On a recent Saturday morning, Marci Weinstein got lost in the middle of industrial New Jersey, searching for a warehouse bursting with spinning chairs and standing desks.
After five months of back pain induced by a shoddy home-office setup, the interior designer was willing to go even where her map couldn’t direct her for a roughly 80% discount on her dream office chair: an $1,100
“I looked at the price and was like, ‘what’s wrong with this?’ ” the 67-year-old Teaneck, N.J., resident said of stumbling upon a Facebook Marketplace listing. Worried someone else would have already snapped it up, Ms. Weinstein inquired about availability. She was surprised to learn the seller had not one, but hundreds of the chairs for sale.
“I didn’t know they were liquidators,” she said.
Workers looking to trade up from makeshift ironing-board desks are increasingly turning to liquidators for the high-end furniture their companies once supplied. Liquidators, in turn, have pivoted from furnishing businesses to helping people equip home offices—sometimes selling furniture right back to employees of the organizations they cleared it from.
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Executive Liquidation Inc. in Moonachie, N.J.—where Ms. Weinstein purchased her discounted chair—emptied the offices of a major consulting firm back in March. “Then we had a lot of their employees coming here to spend their work-from-home stipends,” said director of sales Russell Castro. He added that workers might not even know their own office’s furniture is among the stacks.
“Companies don’t want to say the word ‘liquidate,’ ” Mr. Castro said. An empty office doesn’t paint a promising picture for business.
Mr. Castro said he’s only now seeing a rush of interest, months into the national work-from-home experiment. “Originally everyone thought they were going back to their offices, but now that people know they’ll be working from home for the next year, possibly forever, they want setups nicer than what they can get from Staples or
” he said.
Mr. Castro has been in the liquidation business for 30 years. He saw a boom during the dot-com bust and after the financial crisis when clients were primarily start-ups founded by out-of-work businesspeople. These days, for the first time, he has arrived at his warehouse in the mornings to find customers lined up outside seeking home-office furniture.
Conklin Office Furniture, based in Holyoke, Mass., has been outfitting a dozen or so home offices a week while previously it focused mostly on businesses, said Conklin principal Tyler Arnold.
“Business is jamming,” said Nick Kalafatis, work space specialist at Rosi Office Systems Inc. in Houston. “We can’t keep enough office chairs on the shelves to keep up with demand.” Where individual consumers once made up only about 5% of the company’s overall business, it has seen “a 10 to 15% jump in the past 7 months,” he said.
Building tenants might have preferred to send high-end desk setups directly to employees’ homes. “But they don’t have the infrastructure to get everything out of the building and to wherever the worker is living,” said Executive Liquidation owner Karl Held. He said a typical job requires 20-plus tractor trailers and a full night of disassembly.
In that time, Mr. Held promises to get “everything out.” Which means sometimes they get more than they would like.
“I have 22,000 gallons of hand sanitizer I don’t even know what we’re going to do with,” said Mr. Castro. One of the companies they emptied out had ordered a huge amount in advance of the pandemic, then ended up not needing it after sending all their employees home.
At a recent Saturday Open House, the oversize bottles of hand sanitizer greeted customers as they walked through the entrance of Executive Liquidation’s office-turned-showroom.
The company has more than 25,000 office chairs and 1,000 desks in its 30,000-square-foot warehouse, plus 20 53-foot trailers loaded with office furniture. Many visitors came to the open house after learning that the seating they had taken for granted at the office cost more than they thought. “They tell me, ‘I didn’t know this chair was $1,200, I wouldn’t have written my name on it!’ ” Mr. Castro said.
The 15 models of heavily discounted, designer desk chairs—arranged around a $10,000 Saarinen marble-topped tulip table priced at a nearly 90% discount—were by far the most popular products on offer.
As it stands, “I’m using a folding chair,” said Hye Jin Koh, who is currently applying for law school. “A lot of what I do now is sit at the computer for a really long time and study, and I need to upgrade my situation.” The 30-year-old said she would be returning to pick up a web-backed chair discounted to $200.
Elizabeth Pallitto, of Metuchen, N.J., paid about $200 for a Herman Miller Mirra 2 chair, which starts at $745 new and can cost more depending on the configuration, to replace her “bottom of the line”
model. “I’m old, that’s why I need this chair,” said the author, who has been spending long days in front of her computer writing and teaching virtual classes at Rutgers University.
Leo Choi, a Palisades Park, N.J., resident, was more interested in a standing desk to replace the stack of old textbooks he had been using as a monitor stand and the heat-warped
table he had hastily purchased at the beginning of the pandemic.
“I figured, I might as well invest because my firm is saying we’re going to be this way for a while,” the 30-year-old law associate said.
Nobody was more excited about their purchase than Ms. Weinstein after she finally found the warehouse and wheeled out her long-lusted-after Herman Miller model.
“We got the chair into the house and started to set it up with all its doodads,” said Ms. Weinstein. Now, she said, she sits at her desk with a “grin on my face, yelling, ‘this chair!’ ”
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