The furniture manufacturing industry has always been influenced by trends – they come and go, and change with time in a way that cannot always be predicted even with the best of analytics. As times have changed, so have buyers, workers, technology and the market in general. Such a change in the order of things all but demands a new set of trends to enter in. In the United States alone, for instance, the demand for furniture is slated to reach $68.8 billion by 2022, as opposed to $60.5 billion in 2017.
This proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the wants, needs, and methods of those who want to buy furniture have changed a lot in the last few years. Not only do more people need to buy furniture, but they also have requirements that are very different from their predecessors. In the middle of so many changes, how can furniture manufacturers make sure that their business stays on the top? Here are 10 key trends that can help industry professionals shape their systems to keep up with changing times.
#1. The Success Of Ecommerce
Ecommerce as we know it is not foreign to the furniture industry. However, what makes it different today is that online retailing is now more popular than ever. A far cry from the “Amazon effect” when furniture was curated through popular e-commerce giants, there are now personalized online ecomm stores dedicated to selling original pieces within a certain niche.
Examples that come to mind include Joss & Maine, Joybird, Wayfair, Burrow, BenchMade Modern, and Article. These websites have several value-added features such as complete price-lists and 3D imaging and offer buyers great convenience. These factors make them super-popular. People are willing to buy these online products, even if they cannot actually see and feel the furniture until they are actually delivered. With e-commerce sales accounting for around 16.4 percent of global sales, it is safe to say that this trend is here to stay
How does this affect the furniture manufacturing industry? With global e-commerce sales expected to reach at least $6.5 trillion by 2023, online stores are no longer an afterthought, or a compliment to a physical store – it is one of the key ways to market better and keep the sales figures up. This makes it important for furniture makers, especially traditional ones, to create a thriving e-commerce platform that showcases their offerings.
Furniture manufacturing industry professionals must invest the time, money and resources required to create an online store, and see to it that it engages a steady stream of visitors and helps create a regular customer base. Those with existing e-commerce stores can introduce further innovation that blends online and offline. This includes store pickup or virtual experience images that allow viewers to visualize their chosen furniture in their own room via photorealistic 3D rendered images.
#2. The Rise In Demand Of Sustainable Furniture
According to a Hartman Group report, 84% of the population falls within the category of “World of Sustainability” This shows that buyers are now caring more about the environment and trying to find a “middle path” by shifting towards purchasing products that are more sustainable. Sustainable furniture is manufactured from recycled elements and easily biodegradable woods such as bamboo and acacia.
The most popular type of furniture in this regard, however, is reclaimed wood. This wood is generally sourced from old, abandoned and to-be-demolished structures. Not only are furniture made with such wood sustainable, their materials are also robust, and having withered wear and tear for a while, do not usually get chipped or change appearance with the weather. They are also appealing in terms of design since they often have a history. Many like the idea of their coffee table being the part of a merchant ship decades ago. And for all the benefits they offer, they come at a price that is much lower than freshly-manufactured counterparts.
How does this affect the furniture manufacturing industry? As buyers are shifting towards more eco-friendly furniture, retailers too must make it a point to adapt to this mindset. No matter how smart or attractive the furniture may be, it will not be popular if it is not made without keeping sustainability in mind. This is why many designers are paying personal attention to how they can source sustainable materials and fashion them into attractive furniture items.
Some brands have even made a name for themselves in this area. Existing retailers in the industry such as Crate & Barrel are already making their mark by making furniture frames that are Forest Stewardship Council-certified. Also present are a few other brands that are devoted to exclusively making sustainable furniture. This includes Room and Board, which manufactures its furniture with wood that is locally-sourced and sustainable, and Pottery Barn, which extensively uses reclaimed wood for its product.
