Comparisons with Many of our Competitors
If you're considering a purchase from Ethan Allen or from any of our other well-known, big competitors, the first thing you should do is perform a web search using that company's name and the product category, such as "ethan allen furniture". Bypass the websites published by the company, and look for comments from actual customers. You may read some real eye-openers about how customers are often treated these days, even though you may have had favorable experiences with a certain company in the past. Also notice that, according to Upholstery Design and Management magazine (Sept., 2004), over 70% of American upholstered furniture manufacturers (under price pressure from imports) are now making their frames from "engineered wood" (plywood, or possibly even particleboard). Ethan Allen now makes almost all of their upholstered frames from plywood, thereby gaining savings in "...time, money and man hours far beyond what was originally believed possible" (UDM, July, 2004, p. 4). In a four-page article on Ethan Allen's conversion to plywood, no mention was made of any testing for durability. (We encourage you to look elsewhere on this website to see how seriously and successfully we deal with the important matter of durability.) One problem with using "engineered wood" for structural members is that strong construction methods can't be used with it. Describing the joinery methods used by companies that have won design competitions in the industry (UDM, Sept. 2004, pp. 19 & 21), the magazine points out that those companies use staples as structural fasteners: "Staples are less labor intensive and help avoid potential problems with screws, which can separate plywood plies...."
Also, make sure you carefully read the other company's warranty material, as well as ours. Quoting from the warranty section of Ethan Allen's website, "Coverage exclusions: Wood furniture will have .inherent characteristics such as knots and pitch pockets, which are not considered quality defects Warranty does not cover normal compression of filling materials. Our leathers are warranted to be free from .splitting for one year. Warranty does not cover loss of resiliency..., loft, or crown (may compress up to one inch within first year)." <Editor's note: Think how baggy the covers will look after the cushion has compressed an inch, and think what that says about the comfortable life of the cushion if it compresses an inch in the first year.> "Upholstered backs, back pillows warranted for one year. Seat cushions for 4 years, but warranty does not cover compression ....." Page 10: Our products are not warranted against normal wear and tear . But we give Ethan Allen credit for at least acknowledging that their warranties don't cover things that customers normally assume should be covered by a well-known, respectable vendor. Most other companies won't back up their products well either, but the other companies just won't say that up front.
Are you considering any of our competitors who come up high on a web search?
Of the first fifteen websites that came up highest in response to a March, 2010 Google search for "contemporary sofas:", only two (including Comfy 1) sell furniture made in the USA. All but two mostly or entirely sell furniture that is made in China. And their warranties are what you might expect from sellers that are essentially distributors for Chinese manufacturers of inexpensive furniture: that is, no warranties beyond replacement for goods received in damaged condition.
Only one of the above group, Shangri-La.Furniture, openly (although inconspicuously) acknowledges that they sell furniture from China. ("A California company" is written boldly next to their name at the top of their home page, and one has to click on a link and read far into the description of shipping details before learning that their U.S. office is just a distribution facility for a company that does its manufacturing in China.)
But at least the above purveyor of Chinese furniture admits that their products are made in China, which is better than one can say for almost all of the other sources that Google ranks highest under "contemporary sofas." The others don't openly admit it, but it is easy to figure out, as will be explained below. Consider the following:
(1) all the publicity about hazards found in Chinese products, including toxic off-gasing from materials,
(2) concerns about U.S. jobs being lost to Chinese imports because of their cheap labor and their low standards for working conditions, health and environmental regulations, and
(3) concerns about carbon emissions resulting from products (especially bulky products) being shipped long distances.
Considering all of the above, it is very much in a seller's interest to indicate a product's country of origin if the origin is any country other than China. And it is very much the standard thing, even with a $20 product, for the seller to indicate the name of the manufacturer, given the great value of manufacturers reputations in guiding intelligent purchase decisions. So if a seller neglects to offer either information about the country of origin or the name of the manufacturer for an important product, that should raise a red flag.
We looked rather extensively and were unable to find such information, with very minor exceptions noted below. Spacify.com indicates country of origin but almost no names of manufacturers; in the one case we found in which it was indicated that a sofa was by a named company (SoHo Concepts), a click on that companys name leads to text saying only that SoHo is an international furniture supplier, with no pretense of their being a manufacturer; most likely they are a wholesaler of Chinese products. On Amazon.com, we were unable to find any information about where the first several sofas listed come from or any manufacturer identification, including after clicking on all possible links that might lead to such information.
On contemporaryfurniture.com, no country of origin or manufacturer name is indicated for any of the first six sofas shown. For the seventh sofa shown by contemporaryfurniture.com, a Canadian manufacturer is identified, and looking into their warranty shows that they warrant against defects in materials and workmanship (therefore not against normal wear and tear) for one year, requiring the customer to pay for shipping the sofa both ways to and from their plant in Ontario, where its up to them to decide whether the problem is covered by the warranty. In usual fashion, they take no responsibility for damage that occurs during shipping of products returned under warranty. And even that warranty (nearly worthless as it is for all except local Canadian customers) extends for only one year.
