There’s more involved in buying chairs than you might think
Chairs are a staple of events, so making sure you buy the right kind for your inventory is important. Those who manufacture and sell chairs say there is a lot involved in buying chairs, but the main elements are doing research, asking questions and finding a quality product that works best for you in your market.
The first step to do that is researching your market.
“The rental store should first shop the market where they are located and find out what their competitor uses,” says Robby Puckett, territory manager, McCourt Manufacturing, Fort Smith, Ark. “They may want to use the same type of chairs as their competitors if the market is the type where subrenting between companies is common. They also may want to research how much each type of chair rents for in their area. Once they have some basic background on the local market, they will know more about what the customers prefer and what they should purchase.”
Trust your experience, says Diego Discacciati, Drake Corp. East Brunswick, N.J. “The best thing a rental store can do is plan purchasing well in advance and try out different suppliers,” Discacciati says. “Get samples, play with them and, most important in the case of plastic chairs, keep them enough time to see how they age. Buy small at first and add to inventory only when you are confident.”
Craig Clarke, independent sales representative, PS Furniture, Lexington, Ky., agrees. “Rental stores should also gather references and talk to peer rental stores with these products in use for at least two to three years. Talk to someone who actually owns the product. Finally, set a realistic budget for the best quality you can afford, because ultimately, inexpensive products can turn out to be pretty expensive.”
“Sometimes rental stores focus too much on price, ignoring quality, but the fact of the matter is a rental store depends on its inventory,” says Megan Tatch, national sales manager, Commercial Seating Products, South Hackensack, N.J. “Rental stores typically purchase folding, Chiavari and specialty chairs, but in all these chairs, there are three basic things that should be considered when adding to your inventory: construction, sturdiness and weight capacity; maintenance; and storage and mobility.”
“Rental dealers use so many different kinds of chairs for so many different events,” says Bill Lippe, director of new business development, Samsonite, Mansfield, Mass. “The one thing every dealer is hoping for is frequent use, low-cost maintenance and a good return on their investment.”
Questions for rental stores to ask before buying chairs, Lippe says, include:
- How long is the warranty?
- What makes this product different?
- Is it available for immediate shipment?
“I would start with the warranty,” Lippe says. “Is the manufacturer standing behind the product? If they are, have a conversation about the features and materials being used in the chair to gain a better understanding of how it might perform over time in your market.”
Rental stores should ask about warranty, replacement costs and repair options before buying, says Guadalupe Hernandez, sales executive, The Chairville, Dallas. “Look for lightweight chairs that require less setup time and labor, a high quality paint that doesn’t chip easily, stackable chairs and high quality materials. It’s a big investment, so it’s highly recommended to consider the best return on investment before you make your purchase.”
Safety and liability also are major issues to be considered.
“The rental store should also ask about drop tests performed on the chair,” says Dennis Heathcote, National Event Supply, a div. of D&K Imports, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. “The standard test for many chairs is 225 lbs. dropped from 6 in. above the seat. More advanced tests are the 275-lb. and 300-lb. drop test done again from 6 in. above the seat. If the chair can survive the 225-lb. drop then you know you are well on your way to finding an affordable quality chair. If they can survive the 275- or 300-lb. drop test, you
can have even greater confidence about the performance capabilities of the chair.”
“The warranty is important to ask about,” says David Hardage, director of sales and marketing, PRE Sales, San Diego. “We offer a three-year warranty and a five-year warranty on some chairs. Also ask about lab tests. SGS North America in Rutherford, N.J., does ours. I’m getting more requests for 250-lb. and 300-lb. capacity on chairs. Also, ask about product liability insurance. The larger companies require that and rightfully so.”
Quality is a top priority for many rental stores and manufacturers say that, in the buying decision, price should be a consideration in helping to determine quality.
“In the challenging economic times of the last few years, we have noticed that our customers continue to look for quality and that’s not about to change,” says Gregg Hagen, international sales manager, Alloyfold, Christchurch, New Zealand. “Rather than purchasing cheap chairs to save money in the short term, they are opting for products that require little maintenance and offer them a greater return on investment.”
“As with the purchase of any equipment, quality is one of, if not the most important factor in the purchasing decision,” says Terry Kolb, Kestell Furniture, New Holstein, Wis. “A chair is a chair only on the surface, so buyers really need to do their homework before making a chair-buying decision.”
The chair itself must be examined from every angle, from construction to use, experts say.
“Is the chair ‘rental tough’? Can it withstand frequent moving, transportation and stacking without falling apart or causing injury to a worker or guest? Many very stylish chairs lack the durability to last in a rental environment more than just a few rentals. It is important for rental companies and stores to calculate the expected useful life of the chair in addition to the anticipated maintenance and replacement costs into their rental rates,” says PS Furniture’s Clarke.
“Challenge your chair supplier by asking how the chairs are made. Their answer or inability to answer will give you an indication of the quality,” says Alloyfold’s Hagen. For instance, he says, “it is worth finding out how the feet are attached. With a lot of folding chairs, the feet are constantly falling off.”
Kolb also says to ask where the chairs are made and who is manufacturing the chairs. “Look for an established chair manufacturer, one that offers replacement parts and supplies ranging from paint to chair sub-assemblies, painted, stained or raw, to seat pads and individual fasteners,” he says.