#3. The Increased Role of Social Media In Furniture Shopping
Social shopping is being used more than ever before. Given how shopping has become more personalized to the user yet universal in terms of platform, social media will be playing a vital role in the buying and selling of furniture. We’re already seeing social media platforms adjusting to the trend. Both Facebook and Instagram double as e-commerce platforms that allow buying manufactured furniture from their feeds directly. Instagram even launched a “Checkout on Instagram” dedicated to sharing and shopping without going to a third-party app or website.
Another platform that has risen here is Pinterest, which has proven itself to be extremely popular among buyers. It has a visual search feature, which matches pinned images with those in its library. Using machine learning, Pinterest then finds direct links to the furniture retailer’s website, thus saving the buyer several hours to try to find the furniture manually. Last but not the least, the rise of social media “influencers” who promote certain brands and products have also become very commonplace. These influencers greatly impact the choices of buyers.
What does this mean for the furniture manufacturing industry? Social media pages are no longer static outlets that compliment the website or the store. It is now its own shopping platform. This means that without a doubt that furniture manufacturers will have to get social. Manufacturers in the furniture industry without social media presence must flesh out a social media strategy. Even a simple one without too many bells and whistles will allow them to get their business’ social activities off the ground, while not compromising on budget and operations.
Those who do have social media pages must raise the bar higher and set themselves up to be able to receive and handle direct social media orders. Emphasis must be on high-quality images. They can even set up realistic 3D images of their product, that will allow customers to view their coveted furniture as though it were real. Finally, retailers should also market to key social media influencers in the industry who can help promote their product.
#4. The Use Of CGI For Product Imagery
With more people browsing for their furniture online, they want to have the most authentic information possible. Simply having a well-written description and a list of specifications do not work here – customers have a need to understand what exactly it is that they are paying for. In the earlier days, high-quality product photography would serve this purpose, but now this has all but waned away. In a bid to attract visitors and entice them to buy their product, furniture manufacturing industry professionals are now using CGI pictures.
These lifelike photos can be viewed from all angles and allow shoppers to overlay images in their real-world through their tablets and smartphones. This gives customers a sense of ownership and a deep level of personalized connection with the products they view – something that even the most high-quality photographs cannot achieve. While this is still a relatively new practice, it is gaining speed very fast, and will soon be at the forefront of product imagery.
What does this mean for the furniture manufacturing industry? According to a report by the CXL institute, it takes customers an approximate time of .05 seconds to form their opinion on a website. Any furniture manufacturer in this position would want to attract and retain as many as they can. In an industry that is extremely visually-oriented as furniture, the only practical way to do things is to use CGI instead of product photography. These images can be easily adjusted by 3D artists according to any concept, not to mention a 360-degree mode and 3D animation, which are even more dynamic than 2D images.
CGI services also cost less than traditional photography and can easily be integrated into websites and social media platforms, which makes marketing more standard. Manufacturers should make sure to have the images of their products showcased in a white-background mode and a lifestyle mode. The former highlights the product features, while the latter gives a preview of the furniture in a real setting.
#5. Changing Lifestyles And Its Demands
In the last few years, the percentage of renters has increased sharply. According to a Pew Research Center report, over 36.6% of breadwinners lived in rented homes as of 2016 – the highest percentage since 1965. There are several reasons for this change, most of which are related to the rise of millennials becoming the larger percentage of the active workforce. They have a new and different set of challenges compared to their previous generations, which includes (but is not limited to) the rise in home prices, student debts, and getting married at a later age.
More rentals mean a rise in demand for a very specific type of furniture – both from landlords and renters. While landlords are looking for cheaper furniture, renters are generally looking for furniture that is compact, lightweight, easy to handle and move, and lighter on the wallet. Many landlords and tenants are even open to the idea of renting manufactured furniture for larger amounts of time, as opposed to owning them.
How does this affect the furniture manufacturing industry? Given the large-scale decline of “one-and-done” type heavy furniture, manufacturers should ensure to diversify their line of products and offer a separate line of furniture that fulfills the burgeoning demands of millennial renters. Such furniture is generally characterized by functionality and budget. Manufacturers should understand that the key, here, is to appeal to the psychology of landlords and renters.
