The internet abounds with stories of deals and discounts. Here’s a common one: you’re shopping for an office chair, and you see recommendations all around for that high-end Herman Miller piece. Your jaw drops at the price tag and, like thousands of others before you, you look for advice online. What do you see? “Check out an office liquidation!”
Businesses that close, offices that downsize, and companies that rotate their furniture inventory all frequently need to offload their old chairs and desks. They don’t hold garage sales, no; they work with an office liquidation company to handle it. All of those old chairs and desks are off-loaded to a warehouse company that then sells them to you, the consumer.
There are pros and cons to buying furniture through this kind of company. We’ll do our best to help you made the decision, though it is, of course, ultimately up to you.
- You can find furniture for cheap.
- High-end brands are sometimes available.
- You help recycle furniture.
- Used furniture is of questionable age.
- It may have strange smells or stains.
- Many other people also shop liquidations.
- It’s difficult to bulk furnish.
- Items may need repairs.
- You usually lack a warranty.
- You’re responsible for transport.
Analyzing the Pros
First, let’s take a look at the pros on an individual basis and analyze them. We’ve identified three primary benefits to buying furniture from a used office furniture liquidator.
First of all, is the price. Liquidators often pay bargain-basement prices for the furniture they buy from an office, because that office is usually looking to recoup any loss at all as they close, so they don’t entirely care how much they get. Thus, even with markup, you’re still paying well under the average retail price for the furniture you buy. In rare cases, people have found chairs that retail for $1,500 at a liquidator and bought them for under $500. If you're the kind of person who frequents thrift stores and enjoys looking for good deals, it may be fun to hunt for a diamond in the rough.
Secondly, you may be able to find a high-end piece or two at a liquidator. This is especially true if you live in a hub of startup development, like Seattle, Austin, Denver, or Atlanta. Anywhere that advertises itself as a great place for startups is also a place where many startups will fail, and thus their offices will need to be liquidated.
Startups often have a lot of cash to throw around, through fundraising or venture capital, and a good portion of that budget tends to be allocated to furniture. Desks and, most importantly, high-end chairs are a common purchase for these offices. This leads to liquidators filled with high-end products for a fraction of their normal cost.
The third benefit is a more psychological, moral, and ecological benefit. When you buy a chair, desk, cabinet, or another piece of office furniture from an office liquidator company, you’re buying used furniture rather than new. That means one less new piece of furniture needs to be manufactured, with all of the ecological impacts that entail, One less piece of furniture needs to be shipped across the country, lowering the carbon footprint of the shipping. One less piece of furniture ends up in a landfill, reducing waste that much longer.
If you’re attempting to make your office a green office, lowering your carbon footprint by purchasing used furniture can be a good option. It can feel good to buy and essentially recycle furniture, and it saves on the budget, so you can spend that money elsewhere on other sustainable business practices.
Unfortunately, these three benefits are the only pros we can identify for purchasing used furniture. There are, to put it lightly, quite a few more drawbacks.
Analyzing the Cons
When it comes to buying used furniture, there are a lot of pitfalls you’ll have to navigate. Purchasing a used office chair from a liquidator might be fine for an individual looking to save on an office chair, but for furnishing an office or for longevity, you’ll find them sorely lacking.
First of all, you never know just how old a piece of furniture is. Did the company that liquidated it buy it a year ago, five years ago, ten? If it’s a new model of a new chair, you might be able to put a hard ceiling on it, but you still never know just how old the furniture is. And, since furniture wears down over time, you might find that cheap chair purchase brings with it the additional cost of needing to deal with squeaks or other problems.
Furniture breaks down. Chairs loosen up and rattle, gas springs lose tension, adjustments wear out. Everyone who has ever had to deal with a hand-me-down piece of equipment knows that it can be frustrating and annoying to deal with these minor issues.
Another issue is, well, the furniture is used. Used furniture accumulates all manner of stains and odors. Chairs in particular are susceptible to this. Someone spilling lunch, someone dripping coffee, someone simply infusing a chair with body odors, leaves those chairs worse for wear.
Sure, you can spend the time necessary to replace the seat cushion and reupholster the chairs you buy, but then you’re investing in replacing parts of the chair, which eats into the money you saved by purchasing used furniture in the first place.
On a more extreme level, there are rare instances where a chair brings with it a troublesome infestation. Bedbugs don’t typically infest offices as much as they do homes, but it’s entirely possible, and that’s very much not something you want to deal with.
