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As companies downsize space in hybrid world, what happens to all that office furniture?

Kavita Kumar, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

As he walked around the sales floor, JP Liesenfeld pointed to a group of sleek, modern chairs with a butterflylike design: the Herman Miller Aerons.

"They're the Mercedes of office chairs," he said.

They retail for $1,400 new. But here, at Furnish Office and Home, a nonprofit store in northeast Minneapolis that is like a Goodwill for office furniture, used models go for $399. And it has a bunch of them, as well as the slightly cheaper Mirra and Mirra 2 that companies have offloaded.

Some people drive from Wisconsin or Iowa to buy them, added Liesenfeld, the store's general manager.

As companies shift to hybrid and remote work, they are downsizing office space or remodeling what's left to lure employees into the office. That means a lot of abandoned office furniture.

Think floors full of empty rolling, swiveling chairs with ergonomic designs. Desks — the kinds that move up and down and the more old-school stationary ones — as well as conference tables, filing cabinets and lots and lots of cubicles.

 

Some of it is being recycled, especially if it contains metal. At worst, it could end up in the landfill with millions of tons of other furniture each year. For cubicles, it's often a mix of both. The aluminum and steel inside them go to a scrap yard, and the rest ends up in a dumpster.

But for newer items from sit-to-stand desks to small filing cabinets, there's a bustling market with an overflow of inventory as brokers and secondhand shops hustle to find a second life for the stuff.

At Furnish Office and Home, furniture donations from companies around the Twin Cities — and sales — are booming.

"Our No. 1-selling product is our clearance chairs at $10," said Kevin Engdahl, a vice president for Emerge Community Development, which runs the business and pours its profits into job training programs. "We don't make any money at it. But they don't go to the landfill, and it serves a purpose."

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