Manufacturers can also create long-term partnerships with housing complexes, apartments, and others involved with the real estate industry such as furniture rental companies and rent-to-own businesses such as Aaron’s Inc and Rent-A-Center. While this does mean that retailers have to invest in innovation and new designs, the effort will be worth it when it will bring in revenue. In fact, businesses should see it as yet another opportunity to expand their portfolio, and thus promote their brand.
#6. Changing Demography of the Workforce
With more and more millennials and Gen Z members coming to the forefront of the population, it isn’t just lifestyle and housing choices that are experiencing a demographic shift. This is especially true when it comes to jobs in the furniture manufacturing industry. With those in the older generations retiring in large numbers, Millenials and Gen Zs are taking over the bulk of the manpower used in manufacturing companies.
Given their different lifestyle, they have a different set of skills and priorities and are not particularly wooed by the factors that appeal to older generations. For instance, the idea of owning their home before they are 30, or having a hefty pension plan carries a lesser appeal to them, as opposed to having a second master’s degree. Millennials and Gen Z workers prioritize their personal development and are not impressed if the furniture manufacturers they work for do not share their viewpoint.
How does this affect the furniture manufacturing industry? Even with the amount of automation and robotics present today, a factory is only as good as its workers. This makes investing in the workers a high priority for furniture manufacturers to survive. Businesses should start by accepting that these younger workers were brought up in a different world, and therefore have a different mindset. Industry professionals must conduct market research and find out the wants and needs of younger vs. older workers, then devise a plan to balance their priorities with their goals. For instance, many younger workers are often pursuing courses on the side – sponsoring them or even helping them out with such coursework as a reward can be a great way to appeal to them and have them continue working with dedication.
#7. Reducing A Looming Skills Gap
One of the biggest challenges that the furniture manufacturing industry is currently facing is a looming skills gap. While the technology and machinery involved in manufacturing furniture have advanced in leaps and bounds, the workforce to control and monitor them hasn’t quite got up to speed. Older workers usually lack the technical training and knowhow of sophisticated manufacturing equipment such as 3D printers, CNC machines, and robotic systems. Most of them being close to retirement already, choose to retire rather than “take risks” with said complications.
Meanwhile, the younger workers do have the digital skills and the ability to understand such equipment but tend to lack a solid STEM background that could help them fully realize their potential in the industry and work to the best of their abilities. If allowed to foster, this skills gap will soon create a scenario where manufacturing units will be in a severe dearth of skilled and able workers.
How does this affect the furniture manufacturing industry? If seen with the correct perspective, this alleged “gap” for manufacturers is actually a great opportunity. No matter what the age group, education, when done right, enlightens people and brings them together. For instance, if manufacturers can start specialized workplace courses for older workers that demonstrate how new machinery can actually contribute to lesser stress and work-related injuries. They would choose to learn than run away.
At the same time, furniture manufacturers can also create opportunities for the younger generations to learn industry-relevant STEM skills from the get-go by creating Makerspaces in schools, colleges, and universities. These are places where students (both children and adults) learn and work on a project on their own, and therefore, also double-up as great recruitment platforms to hire those with talent and potential.
#8. Manufacturing-As-A-Service (MaaS)
When it comes to actual sales of furniture, furniture manufacturers have traditionally relied on an indirect B2B model. This model works by having these manufacturers sell their products to distributors, who would then sell the products to customers. Now, however, this is slowly giving way to a model that is based on “Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS)”. Just as how SaaS works for software companies. MaaS helps furniture manufacturers create direct relations with the end customer.
For instance, there is a complex full of rental properties that require home furniture. In the earlier days, the landlord would have to buy from their local furniture store. Now, however, they have the option to contact the manufacturer directly, create a long-term partnership, and buy (or even rent) in bulk. This allows furniture makers to directly sell their capabilities (i.e. manufacturing) as a service (i.e. something that the customer directly pays them for).
