The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA) unveiled a new digital tool this month that is poised to bring greater clarity to the market and help both specifiers and buyers quickly gauge the safety and durability of products.
The BIFMA Compliant product registry went online at the beginning of March and is a free tool available to manufacturers — both BIFMA members and non-members alike — and buyers. The registry is a database for products that meet existing American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/BIFMA standards for durability and safety.
The registry has been in the works for three years and was created to address the rising concerns among designers and buyers who found it difficult to easily identify products that meet ANSI/BIFMA safety and performance standards.
This new digital tool also falls in line with an overarching mission for the nonprofit trade association since forming in 1973. Over that time, BIFMA has placed an emphasis on creating comprehensive standards for design and manufacturing. The group started to factor in sustainability after 2000.
To gain inclusion on the registry, manufacturers must submit their products for consideration after testing them in an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited test lab certified lab with ANSI/BIFMA standards listed in the test lab’s scope of accreditation.
Some of the larger manufacturers have been able to utilize in-house labs while smaller companies are able to utilize third party labs recommended by BIFMA.
Prior to the BIFMA compliant registry, manufacturers could claim that their products complied with ANSI/BIFMA standards, but would not need to verify those claims.
“We were extremely pleased in the response,” said Deirdre Jimenez, who took over as CEO of BIFMA this summer. “We have both BIFMA members and non-members participating in the program and have reached the one-year forecasted participation level in the first week.”
The group has hired an additional technical support resource, while more brands are submitting data to the registry, Jimenez said.
“We expect the registry to grow quickly in the next three months,” she said.
Jimenez came to BIFMA with a background in architecture and interior design. She spent more than 25 years serving in executive and ownership roles in corporate real estate and architecture and engineering consulting.
It’s with this perspective that she has spent time engaging with the specifying and buying community, a group that will benefit from the registry.
“We feel like those will be the audiences who will benefit from these standards and why these tools exist and these resources exist,” Jimenez said.
The registry is inclusive and completely agnostic to the size of manufacturers. While names like Herman Miller Inc. and Steelcase Inc. are well represented, a smaller company like Holland-based Trendway Corp. is also in the mix. That visibility, according to Trendway’s senior engineering manager Brian Bickers, is one of the primary benefits of the registry.
“I think it puts Trendway on the map next to some of the bigger, better known names,” Bickers said. “I think it brings our name to potential customers that maybe didn’t think of Trendway being able to provide the same type of products as others and know that we’re doing the same amount of rigorous testing.”
Bickers said the process of submitting products for inclusion on the registry is relatively quick and easy. Manufacturers are asked to submit information on the various products, and BIFMA may choose to audit any of the submissions. This requires the manufacturer to furnish reports and documentation affiliated with the product’s testing.
Also, an existing product in the registry would have to be re-tested if a manufacturer adds features to it.
Trendway — and likely every other manufacturer with products on the registry — tested safety and durability long before the BIFMA Compliant registry. Still, the input gained through the submission process has been beneficial.
“For the most part, (submitting products to BIFMA Compliant) was confirming what we already knew,” Bickers said. “There were a few instances where we had questions from the lab. Like any standards, it’s open to a little interpretation. We were able to work through that and it gives us more insight — thinking of it in a different way that we might not have thought before and potentially making design changes that could improve quality.”
For Coalesse, a contemporary furniture brand owned by Steelcase, meeting ANSI/BIFMA standards has been considered the bare minimum in terms of safety and durability. While the program hasn’t necessarily raised the bar in terms of quality, having a public-facing tool that is free to everyone in the industry is something that has enhanced the entire market, said Kim Shaw, global product marketing director for Coalesse.
“It’s a really useful tool whether it’s (for) a dealer or a sales person or a customer because it gives them the ability to do that research themselves rather than basically search the internet to try to find it,” Shaw said. “A lot of time, this information is often buried on a manufacturer’s website.”
BIFMA Compliant complements an existing tool called BIFMA LEVEL, a third-party certification program for the furniture industry’s sustainability standards. Shaw hopes to see BIFMA and the industry as a whole continue to push these tools and standards to create a more transparent industry.
“I’m hoping more things like this will move toward basically a registry platform,” Shaw said. “It also is helpful to see what product lines and what manufacturers are current in their BIFMA compliance. That’s another thing that can be difficult as testing requirements get updated. There sometimes are product lines that are several iterations behind.”
In addition to inclusion in the registry, manufacturers can use trademarked “BIFMA Compliant” branding on products and in marketing materials.
Joel Zwier, director of sales and marketing for Ludington-based furniture manufacturer Metalworks Inc., said he plans to use the branding on the company website next to each product on the registry.
“I think its value is yet to be seen,” Zwier said. “I think as we gather around (BIFMA Compliant) and do more promotion to the industry, I think that’s where it’s going.”
News coverage in the manufacturing section of MiBiz is made possible by advertising support from The Michigan Economic Development Corporation. MEDC markets Michigan as the place to do business, assists businesses in their growth strategies and fosters the growth of vibrant communities across the state. This advertisement has no effect on editorial consideration in MiBiz.