After three years of difficulties, Europe’s furniture industry has finally returned to growth, with a favourable outlook for 2016. While the industry clearly faces competition from Asia with its significantly lower labour costs, it still has some cards up its sleeve. Update on a rapidly changing sector.
2015, the turnaround year. According to figures published by FNAEM (French federation for furniture and household equipment trade), 2015 was the turnaround year for the French furniture market, after three consecutive years of decline (-3% in 2012, -2.9% in 2013 and -1.5% in 2014). This market is at last back on track to growth, with a 2.4% increase in sales over the entire FY 2015 to reach €9.3 billion. Among the sectors that show the strongest gains are bedding and kitchen furniture. For all that, the market is still some way behind its 2011 peak at €9.8 billion. Elsewhere in Europe, Poland and Spain achieved good performance levels at the start of 2016, according to France’s “Courrier du meuble et de l’habitat” furniture publication. On the other hand, 2016 got off to a difficult start for the industry’s players in Germany, Italy and Great Britain.
The European industry’s strengths. A study conducted by the European Commission in November 2014 on the status of Europe’s furniture market reveals the industry’s strengths and weaknesses. Among the strengths and opportunities: the fact that all segments are present in the EU’s furniture production value chain; its advanced technology; a substantial interior market; and new market opportunities on a global scale (Russia, China and the Gulf Nations). The construction and renovation sectors also represent a considerable source of opportunities. Lastly, changing consumption trends for furniture have brought about fresh demand (subsequent to factors such as the ageing population). In addition, there is increasing demand for high-technology business lines that require advanced knowledge.
The burden of regulation. Among the European industry’s weaknesses, the European Commission’s study highlights the burden of EU regulations concerning products, the environment, and health & safety. Added to that are relatively high labour costs, and the fact that the sector is dominated by SMEs with only limited access to financing. European manufacturers must also contend with competition from Asia, where product quality is improving, and with protectionist measures that continue to exist on the export markets. Moreover, the cost of procuring raw materials compliant with EU norms and standards is on the increase.
To face up to these challenges, European manufacturers must promote the quality of their products in relation to consumers. The measures taken vary by country (see the site of the UEA – European Furniture Manufacturers Federation – which comprises the federations of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom).