Charlotte, North Carolina, was #7 in the country for best places for business and careers according to Forbes1. With only 3.8% unemployment and a 2.4% of job growth since 2018, 2020 was projected to be a great year for Charlotte.1 The Republican National Convention was coming to town, many new restaurants and businesses were going to be opening. Many businesses, Carolina Office Solutions included, were celebrating expansions and big anniversaries. No one could have planned for the economic downfall of COVID-19. Starting in January, many businesses felt the hardship. Restaurants, hospitality, retail, and small businesses were all suffering in many ways.
Something that doesn’t cross peoples mind is our industry, Office Furniture. Even more niche? Pre-owned office furniture. There are a few Charlotte companies who compete over the B2B and B2C industry of office furniture and they are getting hit hard. From the confusion, public panic, product sourcing, to the realization of unity – this industry is in for an interesting year if things continue.
As the US recognized their first case of COVID-19 in California in late February2, Carolina Office Solutions didn’t have much to fear yet. There weren’t any cases in Charlotte yet, and they still had plenty of jobs to keep them busy. Then Mecklenburg county had their first case in early March3. Quickly, people started putting projects on hold and companies had their employees working from home. Internally, Carolina Office Solutions had to prepare for changes that they couldn’t project.
Having 20 years of experience, the company has seen economic crisis before. They were often the solution for people needing a budget fix or cheaper alternative to the expensive big-name brands for office furniture. They started slow, knowing that things had the potential to get worse, but the still had projects. They maintained momentum until a couple weeks into March.
As companies started cancelling their expansions or renovations and as working from home came into sites, no one needed their office furniture anymore. Carolina Office Solutions saw a big hit. The large companies didn’t want to invest right now because no one was in their businesses anyway. Others were unaffected and went on as normal. After adjusting the staff to essentials/skeleton crews, Carolina Office Solutions thought they had a plan.
Then, March 26th came, and Mecklenburg county announced their Stay at Home Order4. Even more projects were on hold, and more people stopped communicating all together. Adjustments were made to the marketing side, but so many questions stayed. Bonnie Hunt, controller for Carolina Office Solutions, spent hours researching and trying to find out everything about the At Home order and how the stimulus package would affect their company that they have been building for 20 years.
After confirming with small business lawyers, they were deemed essential as they provided equipment to other essential businesses as well as provided essential items for people to work from home. Many meetings and a marketing restructure later, and Carolina Office Solutions formulated a plan for maintaining social distancing and preventative measures while still maintaining a cash flow5.
Recently, Carolina Office Solutions has seen a major clientele change from companies to consumers. Those who find themselves at home, working from the kitchen tables, are seeking alternatives to overpriced, or cheap options. Carolina Office Solutions can assist in many ways. By email corresponding through their website which hosts most of their products, to setting an in person limited appointment to test out options. Many new faces sharing valuable insight and supporting a local company are able to find their perfect seating options or desks.
Another type of clientele Carolina Office Solutions is seeing are those who were purchasing through the larger companies. One client had a purchase with Steelcase and was told their project would be in hold for 3-6 months. The client was in a panic until someone mentioned Carolina Office Solutions where that client is now working on getting the same layout completed in pre-owned and new order blended pieces.
Which raises the question, why are these larger companies putting client project on hold? After searching the larger companies’ sites, we were able to find that some source their materials over seas and have been forced to close those manufacturing sites6. So as their warehouses here in the US run low, they can’t refill their orders and provide that furniture for their projects that are on schedule.
This doesn’t affect the large companies only, though. Carolina Office Solutions have a couple vendors who provide key pieces for certain jobs, and they’ve run out of parts as well. They do have luck on their side for a while as they have pre-owned versions, but that will only last a certain amount of time. Once that runs out, they will be in the same boat. They can always turn to an industry shop market, FurnitureFinders to communicate for things needed when the time comes, but most likely everyone will be out of those pieces at the same time.
Unity in darkness
As things change daily, and businesses decide to pause or continue their orders, something that has been enlightening is seeing the strength this industry has. The company, FurnitureFinders, has been hosting weekly meeting for all pre-owned office furniture providers across the country to meet and discuss topics that are challenging to all businesses. They have shown amazing support for each other and continue to do so daily.
Clients have reached out to the owners of Carolina Office Solutions asking how they can help spread the word of what they can do for those in their community. It’s been amazing to see the support in the community and kindness of the community. Those that schedule appointments and have to answer questions and sign waivers are understanding and kind during this time of uneasiness and confusion.
To wrap it up, everything is changing for everyone every day. As we all support local companies, let’s not forget those like Carolina Office Solutions who are doing their best to provide products for everyone.