Building or remodeling an office can be overwhelming, especially when you're soliciting furniture bids from multiple dealers. Furniture bids may seem like an easy way to find office furniture and save money, but they can be more frustrating than helpful.  

With 140 years of industry experience, you can count on Egyptian Workspace Partners to provide you with honest information about office furniture bids and furniture quotes, what they’re all about and why bids aren’t always the best option.   

In this article, we’ll break down the difference between office furniture bids and furniture quotes, the main problems with furniture bids and why furniture quotes are a much better approach to solving your furniture needs.  

Furniture Bids vs. Furniture Quotes: What’s the Difference?  

What is a Furniture Bid 

Also known as request for quotes (RFQ) or request for proposals (RFP), a furniture bid is when a client hires a design firm or architect to layout the furniture in their workspace. They charge for time spent designing the layout and other service fees. 

Once the layout is complete, the design firm or architect sends it to office furniture dealers, who provide pricing based on the furniture brands they carry. Typically, the lowest bidder will win the bid, but their approach may not win in the long run.  

What is a Furniture Quote?  

A furniture quote is a custom space layout that includes the best pricing, products and solutions for your unique needs. 

With this approach, you have the advantage of working directly with your office furniture provider to design a more thoughtful space plan that works for you and your employees, as compared to paying a design firm or architect for the same services. 

Since you’ll be working hand-in-hand with your provider, you’ll be able to choose everything, from the flooring to the paint colors, to ensure it matches the furniture you choose and the aesthetic you want to achieve.   

The Top 4 Problems with Furniture Bids

Problem #1: Definition of Quality

When it comes to furniture bids, there’s a lot of room for interpretation. The language is either very loose or only minimum spec requirements are provided. This can make furniture bids very confusing since there’s no easy way to document quality and what classifies furniture as good, better, or best.  

To win a bid, furniture dealers use several different methods – and most of these methods involve sacrificing quality by pricing cheaper options. For instance, if they’re asked to price a cubicle, they’ll bid cheaper solutions with low-quality drawers, panels, and worksurfaces. 

On a bid request we recently saw, a design firm requested “good, better, best” pricing for office task chairs. Although this may seem like an easy request, it’s very ambiguous

We priced our chairs at $400, $600, and $800 apiece, while other dealers priced theirs at $150, $250, and $350 per chair. Even though we have similarly priced chairs, our interpretation of quality was different. 

In another bid, we bid a media table with a monitor and built-in technologies for digital collaborationwhich can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on how big it is and the features and finishes it has.  

Another dealer responded with a media table that only cost $1200, even though it didn’t have a monitor or any built-in technologies. We sell similar tables at a similar price point, but we would never describe or sell them as media tables because that’s not what we define them as.  

If you’re looking to save money, you should work directly with a furniture provider to find the best solution for you, as compared to being cheated in a bid because you think a chair or cubicle is made of higher quality materials than it actually is.  

Problem #2: Different Manufacturers

Everyone has a vision for what they want their office to look like. When you rely upon furniture bids that are one-size-fits-all, it can be challenging to create a cohesive space that aligns with your culture and aesthetic because they use furniture from different manufacturers.  

In the office furniture industry, there are five main manufacturers: Steelcase, Knoll, Herman Miller, Haworth and TeknionThese manufacturers specialize in closed distribution, meaning every furniture provider only has access to one brand.  

As previously mentioned, some furniture dealers will substitute low-quality products and solutions from different manufacturers to get the price down. Other dealers will use products from different manufacturers because their mainline doesn’t offer the solutions they need to decrease the price.  

However, once these dealers start substituting solutions from different manufacturers, you’ll end up with an inconsistent blend of colors, finishes, and fabrics that don’t go together, as well as different shipping times, assembly options, and warranties.  

In a recent bid that we lost, the winning dealer used more than 30 different manufacturers. In our proposal, we used one manufacturer with matching colors and finishes because we believed it was the best value for the client 

Ultimately, we lost the bid because we did not understand what the client was looking forWe could have taken the same approach as the winning dealer, but we wanted to provide them with long-term solutions, not short-term savings that cost even more money down the road.  

To maximize your savings, you should choose an office furniture provider that takes the time to understand your needs and budget, so you can choose absolutely everything. Even if they only have access to one manufacturer, that doesn’t necessarily mean they offer fewer options.  

For example, Steelcase offers a wide spectrum of product lines, as well as partnerships with brands such as AMQ, BluDot, and West Elm. These brands are technically different, but they have many of the same fabrics and finishes, and you can even use Steelcase materials for a cohesive look. 

Problem #3: Pricing

Budgeting is a top concern for many clients, especially when it comes to buying office furniture. After all, your budget determines the features, adjustments, and customization options you can afford, as well as what is and isn’t included in a furniture bid.  

Many clients view furniture bids as an easy way to get the lowest price. Although this isn’t untrue, there are a lot of hidden costs to be concerned about, such as dealers sacrificing high-quality solutions and products with cheaper, low-quality alternatives.  

Architects and design firms can charge as much as $30,000 to design a layout. While we enjoy working with architects and design firms on projectsthere’s a lot of value in choosing a provider that offers complimentary design services. 

When it’s time to discuss your budget, you need to be open and honest about what you’re looking for, what your needs are, and how much you’re willing to spend. You should also be specific about the overall vision for your space and the aesthetic you want to achieve. 

Unless you provide specific details, the bidder will have a difficult time understanding what it is you’re looking for. If you lead them to believe you only care about the final price, they’ll end up quoting lesser quality furniture from a variety of manufacturers that have been cherry-picked to get the lowest price.    

To save money without sacrificing quality, you should ask your furniture provider to negotiate with the manufacturer based on the amount of furniture you need, resulting in a price that’s almost always the same as what it would be with a furniture bid. 

Problem #4: knowledge about furniture trends 

Design firms and architects add value to any project. As partners and allies, they have designers that specialize in laying out furniture, although it’s not their specialty. This means they won’t be able to keep up with the latest office design trends 

Usually, design firms and architects layout space for multiple dealers and manufacturers to respond to, which means there is little regard to how furniture should be laid out, what exactly the client is looking for, and what their budgetary needs are.  

We recently received a client layout from a design firm that used panel-based workstations with two separate panels. While this isn’t the worst design we’ve ever seen, it makes more sense to use a workstation with one panel because there are fewer pieces and it’s more affordable. 

Office furniture providers stay ahead of the latest design trends. They ask questions and make suggestions, so you won’t have to worry about spending money on a layout that doesn’t work for you.

What’s the Solution to Dealing with Furniture Bids?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with office furniture bids. They can be frustrating and time-consuming, which is the last thing you want when you’re in the middle of an office build or remodel.  

With furniture bids, the customer is always the biggest loser. The bidder will do whatever they have to do to provide the lowest bid, even if it means sacrificing quality by quoting cheap furniture from different manufacturers 

The best way to bypass furniture bids is to choose an office furniture provider that educates you, guides you through the entire decision-making process, and provides continuous support and services, even after your furniture is installed.   

Here at Egyptian, we prefer to have open conversations with potential customers, even if they’re unsure about what they’re looking for. We teach them about current design trends and find the best solutions for their space and budget.

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Caitlin Schauster

Written by Caitlin Schauster