The high cost of office furniture deliveries in Central London

By Crispin Maby

We’re all used to paying department stores very little, or more often than not nothing at all, to deliver a piece of furniture to our homes. But an office furniture supplier will often charge upwards of £100 to deliver a single item of office furniture to a Central London office. So why?

If offering free deliveries, the department store will almost certainly have factored in some (or all) of the cost of delivery into their sale price, particularly on the bulkier items that are almost always delivered rather than collected by the customer. So you’re still paying for it, its just that its not obviously itemised as a separate cost.  They will have a lorry with driver and helper who will do scheduled drops on set days within the local area of the store or local distribution centre and the home owner will be informed that their item will turn up at a non-specified time on a given day.  This makes it cost effective because they will be making multiple drop-offs within a defined local area, and in a sequence or route that maximises the efficiency of their time. They might send out smaller items via a national parcel delivery service such as DHL, DPD, Tuffnells etc, but these carriers operate on exactly the same basis with no fixed delivery time to work to so that they can work to their own agenda and do as many deliveries as possible within a day.  But these item(s) must be sufficiently small and light that they can be handled by one person (so no need for a second person on the van to help carry things). Also, the item is delivered only as far as your door, not inside and up the stairs, and generally speaking, within a residential area the driver can usually park-up relatively close to your residence.

Delivering office furniture to Central London is different. More often than not, the customer wants the items delivered to their floor, not just to the front entrance of the building. The reason for this is twofold; firstly their staff are busy and should not have to take time out humping large items up and down the stairs or in and out of lifts, and secondly, a health and safety consideration whereby they don’t want their office workers lifting heavy objects for the risk of injury. Moreover, most companies require and expect the furniture items, be they desks, chairs or cupboards, to be assembled by the delivery men and all the cardboard and plastic packaging taken away and disposed of. The net result is that the office furniture supplier most often has to send along a van with 2 strong men and a set of screwdrivers, spanners and anything else they require to do the job. If they’re lucky, they find a parking spot on a yellow line directly outside your office and they manage to get everything offloaded, into the office and assembled within the 20 minutes or so the traffic warden will allow them before issuing a parking ticket, but often they will not be permitted to even stop outside the building and will have to park many yards away, and even then, go and find a pay-by-phone parking bay to legally park in whilst they are doing the furniture assembly.   This, coupled with the fact that there are 2 men plus parking, fuel, congestion charge and so on, drives up the cost.

But that’s not all. There’s the issue of timing, and it is often the case that it is simply not acceptable for the customer to have the furniture turn up at a non-specific time during the day. It might be that the room into which it is being installed is being used for client meetings, or that the building manager does not allow large items to be carried through the building in at certain times of the day, or simply that the area needs to be prepared before the furniture is installed. So a specific time has to be booked, which means that the supplier now has to send a van and 2 men into London solely for one timed delivery and installation, and quite often the date and the timing means that this is the only reason for the journey because they are unable to spread the costs between other deliveries that they might otherwise have also been making. As such, the costs rocket and it is not uncommon to pay around £300 or more just to have a couple of desks delivered and installed (quite possibly doubling the cost of the initial purchase).  And that’s the problem.  It often costs just as much to deliver and install a single small item as it might to do the same with a small suite of office furniture.  And the reason is because this is roughly what it costs to send 2 men and a van into the centre of London because regardless of how much work they have to do, and if there isn’t anything else for them to go onto afterwards, we still have to pay them a days wages, and it still costs the same amount in fuel, congestion charge and, to a certain extent, parking.

The office furniture suppliers are not being unreasonable. Quite the contrary, I believe that most of them pass on the cost of deliveries and installations at cost price to their customers. After all, they all need to be as competitive as possible in order to secure the business in the first place. These costs can be reduced or even eliminated, but to do so the business customer needs to agree to a similar service as offered by department stores to home owners for home deliveries, but in order to do so they need to be prepared to be very flexible on delivery dates and times,  and they need to be prepared to do a bit of DIY furniture assembly!

Key points for negotiating reduced costs on office furniture deliveries:

  1. Be very flexible on delivery dates and fit in with the supplier’s scheduled runs to your area.
  2. Be very flexible on delivery time. If the supplier can fit your deliver in with others to your area, the costs can be shared between yourselves and others.
  3. Agree to taking the items from the van or lorry and carrying them into the office yourselves (this is often referred to kerbside or tailgate delivery).
  4. Agree to assemble the furniture yourselves

This is not to say that there won’t be charges if you follow all of the above, and it’s not to say that you would necessarily pay £300 or more if you didn’t, but you can be sure that the charges would normally be a lot less if you don’t mind being flexible and also taking some of the workload off the delivery driver.

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