However, the above-stated warranty is actually better than youll find from almost all of our competitors that are on the first two pages of the contemporary sofas listing from Google. If you look closely for warranty information, youll find either (a) nothing at all, (b) steps you should take upon delivery if goods are received damaged, or (c) a vague reference by the seller to one-year warranties from the manufacturers, with nothing in writing stating the warranties. If one calls and asks to see the text of the warranty, they may say they will send it to you, but youll probably never receive anything. That isnt surprising, since the manufacturers are almost certainly unnamed firms on the opposite side of the world. If one thinks about the costs of shipping to and from the manufacturer for warranty work in such cases, it should be obvious why no warranty information is provided.
If any reader can find any examples that contradict any of the above statements, please tell us where we can find them, by e-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 800-659-0436. Thanks for any input. (As of six years after posting the above, nobody has offered any comments that contradict the above.)
So our competitors have big cost advantages over us in the initial price, but we stand out from them in making sure that our products have long, useful, enjoyable lives for our customers. (Our warranty on our sofas and chairs is for structural soundness and good support for ten years, we agree to pay for shipping both ways in honoring our warranties, there are no exclusions -- normal wear and tear or anything else -- and we take responsibility for any damage in shipping.) Obviously distance is part of our ability to guarantee long life of our products. But also we can do so because (1) our furniture is made up of economically-shippable components that are easy to unbolt from the rest of the frame and then to replace with new components, compared with our competitors' frames, which are normally nailed and/or stapled together, and (2) we have a decades-long history of making furniture that has withstood hard use, with steady feedback from our customers, so that we know that there will hardly ever be problems that require warranty service.
Any prospective customer should look closely at what the company says regarding their warranty and return policy, such as follows: One of our major competitors trumpets their "lifetime warranty", with the fine print stating that the "lifetime" is that of the original cover fabric.
Also, all of the warranties from furniture manufacturers that we have read, when they provide details, say that (1) only "defects in materials and workmanship" are covered, expressly or implicitly excluding normal wear and tear, and (2) the customer must pay the very large expenses of packing and shipping the sofa to and from the distant manufacturer for warranty work, and all damage in transit is a matter between the customer and the freight company. If any company's actual, enforceable warranty were any better than what's typical for furniture (above), its reasonable to assume that they would be willing to provide written details about it. But they normally don't. We invite you to carefully compare different vendors in this regard.
The other companies' refusal to allow returns except in the case of defects or damages is another matter to consider closely, combined with the fact that (in the case of some companies) they don't have a showroom where people can closely examine examples of products such as they are considering purchasing. (Comfy 1 maintains a showroom at a location that is very reasonably accessible to millions of customers, since we are only an hour from the nation's capital and just over a mile from the major north-south artery I-95, within the heavily populated region stretching from Central Virginia to eastern Pennsylvania to New York City and environs.)
In addition, Comfy 1 allows returns during the first week after delivery even for mere dissatisfaction, with full refund (of up to $10,000 per individual order) upon return of the product, and allowing refund of shipping costs both ways in addition to the full product cost. We state the above in writing, and if we ever failed to honor that commitment our failure to do so would be easy to find out about from publicly-available sources.
Almost all of Comfy 1's products are made to order, and therefore would not be returnable if from a typical custom manufacturer. But there are good reasons why we nevertheless offer a satisfaction guarantee: (1) If a product is returned by a customer when new, it won't be hard for us to sell it for a good price; we may have to change the covers to satisfy the next customer, but with our furniture, that's easy and inexpensive to do. (2) More importantly, we make our products well enough that our customers are happy well over 99% of the time. And (3) it's a way to expand our sales by making customers comfortable about buying from us even when they can't come to our showroom. Compared with the burdensome overhead of maintaining showrooms at distant locations, offering a satisfaction guarantee (with shipping paid both ways) is an inexpensive, low-risk way of profitably greatly increasing the size of a company's base of potential customers.
But admittedly it can only work if the products are accurately depicted and so well made, packed and shipped that the company's customers are essentially always happy.
If a company neither provides a showroom where people can examine representative samples of the product nor offers a satisfaction guarantee, its customers are really taking a chance. Even more so if its warranty is so vague that it doesn't legally obligate them to bear the real expenses of taking care of problems that customers could well have after not very much use.
Thinking out to future years, aside from the warranty question, also consider the cost of re-covering the furniture when the fabric is worn or when it's time to re-decorate. We encourage customers to look into the cost of re-covering one of the other company's sofas, checking with local re-upholsterers, and also look on the Comfy 1 website (at www.comfy1.com/replacement.htm ) to find the cost of re-covering one of ours. You'll very likely find that the additional amount you might pay Comfy 1 in the initial price would be more than paid back in savings the first time you have replacement covers made. And the savings in future replacements of covers or cushions would be pure gravy. That's not even taking into account the big question as to how well the other company's frames, springs and cushion filling will hold up over the years.
