The Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) has published its annual Statistics Digest for the UK Furniture Industry.
Serving as a barometer for the furniture industry, the digest highlights continued growth in demand for furniture and furnishings. Whilst some of this has been driven by rising imports, UK manufacturers have also benefited, with 2016 being the latest in five successive years of incremental growth.
The 56-page document comprises detailed time series analysis of the UK furniture manufacturing, furniture and furnishings retail and international trade. It also includes statistics on consumer behaviour such as spend, lending and house buying. The analyses are based on the latest available data sourced from Government bodies including the Office for National Statistics (ONS), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Communities and Local Government, and the Bank of England.
One of the report's headlines is that consumer demand for furniture and furnishings continues to grow. Consumer expenditure on furniture and furnishings was almost £16.7b in 2016, representing a +24% increase from 2013. YoY growth from 2013-15 was between +8-9%. However, growth from 2015-16 was somewhat less, at +6%.
Author of the digest, FIRA's Dr Pete Beele, says: “The full retail picture for 2017 has yet to emerge, but preliminary signs are good, despite some press speculation to the contrary. We saw sales continuing to rise in 2017 with first and second quarter consumer expenditures being between +5-6% higher than for the equivalent periods in 2016."
UK furniture manufacturers have continued to perform well in recent years, with turnover in 2016 reaching £8.4b – +4.5% higher than the previous year. Furniture warranted special mention in the latest statistics office manufacturing bulletin, highlighting that the recent percentage increase in sales was the third largest in the UK (behind motor vehicles and pharmaceuticals) and was driven by sales of wooden kitchen furniture and upholstered wooden-framed seats such as three-piece suites.
Putting this growth in context, in 2013 furniture manufacturing equated to 1.35% of the UK’s total manufacturing turnover, whereas by 2016 it was estimated to have increased to 1.60%.
The latest employment figures reinforce the importance of the industry to the UK economy, with furniture manufacturing’s 88,000 employees representing almost 3.5% the country’s manufacturing workforce. It is estimated that the furniture and furnishings sector as a whole – including manufacturing, design, specialist retail, trade and repair – comprises 50,000 registered companies, supporting 327,000 jobs.
Speaking on international trade, Pete comments: “Imports were on the rise, with the provisional figure for 2016 being £5.8b. However, based on extrapolations of import data published up to September 2017, I expect that the total for 2017 could increase to about £6.5b once the full year’s figures are confirmed.”
Imports are not the full story, however, as export performance has also improved, perhaps due to the influence of a weaker pound and an industry more comfortable with trading abroad. Exports reached £1.13b in 2016, reflecting a YoY increase of +13%. A further +9% growth is expected to be evident when the 2017 figures are published.
With Brexit on the horizon there is an inevitable focus on the UK’s trading relationships with the European Union. Despite 63% of all exports being sent to the EU it accounts for a considerably greater value of imports, resulting in a negative trade gap of £2.20b.
The largest single country negative trade gap continues to be with China. This increased to £1.86b (from £1.75b in 2015). Next on the list were the negative trade gaps with Poland, Italy and Germany, which equated to £0.58b, £0.56b and £0.50b respectively.
“Understanding UK markets and international trade are critical to strategic and business planning," adds Pete, "and the Statistics Digest not only relieves much of the analytical pain but also, due to its comprehensive referencing, signposts routes for more detailed information.”
The digest is available free of charge to research association members here, and non-members can purchase a copy, priced at £2000+VAT, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, or from here.
The February issue of Furniture News will feature a comprehensive summary of the findings.