Posted On March 1, 2022
A room’s furnishings are so much more than functional.
From desks to decorative items, furniture and fixtures are often the first thing customers notice about a business. High-end movable furniture can set the tone at a resort; art and home furnishings offer comfort to senior living facility residents; and modern details make a college dorm room feel more like home.
The furniture in a hotel suite, the chairs and conference tables in an office, and seating in a restaurant all require a lot of coordination to source, transport and install. For hospitality and construction teams, it’s a lot to keep organized. And if you’re new to FF&E logistics, you might not know how to get started or what you need to do when.
Flat World’s project management team understands FF&E logistics inside and out. They shared their tips for staying on-time and on-budget.
The basics: What is FF&E and when is it used?
FF&E stands for furniture, fixtures and equipment, or the items that are sourced and installed for everything from hotels and senior living facilities to colleges and offices. Basically, it’s all the furniture you see in many commercial buildings. FF&E logistics are involved any time furniture, decorative items or other equipment needs to be moved into a facility.
The process of ordering FF&E, coordinating supply chain transportation and storage, and overseeing installation often takes both in-house teams and third-party logistics partners, as well as down-to-the-minute planning.
The process: FF&E from start to finish
While every project is different, there are a few steps and roles necessary to every FF&E project. Here’s what most projects typically entail:
Design and purchasing
A designer determines the appropriate look for a given project, designs interior spaces and identifies the furniture and fixtures needed for each area. A purchaser does what her title implies and submits purchase orders for all the items included in the designer’s inventory. Depending on the budget, the buyer might source the exact item or a value-engineered, less expensive version. Purchasing can involve reaching out to suppliers and special-ordering custom pieces.
At this step, it’s important to understand each manufacturer’s working timeline. For instance, if a designer fabric needs to travel from a custom shop in France to a furniture manufacturer in Philadelphia where it will be used to upholster furniture, that manufacturing and transit time needs to be factored into the project timeline.
Manufacturing and transportation
Furniture and fixtures often come from several locations around the globe, each with their own fabrication process and schedule.
As you can imagine, transporting the FF&E isn’t always as simple as going from point A to point B. Purchase order tracking, or PO tracking, ensures that orders are fulfilled and purchases get where they need to go.
Understanding the logistics of each manufacturing process and how to get all the pieces to the right place, on time, is where a project management team makes a huge difference. Tracking the various pieces (and their expected arrival dates) can be managed in-house or by an outside partner.
For example, Flat World’s project management team starts monitoring production of FF&E orders as soon as the purchase order is submitted. We also help clients find the best transportation method for their budget and timeline. From there, our technology provides frequent updates to ensure timelines are met, or, in the case of a delay, we can find an alternate solution.
Delivery and warehousing
Each item needed for a construction or remodeling project will need to arrive at its final destination within a specific delivery window. Arriving too early or too late can be disastrous. Furniture that arrives to the job site before it’s needed is more likely to be damaged, stolen or lost, and pieces that arrive too late can set projects behind schedule.
Making sure various supply orders will be ready on time involves detailed planning. That’s where warehousing plays an important role.
A warehouse near the job site can house FF&E until they’re needed, keeping them safe from the elements and out of harm’s way. And while warehousing certainly comes with added cost, it often cancels out the cost of replacing FF&E that gets damaged or lost after getting to the job site too early.
Items arriving early is one thing, but delays can be just as harmful. Late fixtures and furnishings can hold up the entire project, meaning the company must wait even longer to begin serving customers and collecting revenue. When delays happen, an FF&E logistics company can mitigate them by finding faster transportation options or temporary furnishings.
Installation and follow-up
As goods are delivered from manufacturers and warehouses to a job site, an in-house team or logistics partner should keep thorough records, noting any damaged or missing goods and making sure inventory is accurate and up to date. A logistics partner will take responsibility for inspecting and confirming FF&E delivery as each piece is unloaded from the truck. Once items get from the warehouse to the job site in good condition and on time, installation begins. But just like the other stages, there’s a lot to consider.
First is the installation staff. Hiring trained installation teams (vs. moving teams) can minimize the risk of FF&E being improperly installed or damaged—especially for things like electronics and appliances.
Another detail is inspection. The in-house team or logistics partner overseeing the project should conduct pre-installation walkthroughs, reviewing the spaces before installation (room by room and floor by floor) as well as ongoing quality checks and final walkthroughs with an owner’s representative. These inspections can uncover small issues before they become major setbacks.
