How has the crisis affected the furniture market?
That’s a huge question, and I doubt I’ll ever have a complete answer to just how much disruption it’s caused.
Before COVID-19, the global furniture industry was becoming a tougher place in which to operate – fiercer competition, increasingly concentrated market share, and growing consumer expectation.
And, in general, the pandemic has accelerated the rate of these changes. Online buying has seen more widespread adoption, businesses are constantly seeking greater efficiencies, and those that were close to the edge are rapidly going over it. Interruptions to global supply chains means some have fallen back on local suppliers. Many of the typical buying and selling patterns have gone askew, and it’ll be a while before they reassert themselves, if at all.
But, like most challenges, this crisis has also driven innovation – we’ve seen mattress producers turn their hand to making PPE, and new marketing and communication channels come to the fore. Meanwhile, many consumers have reassessed their work/life balance, and lockdown has driven an appetite for refreshed and improved home interiors – so it’s not all bad.
Would you say we will try to go back to normal as quickly as possible or do you think we will need to rethink the world post-COVID-19?
Unlike some, I do feel that the vast majority of what we do will go back to normal. We have short memories, and people’s behaviour during the crisis, while sometimes concerning, leads me to feel that the ‘new normal’ won’t look much different to the old one.
For example, some commentators have pronounced an irreversible shift to online buying. Lockdown gave the ecommerce movement a great window of opportunity, and many rose to the occasion – but others did not, and may have missed their chance. From manufacture to fulfilment, one wrong step in the digital marketplace can make a shopper yearn for a more traditional model.
We’re inherently social animals, and need interaction – so there will still be a demand for physical stores, restaurants, air travel … all those things what were shut down as a matter of necessity. They’ll just be coloured by a more diligent take on hygiene.
Consumers strapped for cash might opt to minimise outlay, but equally may prefer to spend more on higher-quality products that are built to last, and take ethical and sustainable stories more seriously.
COVID-19 has forced us to question everything from family and community to climate change, natural resources, politics and law. Fundamentally, there will need to be a rethink of how we prepare for, monitor and respond to diseases. Although it’s impossible for governments to fund contingency plans for every threat, the physical and economic damage wreaked by COVID-19 reinforces that we need some degree of insurance.
What has the crisis changed for you or what have you learned personally?
I enjoy the office environment, but working from home is now the order of the day. Globally, an uncertain outlook means I’ll have to be flexible and creative – but trade magazines such as ours are in an excellent position to help inform the industry and build business, regardless of people’s ability to conduct face-to-face meetings.
I’ve long feared that a global pandemic was on the cards, but living through one has so far been a fairly surreal experience – having two young children has certainly kept me busy. I’m one of the lucky ones in that respect.
And while I would not be surprised to see another spike (and even a return to some form of lockdown) this year, I’m immeasurably more confident in our collective ability to endure and overcome than I was at the outset of this crisis.