How has the crisis affected the furniture market?
The German furniture industry has suffered massively from the closure of furniture stores during the shutdown in spring. In April, sales fell by almost 30 percent compared to the previous year. Individual segments recorded a drop in orders of up to 60 percent. Four out of five manufacturers announced only part-time work.
With the reopening of the furniture stores, the situation has brightened up surprisingly quickly. People spent a lot of time at home and developed new wishes for their interior. Interest in furniture and home & lifestyle products has grown noticeably. The frequency in furniture stores is currently still below last year’s level. But the customers who come into the stores have concrete purchase intentions and tend to be more interested in higher quality furniture. This includes home office furnishings as well as kitchens or new furniture for living rooms and bedrooms. For the complete year, our industry is preparing for a drop in sales of no more than 10 percent. This means that the decline will probably be less than expected and will be manageable for the companies.
Do you think we will return to normality as soon as possible or do we have to rethink the world after COVID-19?
The pandemic has changed things in our industry. Due to delays in supply parts, many manufacturers had to reorganize their supply chains. They have selected new, often regional suppliers or increased their own added value - which allows short delivery routes and times. In no time, companies had to find home office solutions and introduce staggered shifts. As a result, they realized how important a high degree of process flexibility would be for the future.
Furthermore, the shift towards online furniture purchases accelerated during the pandemic. Our manufacturers must prepare themselves even more for this, for example by providing digital product data for online platforms. Online consulting meetings have also gained in importance. For example, kitchen studios have used video conferences to plan new kitchens with their customers. Such hybrid retail formats will become more frequent.
What has the crisis changed for you, what have you personally learned?
My experience mainly relates to the communication channels. At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, we switched from face-to-face meetings to video conferences. As a result, our exchanges became even faster and more intensive. We met at much shorter intervals than before. For example, our association's executive committee meets every two weeks in a video conference and discusses the situation in the industry. During the COVID-19 crisis, the industry really closed ranks; I think that is very positive.