Frugal, Ergonomic Furniture: Spend Matters Style

“We need nine chairs.” Really?

That was the line a colleague who was with me told the sales rep on the floor at the surprisingly massive Office Furniture Center warehouse on the West side of Chicago, just a twenty or so minute drive from our Lakeview office. Our small venture, which was only a few people in the US eighteen months ago, is now fifteen people in the US and Europe. In other words, it’s time for some real office furniture.

Like many start-ups working on a budget, we had previously made the mistake of buying chic but truly inexpensive chairs (something you can get away with when it comes to tables, but a big ergonomic and budgetary faux pas, we discovered, when it comes to the surface you sit on for 8 or more hours a day).

One person on the team had been politely complaining about the lack of support in his $50 Ikea chair. Other chairs in the office (which looked like $1,000 models but were actually less than two hundred bucks on eBay) are less than two years old and completely falling apart. The most supportive chair, an Ikea desk model that was not exactly cheap, looked like it had survived an earthquake – but barely.

When we got to the Office Furniture Center showroom, four team members in total on a field trip at lunch, everyone gravitated towards that start-up icon, the Herman Miller Aeron chair. It’s actually not the best chair from Herman Miller in my opinion (for the money or the back support) but it certainly looks right in a fast moving small office.

At the retail cost of close to a thousand bucks, the Aeron is out of the budget of most upstarts – venture funded or otherwise. Of course this has not deterred thousands of companies that have gotten seed or Series A rounds from indulging in this derrière comfort extravagance before they can really afford it. Which brings us to our current situation, earlier this week.

As luck would have it, the used office furniture store had exactly nine Aeron conference models in the right color in stock. They probably came from a local start-up that, well…had bought the chairs new before they should have. Some were very gently used, others slightly more so. But they all looked and felt great. And the store was willing to sell them to us for more than 50% off the retail cost – which for those doing the math, works out to less than $400 per chair.

This is approaching the cost, mind you, of greatly inferior products, something we discovered ourselves as we outfitted our original office. And some of us have some achy backs to prove it.

Office Furniture Center came through with a used product that was significantly better than new products costing the same (or close). And the time to actually go and pick up the items was faster than it would have been to circulate ideas from new (and used) online stores. All of which brings me to some final recommendations for any organization wanting to take a frugally ergonomic perspective to office build out:

  • Buy high-quality used office furniture. Don’t even think about lower-end new stuff. It’s not worth it.
  • Trust in brands. Herman Miller, Steelcase, etc. They’re all great products and ten times better than cheaper or unbranded products when it comes to comfort and durability. The longevity delta between “China cheap” and a real product designed for an office is unbelievable. We’re talking a 10-20 year lifespan versus a 6-24 month one.
  • Go see what you’re considering buying. Forget about online when it comes to ergonomics. Try it out for yourself.
  • If it’s within budget (or close to it), get what excites the team. Herman Miller Aerons aren’t my first choice for the money, even at the price point we got. But the team was ecstatic – and that’s what counts.
  • Don’t ignore ergonomics. Having even one employee with even a mild back twinge or pain due to a poor chair set up (or crappy chair in the first place) is not worth it.
  • Factor in the total cost of assembly and delivery. The time spent putting stuff together or getting it back to the office from Ikea is time better spent doing other activities – unless, of course, it’s a team building activity over Friday afternoon beers

Now back to our regularly scheduled Spend Matters programming … written in part thanks to the comfort of (finally) having some real office furniture and chairs with actual support and proper ergonomics.

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Voices (5)

  1. Brian Brill:

    Joshua is right used is your best bet, you can find things for 25% the actual price.
    For my home office I got a 1000$ desk for 300$ and I got a really good chair to go with it from a company called TOFI in Toronto

  2. Joshua:

    Some of the new knock off product is good. Depends on which manufacturer it comes from. The product out of China is lower quality. The product out of Taiwan is usually fairly good.

    Used furniture is almost always going to be your best value. The key is to have some flexibility with exactly what you need. If it needs to be an exact type or color, it is sometimes tough to find the product used. If you go in just looking for quality product but have flexibility with exactly what the quality product is, you can do better.

  3. Gary Kirkwood:

    Couldn’t agree more. The look and hype sells the chairs. As a previous Miller dealer we enjoyed selling them and making lots of profit. I sat in one for 6 years until the Allseating YOU chair came out. Sells in the $ 600.00 range and has all the adjustments one could ask for. I keep an Areon around just so people can compare and have no trouble convincing people to swutch.

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