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A business consultancy, based in London, England, John Sacks' JSA Consultancy Services provides expert, in-depth, information advice and guidance as to how to exploit successfully the office furniture and interiors markets in Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan.

Has the Steelcase brand lost its appeal?

Monday 9 January 2012

While Sears, Saab and Kodak are on the list of brands expected to disappear in 2012, the century-old Grand Rapids company is also ranked among companies whose brand no longer holds appeal. That forecast is based on surveys conducted by branding and market research firm CoreBrand.
The list being given credence by Business Insider, a New York City-based business news website, because CoreBrand CEO James R. Gregory put Eastman Kodak Co. on the list a few days before the Wall Street Journal reported the film company may have to file for bankruptcy.
The story does acknowledge that the photography pioneer company has been struggling for years, as have the discount retail chain and the Swedish automaker.
But Steelcase, despite downsizing and factory closings, is still the global market leader.
“They sell more office furniture than any other company in the world by a long shot,” said Rob Kirkbride, who covers the office furniture industry for the trade publication Monday Morning Quarterback. “If you look at a recent financial report, they are saying they are expanding that market share. How does that show a company in trouble?”
The prediction drew a laugh from furniture analyst Mike Dunlap.
“I think it’s pretty preposterous,” said Dunlap. “Steelcase is a very profitable company and they are growing. I’m wondering how they came to that conclusion.”
CoreBrand’s list is based on data gathered during 8,000 annual phone surveys with business leaders, who are asked for their take on the corporate reputations of 800 companies in 49 industries, according to the Business Insider story. Participants are asked to rate brands based on favorability, overall reputation, perception of management and investment potential.
Business Insider reported that Gregory admitted he was the most “perplexed” with Steelcase landing on the list because the company makes “wonderful products” and has been able to “withstand the ups and downs of the office furniture industry.”
But Gregory thinks the survey results show Steelcase lacks a strong corporate brand.
Again, Kirkbride disagrees with that assessment.
“Their brand doesn’t have a cache of Knoll or Herman Miller, but to say they don’t have a great brand is ridiculous,” Kirkbride said. “It’s like saying Apple has a brand problem.”
Kirkbride criticizes the list as flawed because it names brands failing for different reasons. Sears, Saab and Kodak are struggling financially while companies like Yum! Brands, PPG and KeyCorp are low-profiled parent companies.
Steelcase stock ended on a negative note in 2011, but so did the other publicly-traded office furniture companies, Kirkbride said.
If Steelcase has low brand recognition, that might be because the industry has taken a back seat when it comes to promoting its importance, he believes.
“I think the industry as a whole has not done a great job of selling the benefits of what it is able to do for customers,” Kirkbride said. “A good office furniture can promote productivity and work happiness.”
Steelcase’s predicted demise comes as the company is gearing up to celebrate its centennial, which falls on March 16.
“We are a global leader in the industry,” said Laura Van Slyke, a Steelcase spokeswoman. “While people may not know our name or brand, they use our products to help them do their work.”
Steelcase’s closed Friday at $7.38, down 26 cents or 3.4 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange.

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