Casual Furnishings Industry Responds to COVID-19

March 27, 2020
HIGH POINT – Spring is typically prime selling season in the outdoor furnishings business, but nearly all International Casual Furnishings Association members responding to a survey fielded last week for the trade group by research firm Industry Insights are expressing deep concerns about the effect the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic will have on their businesses this year.

Although participants reported only one known case of coronavirus among employees at the time of the survey, which was fielded between 11 a.m. on Monday, March 16 and midnight on Wednesday, March 18, an overwhelming 72.8% of the executive respondents noted their companies had already been negatively financially impacted by the pandemic. While smaller companies, those with 1 to 4 employees, were most likely to have long-term viability concerns due to the coronavirus, nearly 40% of the 101 executives surveyed expressed “mild” concerns.

Indeed, whether manufacturer or retailer, nearly all executives anticipate the virus will impact their day-to-day operations for the next two to three months, with more than half (53.4%) experiencing delays in getting product and materials from suppliers.

“This is an evolving situation,” noted one retailer. “Last week we were still busy; this week, Deadsville. People are starting to take social distancing seriously and if everything is shutting down around the world, it’s going to have a domino effect on our industry in getting and selling products to people who are not shopping right now.” Said another, “This is an unprecedented event that leaves us with few choices and choices that must be made very quickly without time to assess the situation.”

“As we all know, the situation across the country is changing on an almost daily basis,” relates Jackie Hirschhaut, executive director of the International Casual Furnishings Association. “Given the fast-moving nature of this ongoing crisis, with more governors each day ordering heavier restrictions on businesses in an attempt to flatten the curve, we intend to field a follow-up survey in another week or two. Our goal with the research is to help everyone make good decisions as we move forward.”

With the number of stores temporarily closing their doors increasing again this week, it’s no surprise that the survey found that companies involved in retail and those who provide services to individuals are struggling the most. Of the retailers surveyed, more than half expect that the virus will have a “very negative impact” on revenue this year, with 49 percent expecting “somewhat negative” impact. Many were already in the midst of staff reductions last week, with 45.7% reporting moderate reductions and another 17% characterizing staff reductions as major. Nearly a third of the dealers surveyed were also working to trim expenses with major reductions in advertising spends, including 34.5% noting moderate reductions in advertising. Retailers were also scaling back technology spends with 20% making major reductions, and another 23.7% reporting moderate reductions.

Nearly all companies surveyed reported taking new actions due to the coronavirus, ranging from increasing the availability of hand sanitizer (73%), cancelling large group activities (70%) and instituting employee distancing policies (67%). Additionally, some 40% of companies surveyed were instituting at least partial work-from-home mandates.

With the latter comes increasing dependence on technology to communicate with vendors and customers. “It’s important to stay focused on business,” noted one respondent. “We can’t change what is happening around us, but we can change how we react to it.”