What does this mean for the furniture manufacturing industry? In today’s internet-powered, profit-driven world, entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for a business model that can maximize gains for both the producer and the consumer. MaaS helps fulfill this in a unique way. By eliminating the retailer, the model helps manufacturers price their furniture at a rate that is higher than their B2B rates, but lower than what retailers would offer to customers.
This combined with the fact that manufacturers can fulfill bulk demands faster when they are contacted directly makes for a solid services-based model. This will motivate more and more customers to sign up to work directly with the manufacturing industry. MaaS is lucrative for sure – even the e-commerce giant Amazon has started its own line of furniture that is sold under its own, exclusive brand.
#9. The Rise Of Machine Learning and Robotics
Although the idea of automation has been around for a while, it has so far been there as a formality, or as one says “automation for automation’s sake.” With the success of machine learning and robotics, however, this trend is rapidly changing. The furniture manufacturing industry is increasingly using tools that are being created with the help of these technologies.
Take robots for instance – they have evolved a lot due to artificial intelligence, now have never-seen-before skills, such as skill learning and visual recognition. This allows them to perform various complex tasks in a shorter time frame. Robots are now being used at an increasing rate in “man and machine” collaborations called “co-bots.” Such an arrangement, which pairs a human worker with a robot helps increase efficiency by allowing the robot to do the heavy lifting tasks such as data collection and programming, while the human beings can focus on the more creative aspects.
What does this mean for the furniture manufacturing industry? Conspiracy theories and science fiction aside, robotics and machine learning are key technologies for manufacturers to help grow their production sustainably. With the power of these technologies, business owners can achieve the biggest enterprise goals – making decisions faster, increasing the rate of improvement and innovation, streamlining operations, and of course, bringing the cost of manufacturing under control. With the demands rising higher and competition getting tougher by the day, relying exclusively on manpower is impossible. At the same time, factories are not in a position to run 100% on automation. Manufacturing units must, therefore, adopt to integrate robots in a way that helps them sustainably improve their production.
#10. Rise In The Need For Customised Products
Gone are the days of Henry Ford when customers could have their car in any color, “so long as it was black.” In an age when the number of choices for a single product is endless, customers are spoilt for choice. A single iteration of a product, therefore, is never enough. People are always on the lookout for new and innovative customizations. These may come in the form of colors, materials, and even value-added features. If customers do not see much customization in a product, they tend to move on to other products and even other companies.
Bolia furniture is one of the best examples of this trend in the furniture industry right now. While their catalog offerings are fairly limited, they have a wide range of customization offers. Every item on their website can be customized in a variety of options. This makes for multiple iterations of the same basic style, both in terms of the color and the material used. Being able to make these choices and order them gives customers a level of satisfaction like no other.
What does this mean for the furniture manufacturing industry? No doubt, furniture manufacturers today face an increased level of complexity when it comes to production. On the one hand, they need to create as many customizations as possible. On the other, they have their own budgets that need to be maintained and operations that need to be kept organized. Manufacturing units have to make sure that they do not over-burden their supply chains, operation teams, and floor managers. A key way to achieve this is by ordering rapid site assessments.
These assessments are generally made by third-party contractors who compare a furniture manufacturing unit’s capabilities with its demands. They then put forward their recommendations. For instance, if they find a particular material unsustainable, they may suggest changing the material handling process to something more suitable. At the end of the day, the aim is to keep the industry’s production systems smooth and prevent them from shutting down while trying to keep up with a never-ending demand for customization.
Gone are the days when the furniture manufacturing industry was all about fulfilling orders. In an age when demands and the resulting competition is getting tougher by-the-hour, only the most inventive manufacturing units can keep their business on track. It is therefore important for them to tailor their manufacturing systems and processes in time, and incorporate key innovations that can help them be efficient whilst staying as lean as possible. By following the above-mentioned top trends and updating their systems accordingly, furniture manufacturing industry professionals can easily pivot their business. This will allow them to ensure that they continue to thrive in the market.
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