When furniture or appliances are described as “commercial grade” it usually conveys a notion of superior durability, but two questions come to mind: 1) Who decides what makes the grade and 2) why isn’t everything made to “commercial grade” standards?Commercial Grade: Regulatory Bodies
As you may suspect, if there’s a “grade” then that means there must be someone to assign it; some entity that decides who makes the grade, so to speak. And, you’d be right: America is a highly regulated market economy and when it comes to the things you buy there is very little that isn’t weighed, measured and evaluated by some organization or another.Sometimes these evaluations are mandated by the state or federal government, and other times manufacturers will independently seek out third-party certification that boosts their products’ public profile.Either way, manufacturers must meet certain standards to receive certain grades, which is how we arrive at the Business + Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA)
and “commercial grade” furniture.BIFMA: Establishing Commercial Furniture Standards
The BIFMA is a nonprofit trade association that has been developing and setting standards for commercial furniture
since 1973. It takes on a host of responsibilities with regard to standards development, environmental sustainability and industry research, and offers a yardstick for manufacturers who want to measure, maintain and improve product quality.The BIFMA is a clearinghouse for industry data, which helps it establish standards as well as provide valuable information to its members, including how to meet those standards. This is how many non-governmental standards developers work, including the American National Standards Institute
and American Society for Testing and Materials
, both of which oversee not only manufacturers but how other associations conduct their standards testing (like the BIFMA).These and other organizations make up a constellation of regulatory agencies, with some working together and others competing with one another. This is important to note, because at the end of the day creating and monitoring standards is a business, and if it's not a government agency then someone besides the taxpayer has to foot the bill.So, Why Buy Commercial Furniture?
The short answer is because standards are good
. Other consumer advocacy groups may strive to protect your general welfare as a furniture shopper, but the BIFMA has established specific industrywide standards that manufacturers have to meet if they want the association’s stamp of approval.But, who cares if the BIFMA says your commercial sofa
meets its “commercial grade” criteria? Maybe no one, but it’s no small comfort to know that someone besides the manufacturer is willing to vet the quality of the merchandise it sells.In the case of commercial furniture, these standards guarantee durability in the face of rough, uncaring treatment in unfriendly environments, and if that’s an important factor for you then certification by the BIFMA or some other association may bring added benefit and peace of mind to your furniture purchase.