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Ninety Seconds To Successs Series

Furniture World Magazine


Business proponents suggest that two of the top 10 logical reasons that the American consumer spends money are beauty and health. Both have value and merit in marketing furniture and home furnishings.

Like valued art, even with use, furniture can retain or in some cases increase in beauty and value.

Yet appearance can be deceiving. A familiar saying suggests that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s difficult to determine the number of miles you can anticipate that can be achieved by the external appearance of an automotive tire. It’s also difficult to determine the number of years of service that can be anticipated from finishes on furniture unless you know the extent of usage and the type of coating that is applied.

This 90 Seconds To Success Series article looks at furniture coatings and their impact on the long-term beauty of our products. It will also touch on how sales associates might address some of the health/environmental concerns that relate to the furniture making process.

For starters, let’s consider some ideas retail associates may want to introduce at the point of sale when appropriate:
  • Many sub-standard coatings have hi-gloss appearances in the initial stages. The hi-gloss finish is not necessarily a reflection of quality. 

  • Through use and age the finishes of sub-standard value may quickly lose their luster and significantly affect the beauty of the product. 

  • Some finishes are used to hide the wood or cover up particle board.

  • Quality finishes enhance the dramatic grain patterns and give each piece of furniture a character of its own. 

  • Properly finished and cared for solid hardwood furniture grows even more beautiful with age. 

  • Consumers may become aware of the finish on their furniture through daily usage, as evidenced by white water rings, cracking, chipping, dulling or staining. 

  • One of the best methods to gauge a manufacturer’s concern for quality is to evaluate if protective coatings have been applied to surfaces that are seldom viewed, such as the bottoms of table tops and chairs or the backs of case goods. 

  • Environmental concerns are being addressed by manufacturers that use wood which is grown in sustainably managed forests. 

  • Solid wood furniture may lower the risk of exposure to formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products: hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard, though this chemical is regulated in the USA by the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act.

Furniture Finish Profiles

Solvents commonly used in stains and finishes are xylene, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), toluene and methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK). These products evaporate quickly into the air. They are considered by the U.S. EPA to be hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) that can cause adverse health effects.

In addition, these chemicals are classified as Volatile Organic Compounds that react with sunlight to form ground level ozone. They can affect human respiratory functions, especially in people with asthma. Breathing these solvents can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and other symptoms. Long-term effects damage lungs and soft tissues.

If you want to afford maximum protection to workers in your supply chain, as well as homeowners and their families, consider making inquiries into the finishing processes employed in the furniture you sell.

Coating Quality

Many variables are factored into the application process of coatings and stains. They range from viscosity, the number of coats applied, the tip size, air pressure, temperature, the skill and experience of the applicator.

Normally, the thicker the finish or film, the better it protects the wood from scratches and water vapor. However, with most protective coatings there are practical limits to film thickness, because if the finish is too thick, it may develop cracks as a result of expansion and/or contraction of the wood beneath the film.

Proper application reflects understanding of the importance of the movement of wood due to its cellular structure.

If you choose to make your customers aware of the competitive features and benefits of finishes and coatings, your staff may find it beneficial to ask your reps to help you establish a personality profile of coatings that contain quality additives.
Quality films offer seven features that extend the life and beauty of furniture while simultaneously protecting the health and welfare of families:
  1. Finishes with permanent plasticizers provide flexibility and minimize propensity for potential mars, scrapes and scratches. 

  2. Finishes with ultra-violet (UV) absorbers reduce or minimize yellowing from destructive rays of sunlight. 

  3. Finishes with compliant solvents eliminate off-gassing of hazardous air pollutants.

  4. It is important that film thickness is carefully monitored and maintained. A dry film thickness of 3.5 to 4 mil is the recommended standard. An inadequate mil thickness will seldom provide extended protection. A film that is too thick may crack from the expansion and contraction of the wood, especially on table tops. 

  5. Have a demonstrable sample to illustrate resistance to heat, chemicals and solvents such as alcohol and acids.

  6. Where appropriate, illustrate clarity and the manner in which a finish enhances the beauty and grain of the wood. 

  7. Whether products are purchased from the same or competitive manufacturers and regardless of time frames, consumers should have confidence for consistency of matching colors with companion pieces. 

A Little Learning

Engraved in stone over the portals of a leading Midwest law school is a classic comment penned by Alexander Pope which advises readers: “A little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring”. Pope suggested that a little taste of knowledge frequently causes us to feel we know a great deal. However, as we learn more, we become aware of how little we truly know. Experience shows it’s true of both fledgling law students and experienced sales professionals.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge of finishes can be used to your advantage to help establish unique selling propositions that help customers make meaningful and beneficial decisions regarding their purchase to enjoy many years of pride and pleasure.

The typical American consumer is on the “horns of a dilemma”. Almost without exception, the majority of American homeowners want the best quality for the best price. However, astute buyers recognize that the lowest price may not be the best value. The homeowner’s best guarantee when purchasing a product is to work with sales personnel that have strong product knowledge and are able to provide comparative analysis.

Few things can be unconditionally guaranteed, but being able to relate product knowledge that addresses your customers’ logical concerns to purchase furniture with lasting beauty and a minimum of adverse environmental or personal health consequences, can be of great benefit.

Ray Morefield has been affiliated with leading corporations in the housewares, hardware and coatings industries. He has also served other industries in an advisory capacity through Common Goals, Inc. Questions or comments can be sent to him by emailing editor@furninfo.com.