Amish furniture president gives his take on business, ongoing challenges in 2024

GOSHEN, Ind. – Business for furniture manufacturers and retailers alike continues to be tough. Low consumer demand seems to be the crux of the issue, which is being affected by inflation and a weak and expensive housing market.

Marcus Bontrager, president of the Indiana-based Amish furniture manufacturer Fusion Designs, spoke with Furniture Today on the current state of business and why there is still optimism.

“Since (High Point) Market, I’d say there have been ups and downs,” he said. “We had a brief boost in April and the start of May. Some of that could have been due to tax returns. But overall if you look year-to-date, it’s been about the same as last year. It’s not great, but it could be way worse.

“Everyone kind of expects it to stay the same until the fourth quarter, with it maybe getting slower over the summer, which always was our slowest time pre-COVID,” he continued.

Bontrager brought up the importance of housing interest rates, which, if dropped, could signal a rebound for the furniture industry.

“I saw last month that housing sales dropped, which no one expected,” he said. “That was the second month in a row. A lot of people are sitting tight and waiting for those rates to drop. I don’t think it’s going to take much, though, for people to start buying. Maybe just one or two drops. There’s pent up demand in the real estate market.”

For the retailers that are buying, they’re not buying much, Bontrager said. But just as other manufacturers have noted, he does see an increased need for retailers to update their floors more frequently,

“They’re not buying a whole lot,” he said. “Retailers got scared over the past few years, with the inventory issue and cash flow. They’re thinking twice about buying something now. They’re still looking for new items but perhaps buying less than usual.

“They will be looking to refresh their floors all year. I think they’ll add at least a set each market. It’s more important for them now than it was in the past to refresh their floors regularly. Styles change quickly. They also have had a lot of old, bad inventory that’s left over from COVID. I think that’s going to last and carry over this whole year. COVID really turned everything upside down. A lot of people filled their floors with whatever they could get.”

Bontrager continued, “On top of that, when things are slow, people look at every detail in their store to improve. The pressure is high for everyone to improve whatever they can. Everyone is tweaking and looking at all aspects. Retailers and manufacturers alike. It’s time for people to innovate again. It’s a correctional period.”

As for Fusion Designs’ strategy for the year, the company is moving forward with product.

“We were going to slow down with product, but we didn’t,” he said. “We have four new collections coming out. One is a new barstool program coming at the end of the year. The other three are in bedroom.

“Along with that, styles change so quickly. That’s part of the reason we’re bringing new stuff out. We know we need to update to be more current. People are wanting more modern and contemporary, so all of our new collections capture that style.”

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