Do you care where your furniture comes from?
In the last decade or so, consumers have become far more aware of the impact of their choices. This has had an effect on purchasing decisions; people care if their clothes were manufactured in a factory in India or a workshop in the UK; if their raspberries were grown in Somerset or Morocco; and if they are supporting small British businesses or funnelling money into large corporations which outsource their factories to China.
But whether you are purchasing raspberries or leather jackets, the issues which matter most to consumers are the same: reducing product miles, supporting small businesses and knowing exactly what you’re buying and where it has come from. And all these concerns should similarly affect the furniture industry.
There’s no doubt about it; the furniture industry is an important part of the UK economy. According to 2013 Government statistics, the UK furniture and furnishings manufacturing industry (that’s domestic, contract and office) contributes £9.4 billion to the country’s GDP and employs 115,000 people within 8,116 companies.
It is also an industry which has a high proportion of micro and small to medium size businesses. SMEs are in the news at the moment as they are seen as the primary motors of the UK’s economic recovery. Looking only at furniture manufacturing, only 260 companies report turnovers in excess of £5 million and 84% of companies turn over less than £1m per year. 78% of companies employ fewer than ten people, and only 35 companies employ more than 250.
However the concerns that drive consumers are not reflected on a political level when it comes to the furniture industry. Despite its contribution to the UK economy, furniture manufacturing suffers from lack of recognition politically – this means fewer subsidies and special rates than in other industries. This could be due to the fact the industry has no traditional regional hub and manufacturing is spread across the country. This however can’t be seen as a sign that provenance does not matter to consumers.
People do care whether heavy items of furniture lugged from one side of the world to the other have a heavy carbon footprint. Consumers care about the working conditions of the factory in which the piece was manufactured. Quality is seen as having an inverse relationship with quantity. Authenticity in design is dependant on knowing where and how a piece of furniture was made.
Consumers are canny and they want to know what they are buying and feel justified in doing so. If they prefer to buy raspberries grown in Somerset, they’ll probably prefer to buy furniture which has been made there too.