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.
Retail salespeople do not always do a good job of distinguishing between U.S. made Flexsteel furniture and the imported Latitude models.
Latitudes seems to account for a disproportionate share of the total complaints. But it is not the only thing to watch out for.
It is my impression that most customer complaints and problems involve three specific areas:
1) Bonded leather fabrics (This includes Flexsteel's Nuvo leather fabrics.)
2) Reclining sofas and sectionals (individual recliners seem to have fewer problems and are easier to repair.)
3) The Made in China Latitudes line.
If you can avoid heavy reclining furniture, bonded leather and Chinese made products there is a good chance you will be very happy with your Flexsteel furniture.
The three 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.
20 years ago there were thousands of small and mid sized furniture retailers across the U.S. 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 25 furniture retailers all exceed $1 billion in sales and control 75% of total U.S. furniture sales.
Buyers for these huge retail chains hold tremendous power and encourage cut throat competition. Relatively few manufacturers are large enough to supply the bigger chains.
Major furniture manufacturers such as Flexsteel are all competing for floor space in the few remaining furniture mega-stores.
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 those parts 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.
Tight, non-removable cushions also dramatically reduce the cost of fabric. This is especially critical with more expensive high performance fabrics and genuine leather.
Plywood frames have mostly replaced solid hardwood for mass produced furniture. They can be produced far more efficiently and generate far less waste.
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 and Sunbrella cost substantially more than the old microfibers that dominated mid priced upholstery 20 years ago.
Other high performance fabrics (including most of the brands using 100% olefin fibers) are closer in price to the old Microfibers.
Another change in fabric preferences has caused thousands of problems and complaints throughout the furniture industry --Bonded leather.
Bonded leather problems are particularly acute with motion (reclining) furniture.
The majority of reclining furniture is purchased with either leather, bonded leather or faux leather. Click here to see the difference between these different materials.
Bonded leather is a weak material. It does not have the durability of genuine leather made from hides.
For more information about bonded leathers check out my article What are the Pros and Cons of Bonded Leather Furniture?.
When you combine flimsy bonded leather with reclining furniture you multiply your chances for potential problems.
The extra movement that occurs on reclining furniture adds additional strain to an already fragile material.
Large reclining sofas and sectionals are extremely heavy. They put a lot of strain on the furniture's frame. Stationary sofa frames get far less abuse from normal use.
Mechanisms can be pushed out of alignment. This frequently happens during shipping. Heavy use or moving furniture within the home can also cause mechanism malfunctions.
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, 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 the imported products to include the Blue Steel Spring.
It is easy to tell whether your Latitude furniture includes the blue steel spring. Turn the piece over to see the bottom.
If there is no fabric dust cover you will be able to see the wide blue steel spring. If there is a dust cover hiding the sofa's insides the blue spring is not there.
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 sells a lot of genuine leather. They have multiple grades which vary widely in price and quality.
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 I sold approximately $15 million of Flexsteel furniture to the U.S. military and various federal government agencies.