The results of the latest edition of FIRA’s annual Statistics Digest show that, from 2008 to 2011, the total number of UK furniture manufacturers declined by 4%, with 225 fewer companies in 2011 than 2010. The digest also shows that turnover in manufacturer sales fell by 23% over the 2008-2011 period, average employment fell by 15% and employment costs fell by 14%.

The industry remains dominated by micro- and small- to medium-sized businesses, with only 255 companies operating at turnovers in excess of £5m. In 2011, 84% of companies turned over less than £1m, and 58% turned over less than £250,000.  This pattern is reflected in the employment figures, with 79% of companies employing less than 10 people and only 30 companies employing more than 250.

Imports of furniture into the UK were lower in 2011 than in 2010 – £4.3b from £4.5b. The majority of imports originated from China  (32%), and Italy remained a major supplier to the UK (11%). China’s share of imports to the UK fell very slightly. Exports from the UK continued on an upward trend and reached £993m in 2011.

The digest is a distillation of information sourced from Government bodies including the Office for National Statistics (ONS), HM Revenue and Customs and the Communities and Local Government, plus the Bank of England. It covers data for the period 2008-2011 and includes national economic trends such as consumer spend, credit and housing – all of which have an influence on furniture sales. 

FIRA’s Phil Reynolds says: “Operating within the current economic climate poses many challenges, with strategic planning becoming increasingly important. FIRA’s Statistics Digest incorporates much of the data needed to inform and underpin the development of such business plans, and I would recommend it to anyone working in, or with, the UK furniture industry.”

Other key facts from the new report include: with slightly falling imports and increasing exports, the furniture sector saw a small decrease in the trade gap, the first for many years; borrowing on credit cards remained relatively static from 2008-2011, with other forms of lending having fallen by 17%; total net lending over the period has continued to fall, with a large drop having occurred in 2008 – however, lending, including that on dwellings, has increased; and total consumer expenditure fell, although it improved slightly from a low of £851b in 2009.

A hard copy of the digest can be pre-ordered, and a pdf purchased for £300 by non-FIRA members – and free for members via the FIRA website.