A Buyer’s Guide to Refurbished Furniture

When it comes to buying office furniture, one of the first questions is whether to buy new, used, or refurbished. I get this question quite often.

Frequently-used terms in our industry are used, as-is, and refurbished. In all cases, you’re getting a discount. But there are some differences.

As-is: This is almost always completely un-refurbished. It’s probably been cleaned and wiped down but you might see a few scratches or other signs of wear.

Refurbished: This usually means some sort of work was done– new paint, new fabric, new surfaces, or some of each.

Remanufactured: This is supposed to mean that the cubicle or piece of furniture was stripped down to the metal, and rebuilt using the same processes as the OEM. But furniture sellers and clients tend to blur the lines between refurbished and remanufactured.

So when does it make sense to buy refurbished? Well, that depends.

For cubicles, buying as-is or refurbished is a good deal for a small company needing fewer than 50 cubicles. Larger purchases will get you better pricing from the manufacturer.

The other issue is turnaround time. LTD Office Solutions can produce cubicles in less than a week when time is an issue. That would be nearly impossible if you purchased new furniture. For a company looking to keep some existing cubicles, trade in excess furniture, and add a few pieces, refurbishing makes the most sense. Companies selling new furniture want nothing to do with your unwanted stuff.

For chairs, buying refurbished makes sense only about half of the time. If you have a very durable chair, like a Steelcase Criterion, it’w worthwhile to have it recovered; you’ll spend about 50% less than if you bought that chair new. If you have leather chairs, on the other hand, repairing or replacing torn or worn material would cost as much to refurbish as it would to buy the chair new.

Better quality chairs can easily last 20 years (versus a lifespan of about five years for most new chairs these days). Of all your purchases, it makes the most sense to invest money in seating for your employees. Health problems and work-comp claims can often be avoided by a good ergonomic chair– not to mention the productivity involved in giving employees a comfortable seat for the entire day.

File cabinets really lend themselves to pre-owned and refurbished purchase. Most quality cabinets can last more than 20 years. You can save quite a bit of money buying used cabinets. If they are meant for a back-room location, it makes even more sense to buy used.

The one item that I don’t advocate buying used is wood desks and wood tables. Wood furniture is easily damaged during relocation. Refinishing wood desks or tables is an expensive proposition, and not usually cost-effective. There are imported wood desks and tables now that are very economical, and the quality might surprise you.

During the boom years of the 1980s, corporations bought millions or billions worth of top-quality furniture from manufacturers such as Steelcase, Herman Miller, and Haworth. Cubicles cost an average of $4,000 at the time.

When the first waves of recession hit in the early ‘90s, companies started shopping for used furniture. This was the beginning of a new industry, as American entrepreneurs such as myself found they could sell reconditioned cubicles and furniture for half the price of new.

Over the past few decades, the industry has evolved. Now corporate buyers have a choice between new, used, as-is (bargain), imported, clones, or refurbished. (BTW, our company can supply any of the above.)

It’s still true that the buyer is king– just as long as her or she is dealing with a vendor they can trust.

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