One of the benefits we mentioned is that you can sometimes find high-end name brand furniture at liquidations. Unfortunately, that’s also a drawback. Remember in the intro, where we mentioned that it’s a common piece of advice to shop liquidations when you’re looking for a high-end piece of furniture? That’s been common advice for years. You’re far from the first person to have the idea, and that means many liquidators have a lot of competition for the good stuff.
Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time camping out and checking back with a liquidator every few days or every week to see if they get in something you want, chances are you’re going to be settling for the dregs. Other people are almost always camping out for deals, and there's a strong chance someone has picked over everything good before you get to it. You’ll end up shopping for the mid-range chairs, the ones that don’t have as much of a discount or the chairs with more damage and less quality.
Now, let’s say you’re furnishing a home office. All you need is a solid desk, a decent chair, and maybe a filing cabinet or another piece of furniture to complete the office. That’s fine; you can often get that from a liquidator, especially if you don’t have a particular piece of furniture in mind.
On the other hand, what if you’re also an office? What if you’re a startup, without venture capital, looking to buy cheap furniture to fill up your office? You can get cheap furniture from a liquidator, but there’s one thing you won’t be able to get: consistency.
You might be able to find two or three chairs you want, but what if you need twenty to fill your office? Or more? You either have to visit many liquidators and hope you can find more, or you have to settle for lower quality, more common furniture.
The alternative, of course, is to go with a mismatched office. Buying a range of different chairs and desks can lend your office an eclectic style, but you might find that some are objectively lower quality than others. No one who works for you wants to be the person stuck with the desk that grinds when it raises or the chair that squeaks and makes their legs go numb. Equality is the foundation of a copacetic workplace, and you’re unlikely to find enough of the same pieces of furniture in a liquidator to get that equality.
Another problem you’re likely to encounter is one that we’ve touched on a couple of times already: used furniture is used. That means it might need repairs. Chairs might need new casters, a new gas spring, new upholstery, or new lumbar support. Desks might need their surface sanded and refinished, their legs rebalanced, or their motors refurbished.
Don’t even get us started on furniture like filing cabinets, where you may need to replace locks and keys unless you want anyone who happened to have an old key able to get access to your files. Physical security is often overlooked in an office space.
Oh, and don’t think you can just send in the chairs for a warranty. Warranty claims for office furniture typically require proof of original purchase, and without that – since you’re not the original purchaser – you won’t be able to claim any warranty that still exists. And that’s if – IF – the furniture in question has a lengthy warranty in the first place. Often times you’ll find that you’re buying a chair that had a three-year original warranty, and it’s been four years since it was originally purchased. There’s no warranty left to claim, even if you could claim it in the first place.
A final drawback is one of convenience. When you order furniture from a company, it ships directly to your office, where it can be assembled and arranged easily. Even if you’re buying it directly from an office supply store, it’s a lot easier to transport a chair or desk that has not yet been assembled, if you don’t have access to a box truck or other transportations.
When you buy from a liquidator, you’re responsible for transporting the items. Some liquidators offer transportation for an additional fee, which is tempting but also leaves you spending more of the money you saved. It’s harder and less convenient to transport fully assembled furniture as well.
In general, a liquidator is a good service for a business that wants to recoup their losses when they’re buying new furniture or when their business is closing. They’re not as much of a good option for when you’re a business looking to furnish an office.
If you’re an individual looking for a single piece of furniture, and you’re willing to either settle for something that doesn’t quite meet your needs, or you’re willing to wait for a product you want to show up and have months or years to spend looking, then shopping at a liquidator is a perfectly fine option.
On the other hand, if you’re a business looking to furnish a whole office, liquidators are only good in a few specific circumstances:
- When you’re able to work directly with the liquidator to get bulk quantities of the same furniture items.
- When you’re a smaller office and aren’t worried about disparate items for each employee.
- When you’re willing to spend time hunting down specific items.
- When you have special needs for certain employees, such as extra-large or extra-small furniture.
Otherwise, your best option is likely going to be talking to a vendor directly and getting bulk orders of new furniture. Bulk orders are often cheaper than the list price for the furniture would imply, because you get a volume discount on both purchasing and shipping. Additionally, you can be assured of the quality of new chairs, and have a warranty you can take advantage of as you need it.
At the end of the day, it’s faster and almost as cheap to buy directly from a furniture manufacturer as it is to get your furniture from a liquidator. When you factor in the cost of transportation, repairs, and the time involved in hunting down the furniture you need, you can see why the convenience is a better selling point.
Have you made a purchase from a liquidator before, for a full office or just for an individual home office? If so, how was your experience?
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