Neocon celebrated 30 years at the Merchandise Mart last weekend, June 10-12, 2019. The annual event coincided with a pivotal time in the furniture market. The market is flat or below the baseline for the overall GDP and innovation is lacking in even the newest offerings. Seemingly, it’s all been done before.
Many of the showrooms exhibited loose offerings of casual and transitional space furnishings. There were no “stars” of the show and more of the same from previous years.
All companies, large, medium and small need to listen to their design leadership and then push back on strategy, new products and enhancements for existing product offerings. The voice of product and seating design was turned down to a whisper at the show. Design, marketing, engineering, finance, and manufacturing should all have an equal place and voice on big decisions. But, it was evident that everyone was in a risk management mode; few, if any bold design moves were shown in the spaces I explored. The balance of all functional areas in a company is easy to talk about but tough to apply given the pace of competition and pricing pressures in the market.
Over the next few weeks, leadership teams will shake off the fatigue from the show, recharge with brief vacations and then get back to work. Step one should be a collective, long look in the mirror and open exploration of real-world problems. We don’t need another sectional or coffee table to decorate our offices or universities. We do need to continually focus on ergonomics, user interface, privacy, collaboration and…well, the list goes on.
“Are we working on the right problems?”
Restructuring the Furniture Industry For Today’s Market
It’s a great time to be a consumer of products, goods, and services. We have all been spoiled by content at our fingertips and next day (or next hour) delivery of almost anything we can imagine or desire. Amazon and DoorDash are here to stay.
This means that all furniture brands need to focus on ease of order, personalization of products or specials, accelerated delivery, quick set up and immediate support for questions about products. To raise the bar even further, order quantities should be one or a few units.
The large players in the market are set up to push big orders through the system and old habits will take a long time to change. Small, innovative companies do not have the capital to invest in advanced concepts or compete for big accounts. This leaves the mid-sized companies in a great position to take market share while partnering with innovative, agile startups.
Taking Notes from History
We experience this set of circumstances in the “new mobility” space. Global OEMs and large Tier One suppliers are partnering with boutique design and engineering firms to move quickly from research into ideation and through concept development before committing big money to manufacturing plants and fixed labor costs.
The furniture market can be compared to the movie industry where old school studios owned the resources and were vertically integrated. This allowed the studio almost total control of the process and investments. The entertainment industry is known for cost overruns and weak performance at the box office. Something has been changing. Streaming content services and almost unlimited bandwidth have provided power to the consumer of digital content, movies, music, and apps. The furniture market can learn from this history and apply key lessons to pivot to offer the customer choice, short delivery times and excellent support.
Lastly, vertical markets are continuing to converge. The built environment (vehicle, office, university or patient room), user interface and human factors will continue to be key areas of focus for any marketing, design and engineering team. Any business of any scale needs to deliver excellent solutions to the consumer at the right price point.
Interested in learning more about Fredricks Design’s ideas for the future of the furniture industry? Please contact us to arrange a detailed discussion about our industry insights. We would love to learn more about your upcoming projects in the office, healthcare, and educational environments.