Wood Office and Store Fixtures, Partitions, Shelving, and Lockers

SIC 2541

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing shelving, lockers, and office and store fixtures, plastic-laminated fixture tops, and related fabricated products, chiefly of wood. It also includes prefabricated partitions made of wood if they are designed to be attached to the floor. If they are designed to be freestanding or part of an office furniture panel system, they are classified under SIC 2521: Wood Office Furniture. Wooden refrigerated cabinets, showcases, or display cases are found under SIC 3585: Refrigeration and Heating Equipment.

Industry Snapshot

According to Dun and Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports, 2,799 establishments in the United States were engaged in the manufacture of wood partitions and fixtures. This industry segment employed 42,835 workers. Total shipments by U.S. manufacturers surpassed $4.9 billion in 2008.

The industry is strictly commercial in nature, and its fortunes are tied to the retail industry. Most fixtures are sold to retail stores, with the remainder marketed to schools, banks, hotels, libraries, and other non-retail businesses.

At one time, the industry manufactured many types of products that became obsolete or rarely made, including butcher shop display cases and telephone booths. Other products became prohibitively expensive to manufacture and purchase because of the high cost of materials and labor. Nevertheless, many of the firms that supplied wood partitions and fixtures continued to thrive because of the increased demand for retail shelving and wooden display units. The industry also benefited from the development of laminated plastic coatings, which increased the durability of a much-used wood surface.

Organization and Structure

Most companies in the wood partitions and fixtures industry were originally organized into divisions reflecting their potential customers. In general, they focused on assembling and retaining a staff of highly skilled woodworkers. Research and development, marketing, and customer support typically did not receive a high priority, especially among smaller firms. In the twenty-first century, only the largest companies could afford in-house staffs to handle those responsibilities.

Manufacturers of wood partitions, shelving, and fixtures usually reach out to their markets by advertising in trade journals such as Restaurant Hospitality and Chain Store Age Executive, whose audience is business owners and managers. They sell to a wide range of customers, including major wholesalers, contract hardware jobbers, display and fixture jobbers, specialty wholesalers, independent hardware distributors, export outlets, government agencies, original equipment manufacturers, national mass merchants, large home centers, and building supply outlets.

Background and Development

The wood partitions and fixtures industry emerged in the late nineteenth century during a period of tremendous expansion in the U.S. economy. Rapid industrialization attracted large numbers of people to cities, which in turn sparked the development of major urban commercial districts. The proliferation of small specialty shops and large department stores required a huge supply of fixtures for the display of merchandise.

Although they are no longer manufactured, wooden telephone booths once represented a small but important part of the industry. The first one was installed in 1889 outside a bank in Hartford, Connecticut. Western Electric continued to manufacture wooden telephone booths until the late 1940s, when the more durable glass and steel model went into production. By the 1990s wooden phone booths were considered collectibles, and some sold for as much as $3,000.

The wood partitions and fixtures industry was hit hard by a recession in the early 1990s, with shipment values declining from a 1990 peak of $3.1 billion to $2.8 billion in 1991. In addition to the economic downturn, this decline was attributed in part to the fact that many products became obsolete. The market demand for plastic imitations of wood, as well as the higher costs associated with fabricating real wood products, also had a significant impact on the overall health of the industry.

The mid-1990s, however, was a time of increased prosperity for the nation's wood shelving and fixtures manufacturers. Among their commercial customers, for example, the slow but steady growth of the economy and highly competitive retail atmosphere encouraged merchants to invest in new store fixtures to keep their product displays attractive. Manufacturers experienced increased demand for customization and flexibility. Retailers wanted a distinctive "look" that set them apart from their rivals. They were not interested in fixtures that could not be moved or changed to accommodate different kinds of displays, new inventory, or changing seasons.

Although metal fixtures gained popularity for their high-tech look and lower cost, wood was still the material of choice for those who preferred its warmer appeal. The market for combination wood and metal fixtures and shelving also grew, as did the demand for laminates. These gains, however, came at the expense of all wood products.

Wood shelving and fixture manufacturers were concerned about discounting and low bidding on projects, a practice they believed hurt the industry as a whole. Companies that operated in northern states were especially concerned about what they perceived to be unfair competition from Canada. The favorable exchange rate made it possible for Canadian firms to submit project bids that were substantially lower than those of their U.S. rivals.

Of all the companies that manufactured fixtures, only about 25 percent concentrated on fixtures exclusively. Most companies in the industry were established businesses, with 70 percent of them in operation for 10 years or more. Fixtures companies tended to market their products nationally as well as internationally, and only about 10 percent marketed their products regionally.

From 1995 through the end of the century, the fixture industry grew between 5 and 10 percent a year. This was mainly due to the perpetual economic expansion in the United States that led to more disposable income and more retail sales. Retailers continued to expand, remodel, and open new locations, driving the demand for store fixtures, which accounted for about 85 percent of the industry's sales.