Tatch of Commercial Seating Products, agrees. “It only makes sense to be able to fix a broken chair. Especially with resin products, it is important to know where you can find replacement parts in the event your chair is damaged. We use stainless-steel hardware and bolt construction. We recess the hardware into the chair to eliminate snagging, lost bolts and damage,” she says.
“When speaking with the sales representative from the manufacturer, they want to find out where the chairs are manufactured, how many years the chairs average before replacement — five years is a good answer — and whether the manufacturer keeps inventory in stock,” Puckett says.
“Address issues around functionality by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and determining how easy they will be to set up and pack down,” Hagen says. “Weight is an important consideration. Consider what maintenance they will require. When you have the answers to these questions, you can then tackle the most important question of all: How long will it take to break even?”
Questions to ask before buying chairs
- What is the warranty? How long does it last?
- What weight has this chair been tested for?
- How long do you expect the chair to last and for how much can you rent it?
- Can you pay for the chair in eight to 12 rentals? If not, you may want to consider a higher rental rate or a different style chair.
- How many rentals can you expect per year?
- What are the annual repair/maintenance costs?
- Can you add to inventory at a later date with similar product at a reasonable cost?
- What is the residual/salvage value for the brand and style you are purchasing?
- How are these chairs shipped?
- Is this a specialty item or is it kept in stock?
- Where is the chair manufactured (not assembled)?
- What is the origin of the materials?
- Is the steel treated prior to powder coating?
- Is the seat and back made of virgin plastic for colorfastness and durability?
- Are there weight channels on the bottom of the seat to evenly distribute weight?
- What is the dynamic load bearing weight?
- Are the legs and seat reinforced with steel?
- Is the UV treatment added during manufacturing process?
Wood or aluminum:
- How much maintenance do these chairs require? How often?
What's it made of?
When purchasing chairs, one element to ask about is the source and quality of the materials used to make the chair. From plastics to metal to wood, options can be endless, but quality can’t always be determined at a glance. Manufacturers say this is where doing research and asking the right questions can make a difference.
“Material, how it ages and behaves, is something that stands out mostly in the long run and makes the difference between a successful investment in an inventory that you can expand or an inventory that needs to replaced,” says Diego Discacciati, Drake Corp., East Brunswick, N.J.
“In case of resin wedding chairs, there are so many and they look so similar that it is very easy to be fooled into buying something that is simply not worth it, no matter how cheap it is. If you are investing in chair inventory for the long term or looking to expand, allow yourself enough time to select the best one for your pocketbook and for the future,” he says.
“Durability and functionality are the key things to look for as they will determine return on investment,” says Gregg Hagen, international sales manager, Alloyfold, Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Longevity will be determined by the materials they are made from and how they are made. Aluminum has a lot of advantages over steel that many of our customers swear by. It is 30 percent lighter, it will not rust and it won’t scratch easily,” he says.
“It is also easy to assume that all plastics are the same, but this is not the case. You should look for virgin polypropylene. Some manufacturers recycle ‘regrind’ into the plastics at levels, which cause plastics to become brittle and break over time,” Hagen says.
“Whether they are the classic plastic folding chairs, resin folding chairs or resin Chiavari chairs, you want to make sure that they do not contain recycled material,” says Dennis Heathcote, National Event Supply, a div. of D&K Imports, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
“If the chair is manufactured from recycled plastic, the chairs will be brittle causing them to break prematurely. Finally, you want to make sure that any chair with resin or plastic contains UV (ultraviolet) protection. The last thing you want is for your investment to yellow simply because it has been left in the sun for a few days,” he says.
“Rental stores should look for chairs that either use bolts, rivets, glue or some combination to hold their chairs together. Chairs that are held together by glue, whether by itself or with other fastenings, tend to be a little stronger than chairs that aren’t glued together. Screws may be necessary and appropriate for some wood chairs. However, it is important to note that screws will become loose with time. As a result, if you can limit the number of screws used, you will also limit the labor required to keep the screws tight. A nut and bolt combination is much less likely to come loose, but if it does you can always use a thread-locking nut on the bolt to keep the nut from coming loose in the future,” Heathcote says.
In wood chairs, Terry Kolb, Kestell Furniture, New Holstein, Wis., says, “hard maple wood species, superior joinery with glue and a long-lasting finish are all keys to longevity. A good way to test a chair for joint integrity is to stand behind the chair, tilt it back slightly on the hind legs, rock it back and forth, and note any gaps in the lower hind leg joints. Any looseness should be a warning sign. We often tell buyers that the initial price difference will easily be made up in added rentals when starting with a quality chair.”
“On the basic polyfold chair, we think they need to be reinforced as much as possible,” says David Hardage, director of sales and marketing, PRE Sales, San Diego. “We use a triple rivet bracket. Instead of just one through the tubing, it has that, and then one
on either side of that. We know people stand on these chairs and so forth, and if they are not supported, that plastic can crack. On the other side, there is a seat plate. We use eight rivets to attach it to the plastic seat, rather than six. These are reinforcements.”
The shipping question
“Rental stores should ask if the chairs are shipped knockdown or if they have been factory-assembled,” says Dennis Heathcote, National Event Supply, a div. of D&K Imports, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. “Factory-assembled chairs are stronger and tend to be manufactured to higher tolerances. Chairs that are shipped knockdown tend to be a little cheaper, but aren’t as strong and may not be put together as well as factory-assembled chairs.”