.

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