Service overtakes furniture: contract opens new horizons

The contract-furniture sector is playing an increasingly relevant role in the furniture industry as a while, while there is a growing trend towards going above and beyond the confines of a simple supply service. Contract is placing an emphasis on taking responsibility for the entire order, meaning that designing, manufacturing and delivering is no longer enough. Companies need to broaden their horizons to take into account the overall management of a whole series of services and tasks revolving around the furniture industry: from providing support in space design to coordinating subcontractors involved in the order and even dealing with bureaucratic and logistic requirements. From time to time, installations may throw up projects and settings with completely different functions: a hotel, a hospital, a school, a military garrison. The essential thing is to participate in the creation of a complete, unique work – not just the so-called made-to-measure solution, then, but rather one that sees companies make an active contribution and truly share in the project with the client.

Contract is, in fact, an all-encompassing sector in the world of furnishings, because it is relevant to all areas of production: soft furniture, bedrooms, chairs, lamps, accessories for the office and the bathroom, kitchen furniture and outdoor living. As was the case for the entire furniture industry, in 2008 contract also suffered the damaging consequences of the crisis. But despite this, between 2007 and 2011, contract-furniture production demonstrated greater resilience to the credit crunch and economic downturn than the industry as a whole. The sector was able to contain the decline thanks most of all to the agreement of long-term projects in the years before the crisis. Various factors dictate European demand in the sector. After the most difficult years of the crisis, it was estimated that 27% of contract furniture was purchased by the hospitality industry: hotels, restaurants and bars. Meanwhile, the retail industry made up a further 20%, with the numerous mergers occurring in recent years between stores and commercial chains increasing the need for restructuring and restyling work. Moreover, the lifecycle of concept stores and store furniture has shortened, with regular changes favoured. Another segment where the importance of bespoke, made-to-measure furniture is growing is in the design of offices and workspaces, with this sector now accounting for 17% of the market.

The contract-furniture industry boasts good international growth prospects. Yet entering the sector remains a complex challenge for furniture companies, who must adapt their production, commercial strategies and logistics to suit demand in this unique field. Of the companies looking to reinforce their activity in this sector, the main players are the large groups featuring divisions specifically dedicated to contract furniture. Many small companies, on the other hand, remain largely focused on traditional supply, delegating the management of order-related services such as planning and delivering to architectural studios or contractors.