Herman Miller (Nasdaq: MLHR) is the third largest player in the office furniture industry with $1.3 billion in global sales, an installed base of $8 billion in the US and 12% of the industry's market share. In addition to selling office furniture worldwide, the company also produces interior furnishings for health care facilities, schools, and homes. With a strong emphasis on research and development, the company is recognized as an innovator in furniture design. The company earned $1.3 billion in revenue and $28 million in net income in 2010.
Herman Miller’s performance, like the entire office furniture industry, is highly dependent on US commercial activity. With declining levels of nonresidential construction, white collar employment, and office occupancy stemming from the subprime crisis, orders and shipments of US office furniture have fallen. Herman Miller is attempting to weather this downturn by expanding into international markets and other product lines, while maintaining its competitiveness by reducing fixed costs. Nevertheless, with 60% of revenues generated from the US office furniture industry and commodity prices remaining elevated, it will be difficult to completely offset struggling US sales.
Herman Miller designs and manufactures furniture for office, health care, educational, and residential settings. 70% of the company’s sales are made through 151 independent dealers in the US and several other independent dealers internationally. The other 30% are sold either directly to government institutions and major corporations or through company owned distribution networks.
Because buyers rarely upgrade their products, demand for office furniture is driven by business expansion. Therefore, office furniture sales are highly dependent on nonresidential construction, vacancy rates and white collar employment levels. Because of the economic turmoil stemming from the subprime crisis all of these macroeconomic forces have begun to weaken.
As US office furniture demand growth has declined from 2005 to 2008, Herman Miller has focused on achieving geographical diversification to sustain revenue growth. In the past few years, Herman Miller has heavily invested in growing Asian markets, specifically China. With a rapidly growing office furniture market valued at $2.5 to $3 billion, China is a vital driver for international growth. By expanding into international markets like China, Herman Miller hopes to generate 50% of annual growth from outside the North American office furniture market by 2010.
Because of massive demand from emerging economies, the prices of all major raw materials used in Herman Miller’s manufacturing have risen considerably over the past year. The price of steel, plastic, and aluminum have risen since the mid 2000s. Since the company’s procurement of raw materials occurs through long term fixed-price contracts, the company is able to negotiate contracts before commodity prices go higher. In order to offset the rising cost of raw materials, the company plans to increase prices on all furniture products, which may adversely affect sales.
Herman Miller resides in a fragmented and highly competitive office furniture industry. The company believes its primary competitive advantage lies in its focus on research and development to create innovative furniture products. With office furniture demand moderating from a weakening US economy, pricing competition between office furniture companies has escalated. If Herman Miller can continue to successfully innovate, the company can still compete against lower cost producers. In addition, the company’s sales-based cost structure will be advantageous in pricing competition as operation costs will concurrently decline with sales. Nevertheless, the company faces significant competitive challenges. While the company has focused on diversification, the company’s primary business, US office furniture, has lagged the industry. Herman Miller is also facing stiff competition from abroad. Many of the company’s major competitors are also simultaneously positioning themselves in foreign markets. HNI Corporation and Steelcase have already acquired local manufacturing companies that have established distribution networks in China and the rest of Asia.