I just moved into a new office and I need office furniture. A quick review of Craigslist revealed a decent surplus of Aeron chairs (the chair of start-up culture), usually selling for around 50% of retail. The ready availability of quality office furniture in the Bay Area got me to thinking – could the inventory of used office furniture be a good indicator of US economic health?
To test this theory, I looked at two charts in Google: the first, the Dow Industrial Average (from Google Finance) and the second, what I will call the “Aeron Economic Health Indicator” from Google Insight – this looks at the relative volume of searches for “Aeron Chair” in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2005 to present. I’m not a great graphics guy, so I basically just lined up the two charts together. Here’s the results (and, um, actually, the first chart is the Aeron and the second chart is the Dow, sorry for the confusion):
The data from the Dow is pretty straight-forward – everything was hunky-dory until the end of 2007, when panic set in, resulted in a massive drop until early 2009. The Aeron Index, however, shows two dips – one in the middle of 2005, and the other in early 2007. Since then, the data has straight-lined. Perhaps this suggests that the actions of start-ups in Silicon Valley are the “canary in a coalmine” for the rest of the economy. Once we see an uplift in searches for Aerons, perhaps only then will we really be able to say that we are emerging from this recession?
It bears mentioning, of course, that the Aeron – as a consumer product – is impacted by non-macro-economic factors. In this case, most crucially, the decline in popularity of a 14 year old chair (and Herman Miller has released newer and arguably better chairs in recent years). So you might be able to argue that the fact that the Aeron is flatlining is in fact an indicator of economic health – one would expect an aging chair to see a decline in searches.
Anyway, it’s a bit of silly post, I know, but I thought it was a neat comparison chart!