For any furniture manufacturer, dealing with the ever-changing demands of a global pandemic is challenging enough – but for sustained growth, it’s not enough, argues Preston Furniture Solutions’ Gareth Atkin …

Predicting position, tailoring a strategic plan and future-proofing a business is crucial, but how can anyone do that when the future is coming at them in weeks, rather than years?

The answer could lie with the high-tech companies, because their growth is intrinsically linked to interiors, suggests Gareth.

“Coronavirus hasn’t changed society, it’s accelerated changes already on the cards, and it’s done so at breakneck speed,” he says. “Almost overnight, we switched from face-to-face to online. Old and inflexible thinking about where, when, and how we work, shop, educate and socialise – all jettisoned. With the seismic shift to online, we saw a decade of ecommerce growth in weeks. And behind the scenes, with the focus on the high-tech industry in transforming our lives, the home improvement industry quietly experienced a boom, and the property market got lively.”

Perhaps many of the changes are not so surprising. Academics at Cardiff and Southampton universities found that 90% of workers would like to continue working from home in some form after the pandemic – and with Zoom calls transforming communication, where workers are when they make those calls became really important.?

“The demand for multi-functional and flexible living spaces may have begun as a design trend, but it’s been catapulted to the top of the agenda by a global pandemic,” says Gareth. “With a shift in working practices, we can anticipate demand for kitchen, bedroom, living and office furniture that adapts to our changing needs.”

A new report by UK merchant payment provider, Dojo, part of the Paymentsense brand, reveals that home furnishings sales in the pandemic soared by +458% as the public clamoured to turn homes into sanctuaries. ONS figures show the time Brits dedicated to home improvements during the UK’s first lockdown increased by +147%. Add to this the latest HM Land Registry data, which shows average house price increases of +8.5% in the year to December 2020.

“And here lies the bigger picture,” says Gareth. “Our homes shifted from the place to which we return, to the hub of every aspect of our lives. It’s clear that when given the opportunity to improve our home environment, we take it. This makes sense – moving to safer locations, lifestyle choices, working from home, less frivolous spending, investing the money saved on holidays into improved home environments. This is the societal shift that creates real opportunity for manufacturers and designers.

“It’s already clear that our homes will work harder, with adaptable furniture, smart tech, flexible spaces and creative lighting all becoming fundamental to a new way of living. Developers and designers will need to bring their ace game to the table, because maximising every square inch will look very different in the future.”

High-quality mechanisms from Atim Spa create an opportunity for slide-out, pull-down and pull-out additional desk and table space

While big corporations like Apple may seem disconnected, they are not, says Gareth. “Love or hate them, what they do well is to nail human instinct. These are the businesses that are thriving in the worst of times. They understand the importance of the emotional connection and invest in becoming scrutiny-proof.?

“We too need to be thinking 10 years ahead and asking the right questions now. Do you really understand how your customer is hard-wired? Have you grasped the emotional connection with the home, concerns over air quality, the need for connectivity, to feel safe in the one environment we have control over??

“How are you seen? Are you likeable, are you attracting the best talent, do you connect with your customer, are you creating a strong vision of the future? These are questions that create foundations and fundamentally help the furniture industry meet our practical and emotional needs. Let’s think people before we think products.

“Businesses now overlap in a way we have never seen before, and today’s furniture manufacturers are designing with real purpose, to revolutionise experience. We can’t be certain of the future, but the power to transform the way in which we live is the key component of a new future. Societal change, plus designers, equals innovation. Let’s call these the mechanisms for change.

“Now is the time to step back, look at the bigger picture and figure out what these exciting opportunities look like.”

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