Furniture Makers Target Multiplying Home Offices

Going to work in the upstairs study is now just like being at headquarters

THE home-office market is growing quickly, and Steelcase Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., the world's leading manufacturer of office furniture, is moving to capture its share. The company offers a catalog and a toll-free number to help customers place orders and give them advice about their furniture.

Steelcase has created a new company, Turnstone, to serve and supply both the home-office market and companies with fewer than 100 office workers, a market that is also growing rapidly. James Hackett, president of Turnstone, estimates the market in these two categories to be worth $4 billion a year.

Last fall, the International Design Center in New York featured a ``Home Sweet Office'' program and exposition, emphasizing products for ``alternative work spaces and home offices.'' At the same time, the American Society of Interior Designers was calling the home office ``a design revolution,'' urging its thousands of members to ``broaden their scope and enter the home-office market.''

``When people work at home all day, they don't want to just plop down two filing cabinets and put a slab of Formica over the top,'' says Bernadette Grey, editor in chief of Home Office Computing magazine. ``They want their office to look great, and to have personal touches as well. And that's where interior designers and manufacturers can come into play.''

Designers, she says, need to rethink their definitions of the home and of the office, and see how they can best meld the two.

With its annual National Work At Home Survey, Link Resources Corporation, a New York research and consulting firm, found that among the 41.1 million home office workers in the United States, 12.2 million are full-time self-employed home workers; 12.1 million are part-time self-employed home workers; 9.2 million are workers who bring work home from their offices; and 7.6 million are full-time telecommuters or company employees who regularly work at home.

Marketing experts now expect this number to climb to between 50 million and 60 million at-home workers, as companies continue to downsize and lay off more employees.

Steelcase has 10,000 employees and 42 manufacturing facilities in 11 countries. Worldwide sales total more than $2 billion annually. The Turnstone concept of direct marketing through a catalog and an 800 number was initiated last September in test markets in Cincinnati and Atlanta. Last month, two Turnstone Solutions Centers were opened in Indianapolis and Nashville - also test markets. At these centers, customers can see the products displayed and are given assistance in choosing furniture.

Selected Turnstone products are also being test-marketed through a partnership with Office Depot, North America's largest office products superstore chain. If successful in 12 Atlanta-based Office Depot stores, the venture will be expanded to some of the chain's other 339 stores.

Turnstone products include desks (many of them modular, making them easy to arrange), office chairs, storage units, tables, easels, work tools, and accessories for organizational use. They are designed to be attractive, well-scaled, and affordable. One of the new home-office collections includes, for instance, a $199 desk. If test markets prove promising, all products will become available through a phased-in, city-by-city launch over the next 18 months.

Turnstone offers delivery of orders within as little as 48 hours, 30-day ``test drives'' of all office seating units, and products that can be exchanged or returned within 60 days, at no cost to the customer.

Denver-based Knoll Group also has set its sights on the burgeoning home-office market. It has created a special brochure and a mail campaign, boosting its business serving home offices by 250 percent over an eight-month period.

Two years ago, Kimball International Inc. of Jasper, Ind., launched a new product line designed especially for home offices. The line fits the smaller space and budget requirements of home-office users and includes modular wall units with storage and work surfaces, as well as desks and chairs.

``We've had to adjust a lot in marketing for the home,'' says Steven Tomlinson, manager of furniture sales for Kimball. ``A 30-by-60-inch desk is as big as a person wants in a home; it's as small as a business would want to go.''

``We have to design products vertically to save space, instead of letting them expand horizontally,'' Mr. Tomlinson adds. ``Our desk line must look more residential, so we offer oak and cherry cabinets and desks.''

Kimball entered the home-office market ``because we recognize that millions of people are not in the office environment anymore,'' Tomlinson says. ``We are losing them as customers unless we respond to their world-at-home needs.''

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