Once the final walkthrough is complete, there may be short to-do lists—items that need to be replaced, for example, or fixtures still on back order. These lists allow both the logistics partner and the in-house team to ensure every step is completed.
Industry-specific considerations for FF&E and installation
Every FF&E installation is different. For example, an assisted living community has needs that coworking spaces do not. Here are some of the details you may want to consider:
In memory care wards and other senior living communities, minimizing disruption is the most important aspect of FF&E installation. Teams need to complete updates in a resident’s room in an extremely short timeframe—generally under a day.
Clearly, when it comes to these facilities, the procedure is different. Teams might only focus on two to three rooms a day, with overall project delivery and installation spaced out over a longer period of time. Being sensitive to residents’ needs is an important part of the job.
Dormitories are a special case because of the seasonal nature of colleges and universities. While crews may have two to three months to get everything installed, there’s a hard and fast deadline—the date droves of college students are scheduled to arrive. Sports teams may move in earlier than the general student population, and crews might not have elevator access, so getting furniture and fixtures to rooms can be hectic and labor intensive.
Hotels typically renovate two or more floors at a time, even when the hotel is operational. This involves liquidating a floor, completing any general contracting work and installing shiny new FF&E for future guests. Hospitality brands will typically sell off large quantities of movable furniture every five years or so. Getting all of this done on time with limited disruption to customers and hotel operations is key.
Some hotel brands will do a soft goods renovation, only replacing chairs, sofas and bedding on a more frequent basis. Timelines for these projects vary, so the best logistics partners will be nimble and put in extra hours or find unique solutions when necessary.
Each project comes with its own considerations. Restaurants demand a quick turnaround. General contractors and people in the construction industry can benefit from FF&E as well, substituting lumber and building supplies instead of sofas and desks. A reliable logistics solutions company can handle every project’s unique needs.
Ongoing FF&E upkeep
In the FF&E industry, liquidation is common. Depending on the scale of the hotel or commercial space, items may be recycled, resold or simply trashed. No matter the destination, logistics solutions are required for these shipments as well.
Hotel groups, universities and other commercial buildings will typically purchase extra FF&E items and hold on to this “attic stock” to replace pieces that are damaged or require custom fabric or finishes. These items can be stored on-site or at a warehouse owned by the logistics partner so they’re easily available when needed.
Tips for working with an FF&E logistics services partner
The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to use a single project management or logistics services partner who can handle every step of the logistics process. This makes keeping track of all the details easier and minimizes opportunities for things to go wrong.
As you consider the steps involved in your project or search for a logistics partner, keep these tips in mind:
- When it comes to pricing, transparency matters. Make sure you can audit a project bid and you understand the expense structure. A logistics partner that charges a flat rate for all their services should be a red flag. There are several contracted amounts involved in an FF&E logistics project, including warehousing, delivery bills, installation charges and more. You should know exactly what each piece of the accounting puzzle will cost before you finance a project bid so you don’t get blindsided with extra charges. Any additional expenses beyond the initial bid should always come with change orders and a separate invoice.
- Limit liability with one logistics partner. The fewer crews that have access to your project, the less risk—and the claims process will be easier, too. That’s why we recommend logistics partners with a deep bench of skilled project managers and services to take care of every step, end to end.
- Make sure they’re committed to meeting deadlines. When delays occur, will your partner’s crews work overtime or run third shifts? Ask your partner about whether they can install some items in a second phase or provide temporary replacements for items that fall behind.
- Demand background checks and insurance. From stolen items to damaged goods, a lot of issues can pop up at job sites. The best logistics partners will require background checks for their employees, without question. You’ll also want a member of your logistics partner’s team on the job site overseeing things. Be sure to check the true insurance policies behind each company you work with, including the liability limits related to shipping, warehousing and installation. If a provider offers additional insurance coverage, take it.
- The right technology makes all the difference. For businesses concerned about the status of their equipment, the ability to track items as they’re shipped is everything. With the right project management tool, customers can see exactly where their goods are at every step of the FF&E logistics process.
Flat World’s FF&E project management team ensures efficient transportation and installation.
If you have questions about common asset types and industries related to FF&E, or you want help on a specific logistics project, contact us. We’re happy to help.