Readers interested in ordering furniture from _________chair.com (or from other companies offering sofas that, unlike Comfy 1's, can't be disassembled), should read the article from the Wall Street Journal about an order from Carolinachair.com that couldn't fit into the customer's room but also couldn't be returned, by going to the following web address: http://www.realestatejournal.com/homegarden/20030508-angwin.html
Also, since re-covering a typical sofa (that is, a sofa that isn't designed to be economical to re-cover) with well-fitting covers is likely to run well over $2000, any customer considering typical furniture should be very watchful for specific durability information about the cover fabrics. Keep in mind that a fabric can be called "heavy duty" if it passes only 15,000 double rubs on the industry-standard test, but 15,000 is near the low end of fabrics offered by Comfy 1 (many of ours exceed 250,000).
Customers who are considering sofas with typical, bulky arms and frames should check carefully how much (or how little) actual sitting or reclining space there will be. You may be surprised and very disappointed, especially in comparison with the larger amount of usable space allowed by Comfy 1's slender arms. Also, we have heard from customers who ordered "apartment-size" furniture from other companies and were still unable to fit it properly into their space; those typical, bulky frames often take up much more space than you think they will.
Other things to look for and think about on our competitors' websites:
Azzia.com, like some others, shows only a post office box for their address. They trumpet "a 100% satisfaction guarantee," but returns are accepted only with a 15% re-stocking fee, and the customer has to pay shipping both ways, and it will be rejected for return if they detect damage. Some internet sellers, showing a U.S. post office box as their address, sell products that are shipped directly from China with no mention of that fact -- think what your shipping costs would be to return such a product, not to mention the risk of damage for which you would be responsible.
The following is a typical position of these sellers, but it's one that not all will admit until it's too late for you: "If it is found that any of the larger products upon delivery 'will not fit' through any doors/stairwells and the product is subsequently returned/refused, you are responsible for all outward & return carriage costs." And they almost certainly also hold the customer responsible for costs of any return shipping damage incurred.
"The delivery personnel will be responsible for delivering the Product only curbside." Others say that the driver will only move the product to the back of the truck. (We always deliver at least to your door, except when (1) we deliver it in our own van, in which case we bring it in and set it up in your room, or (2) if you live in an apartment building and can't receive it during the day, in that case the evening delivery would be inside the lobby of your building.
"Orders cannot be cancelled due to delays, shortages, damages, installation and set up issues or for any other reason, without incurring the 45% re-stocking fees."...."purchased items may be returned within one (1) day of receiving shipment. 45% restocking fee will apply and the customer is responsible for the return shipping charges." (Note: 20-45% re-stocking fees are typical)..
"SPACIFY expressly disclaims all warranties of any kind, including without limitation any warranty of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose....."
"Once an item has been assembled it is no longer returnable. Special order products such as items where fabrics can be selected are non refundable."
On the Rooms to Go site, at the first four sofas shown there is no mention of a manufacturer name or where the items were made. For products purchased in their showrooms, "no refunds are available and sales cannot be cancelled after merchandise has been delivered."
At Interiorexpress.com, "If you....return a non-defective or undamaged product, you will incur original shipping charges along with actual return shipping fees. Return shipping fees typically range from $150 to $695, but may be more..." in addition to the original shipping charges that the customer must also pay. "Items not in their original, new, unopened condition may qualify for a partial refund of the products price." There is no mention of warranty, and using their search for warranty yields nothing.
On the Amazon.com site, trying to find information about the products' manufacturers, their locations, warranties and return policies will yield about the same results (or non-results) mentioned for the above sellers.
Probably our largest competitor is Ashley Furniture. Most of their furniture is made in China, but they also manufacture in the U.S. A 2015 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune is of interest:
OSHA finds 1,000 injuries in three years, says Wisconsin plant has history of safety violations.
Minneapolis newspaper Star Tribune reported that the U.S. Labor Department socked Ashley Furniture with one of the largest safety fines in history after alleging repeated safety violations over 36 months that caused more than 1,000 worker injuries, including several amputated fingers. The $1.77 million fine resulted from an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection last year of Ashleys Arcadia, Wisconsin, factory. Inspectors identified 12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations. Those are in addition to violations found during previous visits, U.S. Labor Department Assistant Secretary David Michaels told the Star Tribune, Monday. We rarely issue a fine that is more than $1 million, Michaels said. Having 1,000 work injuries in three years is proof positive that safety in this plant needs tremendous improvement. All the injuries were serious and required more than first aid, he said.
The full story from the Star Tribune can be found here: http://www.startribune.com/business/290552161.html
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