How good is a Flexsteel sofa?
Saturday, February 2, 2019
Written by Jeff Frank
Flexsteel is an American manufacturer that has been producing mid-priced upholstered seating for more than 100 years.
The company has multiple U.S. factories.
- Flexsteel's Latitudes line is manufactured in China.
- Flexsteel's South Haven line is manufactured in Mexico.
Retail salespeople do not always do a good job of distinguishing between U.S. made Flexsteel furniture and the imported Latitude and South Haven models.
- Latitudes seems to account for a disproportionate share of the total complaints.
- The Mexican made South Haven line is lower in quality than the Chinese made Latitudes line, according to some Flexsteel retailers I have spoken with.
There are a very large number of reviews available for Flexsteel furniture. About 80% of the reviews are 1 or 2 stars.
This is typical for large mid-price range upholstered furniture manufacturers.
- You will find similar large percentages of negative reviews for most of Flexsteel's American made competitors.
- Competing imported brands generally have even worse reviews.
The majority of Flexsteel's customer complaints and problems seem to involve their reclining furniture products, especially the larger sofas and sectionals.
Specific problems common to reclining furniture include:
- Use of 1.8 density foam for seat cushions. This foam has an average lifespan of about 3 years before beginning to lose its resilience and comfort. //
- Some Flexsteel models use 2.0 density foam, which adds about a year to the average lifespan.//
- Non-removable seat cushions. The vast majority of mid-priced mass produced reclining furniture is currently made with non-removable seat cushions.
- When the seat cushion foam wears out after just a few years, non-removable seat cushions cannot be easily repaired or replaced.
- Worn out seat cushions are one of the leading causes for complaints about mid-priced seating.
- When the cushions are removable this can be fixed at a modest cost. When the cushions are not removable, the problem cannot be fixed.
- Bonded leather fabrics. There have been thousands of complaints about bonded leather in the decade since this material became popular (particularly for reclining furniture.)
- Almost all of these complaints involve "peeling" bonded leather.
- Real top grain leather (made from hides) does not peel.
- 100% polyurethane and vinyl faux leathers do not peel.
- Leather match, which combines "corrected" top grain leather (on the parts you touch) with a matching vinyl on the parts you do not touch, does not peel.
- All of these alternatives are more durable than bonded leather. They can be just as comfortable and and they do not cost any more.
- Flexsteel's Nuvo leather fabric is a bonded leather. It should be avoided.
- Avoid moving reclining furniture. The larger pieces (sofas and sectionals) are extremely heavy, combined with frames that are inherently weaker than non-reclining upholstered furniture.
- Each time you move reclining furniture (in shipping, delivery and in your home) you increase the chances of creating a problem with the frame or the mechanisms. This is less of a problem with individual reclining chairs.
The problem areas cited above are not just for Flexsteel. They apply to most low and mid-priced mass produced upholstered furniture.
There are many Flexsteel reviews in which customers state that they have owned their Flexsteel furniture for 15 - 25 years or more. They are very happy and plan to buy Flexsteel again in the future.
Flexsteel furniture purchased today is not the same. It should not be expected to last as long as Flexsteel furniture made 15 years ago.
This is not just a Flexsteel problem. It is true for virtually all mid-priced upholstered furniture manufacturers.
A recent furniture industry survey indicated that most people expect their new sofa to last 3 - 5 years. The same survey question asked 15 years ago resulted in a majority expecting their furniture to last 7 - 10 years.
There is a very good reason why upholstered furniture doesn't hold up as well as it used to.
30 years ago there were thousands of small and mid sized furniture retailers across the U.S.
- At that time, annual sales of $50 million were sufficient for a retail chain to be one of the Top 50 furniture retailers in the country.
- Almost nobody sold over $100 million.
Today over 90% of those smaller retailers are gone.
- The Top 100 furniture retailers control half of total U.S. furniture sales.
- Two dozen mega retailers have annual sales exceeding $1 billion.
Buyers for these huge retail chains hold tremendous power and encourage cut throat competition.
- Only a small number of furniture manufacturers are large enough to supply the bigger chains.
- Large furniture manufacturers, such as Flexsteel, are all competing for limited floor space in the stores controlled by the few dominant retailers.
Furniture discounts and sale prices are the #1 reason most consumers cite for their decision to purchase.
As a result, the buyers for the retail chains are continually trying to force prices down.
- Manufacturers respond by reducing production and material costs.
- Everything, especially parts and materials that cannot be seen, is subject to cost cutting.
- Lowering labor costs has become a vital competitive strategy.
Customers often complain that all furniture seems to look the same. There is a lot of truth to this perception.
Current styling is largely dictated by what can be manufactured most efficiently by low paid workers with minimal skills.
Everything has become simplified to reduce the need for expensive skilled workers.
- Fabrics and foam are now cut by computer to increase efficiency and reduce waste.
- Covers are pre-sewn and "socked on" to eliminate time consuming upholstering that requires more skill.
- Cheaper foam will last long enough to satisfy the warranty. Using tight (non removable) cushions also reduces the amount of foam required.
- Non-removable cushions also dramatically reduce the cost of fabric. This is especially critical with more expensive high performance fabrics and genuine leather.
- Plywood (and engineered wood) have replaced solid hardwood frames for mass produced furniture. Huge computerized CNC Routers can produce massive numbers of frames far more efficiently.
One exception to the emphasis on cost reduction has been the growth of high performance fabrics over the past decade.
- High performance fabrics combine heavy-duty durability with built in permanent stain resistance technology.
- Many (but not all) of these high performance fabrics, including Crypton, Sunbrella and Bella-Dura cost substantially more than the old microfibers that dominated mid priced upholstery until recently.
- Other high performance fabric brands (including Revolution and LiveSmart) are closer in price to the old microfibers they are rapidly replacing.
The majority of reclining furniture is purchased with either leather, bonded leather, faux leather or leather match. Click here to see the difference between these different materials.
Flexsteel’s quality compares favorably with other similarly priced motion furniture manufacturers. But you can expect a higher rate of problems with the reclining furniture category.
Flexsteel pays more attention to the internal quality of its furniture than many of its competitors.
The blue steel spring foundation gave the company its name more than 100 years ago. It is very comfortable and may be the strongest, longest lasting spring foundation ever made.*
* In a 1980s government contract dispute (in which I was a participant), a federal court ruled that Flexsteel's blue steel spring foundation was "as good or better" than 8 way hand tied foundations.
The blue steel spring is far more costly than the standard sinuous wire springs found in most competitively priced furniture.
At one time the Latitudes line did not include the blue steel spring. Flexsteel has updated its imported products to include the Blue Steel Spring.
Unfortunately the Latitude line still seems to have a significantly higher rate of complaints than domestically made Flexsteel furniture. There are many other parts that will wear out long before the springs.
Flexsteel is also one of the largest manufacturers of sofas and sleepers for RVs and other recreational vehicles.
- Most of this RV furniture is manufactured in the U.S.
- In general RV furniture has a lower level of quality than similarly priced residential furniture.
- One reason for this is the added dealer installation costs. Another is that there are very few manufacturers making RV furniture. And it is usually available only through a limited number of RV dealers.
- Flexsteel's quality is generally considered to be at the upper end of the RV furniture marketplace.
Additional Note - Flexsteel was one of my clients from 1984 - 1989.
- During that period, as a partner in a Government contract consulting firm, I sold approximately $15 million of Flexsteel furniture to the U.S. military and various federal government agencies.
- In addition I was a buyer for a large furniture retailer from 1977 - 1984. We purchased over $1 million of Flexsteel furniture annually.