Supply-chain predicaments and rising costs forced many in the student housing industry into a holding pattern as the 2021–2023 global supply chain crisis took its toll. Materials and shipments were caught in limbo while properties and their students had to wait for deliveries on a drastically expanded timeline.
Fortunately, those challenges have greatly subsided, according to most industry experts. Freight costs have fallen below their pre-pandemic rates, providing some relief for furniture manufacturers that rely on overseas shipments. However, savvy student housing experts are taking the present moment to review best practices when it comes to furniture, manufacturing and student housing supply chains in general.
Interruptions still threaten some portions of the industry that rely on offshore manufacturing. The commercial shipping industry is particularly uneasy about the potential for shipping disruptions in the event of a confrontation between the United States and China over Taiwan. Presently, containers delayed at ports or in customs, plus the effects of international crises and standoffs make the advantages of reshoring, nearshoring and manufacturing in the United States obvious.
Manufacturing student housing furniture in the United States has many benefits — among them is the opportunity to create a product that is more eco-friendly and one that can be more reliably delivered with better lead times.
“Domestic production helps ensure that all the appropriate manufacturing guidelines are being met. We know that our boards and laminate meet specifications. Given that we require less freight, that means we use fewer fossil fuels and we’re more eco-friendly,” says Brad Hufford, COO at Dickson Furniture Manufacturers. Based in Houston and in business since 1976, Dickson controls the production process from design to delivery and avoids the countless challenges others face when relying on offshore partners to get the right furniture to student housing communities.
By using domestic suppliers, Dickson can ensure alignment and direct impact on quality, sustainability and environmentally friendly solutions with their suppliers, who are held to a higher environmental and quality standard than most overseas sellers. One example of the eco-friendly materials employed is the laminates provided to Dickson via Wilsonart, a GREENGUARD Gold Certified manufacturer. Wilsonart domestically produces laminates that contain a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled content — the highest percentage of post-consumer content in the industry.
“Because our suppliers are in Texas, that makes for a more efficient and environmentally conscious operation. With international manufacturers, even if they say they are following guidelines, you can occasionally see some bad practices. You can try to manage that, but you’re still not in control,” explains Hufford.
Some North American furniture manufacturers make their products in other countries with wood that comes from the United States, says Mark Schumacher, chief executive officer, Home Furnishings Association.
“In these examples, the wood goes to a country like Vietnam, and then the product is shipped back to the United States,” Schumacher explains. “But, domestic manufacturing can be advantageous because, for those who rely mostly on overseas production, you can’t just pick up and change your materials source companies instantaneously when problems arise. The entire process is so intricately connected.”
Home Base in Houston
In some instances, the supply chain is less of a concern than finding a product of a certain quality, explains Santiago Suarez del Real, director of supply chain at Dickson. “To give you an example, with laminates there may be a certain finish or a certain color the client wants. Maybe it’s a trademark color or it’s something that’s simply not easy to match. You can’t just go overseas and find it. I think that’s one of our strengths by being a U.S.-based manufacturer — having the supply chain and partners that are also aligned to our expectations.”
Dickson operates out of a 500,000-square-foot building that produces sofas, tables, chairs, beds and generally the common items found in a student apartment. It also has an upholstery plant within the Houston facility that can make soft goods.
While Dickson sources the majority of its products in the United States near Houston, some components and materials come from overseas, as is typical for furniture manufacturers.
Hufford explains that some pieces come to the factory as a collection of parts that are then assembled and shipped out fully constructed to colleges and universities. “We see the finished product go into its box, completely assembled before it is sent to any of the major United States housing markets, so we can ensure it is high quality,” Hufford says.
Must Be on Time
Working domestically helps Dickson eliminate the risk of problems with orders. Imports require 90 to 120 days for fabrication, plus 30 days on the water for shipping. Hufford says Dickson can solve problems in days instead of months, removing points of failure in the delivery process.
It’s critical to deliver student housing furniture on time, Hufford says. “It must be in place for the first day of the fall semester. You can’t afford to miss that day.”
“Upon delivery, all the client has to do is take it out of the box and prep it and put it into place,” says Hufford. “There’s no assembly that has to be done.”
“[Assembly can be] an on-site job for some of our competitors. That gives us and our customers a huge advantage — because the last thing that any of these property managers or parents moving these kids in want to deal with is putting furniture together. They’ve got enough stuff to do.”
Hufford explains that the normal production lead time is eight weeks, though the projects originate much earlier, as orders are often taken in October or November — although Dickson can take orders as late as April for delivery the following June.
Communities that use manufacturers that work overseas must do their ordering far sooner because their lead times are lengthier — not to mention accounting for any snafus.
To learn more about Dickson Furniture Manufacturers, click here.