Mix Interior's spotlight report on UK manufacturing explores some of Britain's key furniture and interior manufacturers.
On page 39-40 of Mix Interior's 151 issues, February 2015, Jonathan Hindle, Group Managing Director, KI EMEA, gives his commentary on KI's evolution from being an importer of the company's US-manufactured solutions, to become a successful UK manufacturer and net exporter over the past 20 years:
Excerpt from "Adopted Sons and Worshipful Brothers"
"KI has evolved from being an importer of its US-manufactured solutions, to become a successful UK manufacturer and net exporter over the past 20 years. In the last year alone, our UK designed and manufactured workplace furniture was sold to global clients like Amazon, Facebook, Etihad Airways, EY and PwC across the UK, Europe, Middle East and even back to the US. Our locally manufactured Postura+ chair, the most popular classroom chair in the UK, is also growing its exports into Continental Europe.
"Overall, however, our industry’s success internationally has substantially waned over the last 70 years. Innovative but fragmented, it lacks investment, particularly in design and manufacturing. The British Furniture Confederation (BFC) was established by The Furniture
Makers’ Company as an umbrella group to bring together several disparate trade associations to form a unified interface with the government. The BFC liaises with the All-Party Parliamentary Furniture Industry Group. This body promotes the importance of this sector, leading to its inclusion in the government’s GREAT campaign. Exports for the industry as a whole are already worth over £1bn annually and there is considerable potential for growth considering this is a meager percentage of the total market value.
"The statistics on the domestic growth of the office furniture sector in 2014 are encouraging, estimated to recover to £2.3bn+ for the first time since 2008. These figures still, however, reveal a substantial trade deficit of around £192m, largely derived from imported seating products.*
"Our resistance to imports is evident where there is an investment in design and where customers demand solutions on rapid lead times. I believe those customers who demand ‘Made in the UK’ are driven mostly by a desire for tailored solutions, multiple options, strong local service networks, continuity and warranty guarantees and rapid lead times. This kind of offer is not viable for importers holding limited SKU stock.
"The UK does, however, appear to be highly susceptible to imported commoditised price-driven solutions from Asia. It will be interesting to see if the recent collapse in oil prices reduces transportation costs, encouraging further imports from this region. A weakened Euro may also have a similar effect on imports from Italy and Germany, already significant sources of imports.
"Local skills remain a key ingredient if the UK’s furniture industry is to thrive and export significantly again. We must collectively invest in the next generation of designers, innovators, engineers, and manufacturers by establishing partnerships between schools and industry, and embracing apprenticeships and internships. At KI, we are leading by example through corporate membership of The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, sponsoring student initiatives through our KICKSTART programme, and establishing industry partnerships with educational institutions like Bucks New University, Royal College of Art and Imperial College.
"During my year as Master of the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, I made it a priority to encourage students to choose a career in furniture design and manufacturing, something they may not have otherwise considered, or overlooked in favour of industries they perceived as offering more income or career potential. Maybe we don’t shout loud enough about Britain’s remarkable furniture design heritage and recent success stories, letting industries like fashion, music, and film steal the ‘Made in the UK’ limelight.
"Maybe it’s time for us to get our thunder back. After all, even in a weakened state, the furniture industry accounts for 3.5% of GDP and employs over 120,000 people, of which furniture manufacturing comprises just 1.3% of total UK manufacturing output and employs 83,000 people. Clearly room for improvement."
*Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) ‘Statistics digest for the UK furniture industry’, November 2014