This last year has been difficult, forcing Italian design companies to devote resources to solving of immediate problems. But it is also a year that can be split into two parts, with a rebound in the second half after the restart of production and construction, limiting losses and pointing to a gradual comeback in spite of erratic markets and governmental measures. The kitchen sector, inevitably connected to that of furniture in general, reveals the trends, starting with data supplied by FederlegnoArredo: preliminary reports point to about 2.153 billion euros of sales in the entire furniture sector, with kitchens accounting for 11% of the total macrosystem of furniture and lighting. If this data is confirmed, 2020 records a drop of -9% over 2019, indicating quite a rebound with respect to the figure of -25% reported at the end of June.
The challenges faced (and overcome)
“The first half of the year saw a major slump, involving all countries and above all penalizing Italy – says Edi Snaidero, managing advisor of Gruppo Cucine Assarredo FLA. – We had a total lockdown for two months, halting production and closing stores, during a crucial period, because the spring is the moment of major deliveries. Then the situation gradually got back to normal, recouping a backlog of orders, and the pace of sales in the stores began to resume.”
“The closing of the factories caused a lot of damage – Roberto Gavazzi, CEO of the Boffi DePadova group confirms – in terms of compliance with delivery times and corporate image. In that moment, Italy seemed unreliable, as it was one of the first countries to be hit hard by the pandemic, in greater difficulty than other countries where the crisis was just getting started. We were at a clear disadvantage with respect to the competition, especially Germany, which is our main rival in the kitchen sector. A moment of difficulty and confusion about what would happen, though afterwards it became clear that the problems were shared by the whole world.”
“The hardships depended above all on lack of visibility in planning, while the weak link was undoubtedly that of the supply chains, which went into a critical phase,” adds Massimo Manelli, CEO of Snaidero.
Fabiana Scavolini, CEO of the company of the same name, speaks of “a totally new scenario to which we reacted by identifying the best practices to implement in order to move forward with business operations – also with a series of initiatives and tools to support all our dealers. This pathway was sustained from the early moments of the lockdown with online training programs for the sales force, and with the creation of a virtual tour of our corporate showroom.”
On close examination, the markets went through a drop of about -10% on the domestic front (slower to begin the rebound) and -8.1% for exports. The contract sector was impacted by the halt on construction, and has made a comeback after resumption of operations.
Faith in the future
“In substance, there are two pieces of good news – Snaidero says. – One is that we have increased exports to Germany by +12%; the other is that South Korea has grown as a market by +58%, and here the contract factor has been fundamental. On the other hand, the markets that have lost ground are the United States (-21%) and the United Kingdom (-30.3%), due to the health emergency and also to some extent to Brexit, while China has also dropped (-23%).”
According to Gavazzi, “2021 is becoming an interesting year, because apart from the retail side, which seems to be improving, there are many contract projects that were postponed last year, joined by new ones, so we have a portfolio of orders larger than ever before.”
“We are preparing to place great emphasis on digital communication – says Manelli – to lower the average age of awareness of the Snaidero brand and to reach a younger clientele with an emotional, innovative product, thanks to fresh, spontaneous communication.”
Scavolini is wagering on technology, with the Amazon vocal assistant Alexa built into furnishing systems.
There are other factors for hope as well: a greater focus on the home on the part of consumers as a central area of investment, and a political scenario in Italy and the United States that is more favorable for businesses, with a well-utilized Recovery Fund. And one major opportunity not to be missed: that of the ‘green deal,’ the circular economy and sustainability. An ecological transition that will lead to major changes in terms of structures, products and the industrial system, offering opportunities for companies to improve and to become more competitive.