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The Future is Bright

It was another record year for the industry in 2017, with the value of furniture and lighting retail sales growing by 2.9 percent year-on-year to pass £14 billion for the first time ever, according to the Office for National Statistics.

That represented a fourth straight year of growth for the sector and has given many businesses a strong base for when markets demand tightened, as was the case during the summer of 2018.

But while the England team’s run deep into the World Cup and record hot weather might have conspired to occupy the minds of consumers through June and July, the period since has seen a pickup in retail sales again as the important winter season approaches.

January 2019 sees the return to the NEC, after a multi-year absence, of bedding giant Silentnight, and it was the mattress market that performed best in the past 18 months.

2017 beds and mattress sales in Britain advanced 5.0 percent to reach close to £2 billion, with market-leaders such as Silentnight enjoying elevated growth. Its 2016–17 sales jumped 11 percent to over £150 million as the bed maker booked its strongest result since the turn of the century.

The group — which also owns the Sealy UK and Rest Assured brands — is sure to be a major drawer to buyers as it showcases from Hall 5 at the January Furniture Show (Jan. 20–23, 2019).

Year-on-year beds retail sales from January to June 2018 are also ahead, in low single-digit percentages, suggesting the category can achieve more growth over the full year given a fair autumn/winter tail wind.

Of the main furniture categories, upholstery is second behind beds in terms of performance over the past 18 months. The sofa and sofabed market grew 0.5 percent in the UK in 2017 according to HMRC and ONS data.

The acquisition of Tetrad to a group already boasting respected sofa maker Westbridge helped bedding, furnishings and upholstery group Belfield to grow group turnover to £189 million in 2017, with its rivals also building out their businesses.

G Plan and Parker Knoll owner Sofa Brands acquired and relaunched the heritage Collins and Hayes brand back into the UK market this January, while other important Hall 1 companies including Ashley Manor and Alstons — whose 2017 sales rose 4.0 percent to £29.7 million — underpin the solid strength of Britain’s sofa sector.

Indeed, the Colchester manufacturer is a great exemplar for the underlying strength of British upholstery production. While sofa imports — largely the result of a decline from China — are down nearly 9 percent in the first six months of 2018, the overall category at retail is flat. Interim figures from Alstons’ parent company show its growth has escalated to near double-digit percentages in the first half of this year.

Even those import declines tell only half of the story, with Italian and other European nations’ sofa sales to Britain maintaining year-earlier levels so far this year, with Premium Design exhibitors showing from Hall 2 sure to have been at the forefront.

The cabinet sector has been the weakest performing of the main furniture categories in financial terms, according to ONS and HMRC figures, though exciting stories still prevail as companies transition towards of-the-moment vintage styles or make large investments, such as importer Seconique, which has moved to impressive new West Midlands premises.

Image from Whitemeadow Furniture.
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