Companies in this category faced a number of challenges. One of their top concerns was the shortage of highly skilled woodworkers. Without such workers, manufacturers found it impossible to keep up with production. As a result, some firms launched in-house training and apprenticeship programs. Increased levels of unemployment in the early 2000s helped to alleviate this problem.

Health concerns and environmental regulations also affected manufacturers of wood shelving and fixtures. Working in the wood industry brings with it a number of serious risks, including injuries caused by saws and drills and illnesses brought on by wood dust and paint vapors. Therefore, companies struggle with high health care costs and a growing number of workers' compensation claims. They also incur mounting costs for disposal of hazardous wastes generated by the wood finishing process. Furthermore, they have to abide by strict rules governing wood dust levels in their factories. Manufacturers also are subject to regulations aimed to improve indoor air quality, which is adversely affected by fumes from finishes and adhesives. Yet some of the products that were developed as substitutes performed poorly, as evidenced by less durable finishes and glues that fail.

The industry failed to experience any significant gains through the early 2000s. This reflected the general economy and a slump in retail corporate growth nationwide. The industry posted 2002 and 2003 sales that were equal to or less than those reached several years earlier and that represented a 20 percent decrease in shipments from 2000. According to the Harris Information Group, weak numbers of new office construction projects and new hire freezes contributed to the decline. Hundreds of failed dot-com firms resulted in a glut of used office furniture that was stockpiled in warehouses around the country.

Current Conditions

Like most sectors of the U.S. manufacturing industry, the wood partitions and fixtures category slowed during the economic recession of the late 2000s. In order to grow, industry analysts predict that fixture companies would have to cultivate overseas markets and broaden their domestic market. They would also have to create new fixtures and new technologies for more efficient manufacturing processes in order to remain competitive in the future.

Of the 2,799 establishments in the United States in operation in 2008, 353 were in California. Florida was the base for 208 establishments, Texas had 153 and New York, 140. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that of 76 firms surveyed, male employees outnumbered females by more than two to one, and whites outnumbered minorities by more than three to one. Sales in the industry, which reached $4.9 billion in 2008, were split fairly equally between wood and nonwood products. Tennessee accounted for the largest percentage of sales, with $646.3 million, followed by California ($400.1 million), Nebraska ($385.1 million), Minnesota ($264.1 million), and Texas ($248.9 million).

Industry Leaders

Michigan was home to many leaders in the industry. These included Haworth Inc. of Holland, Michigan, which had sales of $1.6 billion in 2008; Steelcase Inc. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, with $3.1 billion in sales in 2008; and Heman Miller Inc. of Zeeland, Michigan, which reported 2009 revenues of $1.6 billion. Additionally, Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Company, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was one of the largest suppliers of wood partitions, shelving, and fixtures. In 2006 Knape & Vogt merged with Wind Point Partners and became a privately held firm.

Edsal Manufacturing Company, of Chicago, which had 2008 sales of $300 million, and Omaha, Nebraska-based Lozier Corp., with revenues of $379.3 million in 2008, were other leading manufacturers of wood fixtures. HNI Corp. in Muscatine, Iowa, reported 2008 revenues of $2.4 billion. Smaller firms that engaged in the manufacture of wood shelving, panels, and fixtures during the late 2000s were Stevens Industries of Teutopolis, Illinois, and Bernhard Woodwork Ltd. of Northbrook, Illinois.

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News and information about Wood Office and Store Fixtures, Partitions, Shelving, and Lockers

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...except wood and metal...except wood and metal...except wood and metal...store 1221 fixtures Wood office...Fixtures for stores, banks 1221...83 and offices Custom architectural...fixtures Wood lockers, partitions, 1221-01612 ...
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PPI Detailed Report; November 1, 2010; 700+ words
...1211-0104 Wood household...furniture and store fixtures 1221 Wood...furniture and store fixtures...furniture and store fixtures...0321 Nonwood office seating 1222-0325 Partitions and fixtures 1222-04 Shelving and lockers ...
Table 6. Producer price indexes and percent changes for commodity and service groupings and individual items, not seasonally adjusted.(Part 2)(Statistical table)
PPI Detailed Report; January 1, 2011; 700+ words
...1211-0104 Wood household...furniture and store fixtures 1221 Wood...furniture and store fixtures...furniture and store fixtures...0321 Nonwood office seating 1222-0325 Partitions and fixtures 1222-04 Shelving and lockers ...
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PPI Detailed Report; December 1, 2006; 700+ words
...except wood and metal...Furniture and fixtures, nec 337127...337214-4 Office storage units...Showcase, partition, shelving and locker mfg 337215...337215-P Shelving and lockers, nonwood...Commercial shelving (factory, store, etc...Fixtures for ...
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...code code Office furniture, except wood, manufacturing...Showcases, partitions, shelving, and lockers 337215 Primary...P Nonwood shelving and lockers...commercial shelving 337215...office, store, and related fixtures 337215...

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