Special Report  

The Furniture Industry In Italy And The Milan Salone Del Mobile

By Roberta Mutti - Italian Consulting Pte Ltd

Products by Kartell in bio-plastic.
ITable, by Piero Lissoni for Kartell, with cooking range integrated.

The 2018 edition of the Salone del Mobile, the 57th, was a success beyond all expectations, with 434,509 visitors, 17% more than the comparable 2016 edition (with Eurocucina), and 26% more than 2017.

Such a global response definitively consecrates the Milan Salone and Fuorisalone as the most important and visited lifestyle events in the world, making Milan “the unmissable destination” in April for operators in the furniture sector, but not only.

For several years, in fact, the involvement of actors from sectors outside the furniture industry has become increasingly important, creating a global event and involving companies from fashion, consumer electronics, food and communications, in a whirlwind of exhibitions and special performances, which attract audiences from similar segments.

In all this swirl of public and events, however, one begins to wonder if there is still a real space for furniture, and what is the degree of novelty that can express the furniture, whether there are new trends, and what they are.

The furniture industry in Italy

The numbers confirm the good moment for the Italian furniture industry, an industry that is worth 5% of the national GDP. In 2017, final figures show a value of production of 26.9 billion euro, up by 2.1% on 2016, thus confirming the recovery that began in 2015, also supported by a recovery in internal consumption, up by 1.6% to 16.9 billion euro, thanks to measures such as the “Bonus Mobili”.

Exports confirm their continuous expansion, increasing by 3.1% to 14.3 billion euros. The countries to which Italy exports the most are France (2.2 billion euros, +5.4%), Germany (1.6 billion, +1%), the United States (1.3 billion euros, +4.1%) and the United Kingdom (1.2 billion euros, -3.4%). Also confirmed was the strong growth of exports to China, +36.5%, for €518 million.

Overall, the wood-furniture macro-system closed 2017 with a turnover of 41.5 billion euro, up 2% on the previous year. The kitchen sector closed the year with a substantially stable turnover, of 2.2 billion euros, up 0.5% on 2016, but with a decided increase in exports, to +3.2%, equal to 779 million euros; bathroom furnishings recorded an increase in production, +1.5% equal to 2.7 billion euros, with an increase in exports of 1.1%, equal to 1.3 billion euros.

The exhibitors at the Salone del Mobile.Milano 2018 were 1,841, 33% of whom came from 88 different countries. An interesting but not extraordinary percentage of foreign exhibitors, which gives a fairly precise idea of how the Italian industry is predominant at the Show, a fact that is even more significant if we consider that the more than 434 thousand visitors (a staggering number, beyond imagination, and which is beginning to create problems in organizational management as well as hospitality), came from over 188 countries (in fact, almost all over the world). These numbers confirm that furniture operators from all over the world are interested in the lifestyle event, of course, but they are mostly interested in the production of Italian furniture, the one they find inside the exhibition halls of Rho Fieramilano. After all, the numbers that speak for themselves: of the total Italian furniture production, over 50% is destined for export.

Magis Booth, winner of a Salone del Mobile.Milano Award.

The booth of the Japanese company Sanwa, specialized in mini-kitchens.

The domestic market

In this regard, Mauro Mamoli, President of Federmobili, commented: “As already noted, an impulse to recovery has come from the tax furniture bonus. At the conference organized by Federmobili, during the days of the Show, we have also presented the results of a communication campaign that saw for the first time together Federmobili and FederlegnoArredo produce - with the collaboration of the MEF, Ministry of Economy and Finance - an ad to promote the use of tax relief related to furniture.

A 40-second film that was shown in cinemas of the Movie Media circuit (a total of 952 cinemas) 53,312 times in the period between March 22 and April 4, with the aim of informing the general public about the opportunities offered by the bonus. In the two weeks of programming this video was seen by 915,273 viewers. The latter were invited to visit www.bonusarredi.it, where they could find detailed information on the tax measure and more than 100 shops (campaign members) to buy from.

In addition to cinema, the video was promoted by Federmobili, in March and April, with an important web campaign that led to great results. It collected 691,139 impressions of the ads and 3,400 clicks for Google; 15,671 views of the video on YouTube; 96,740 views of the posts with 4,344 interactions and 5,799 views of the video on Facebook.

The support website exceeded in 30 days the 8,000 unique users mark, who consulted over 20 thousand pages browsing the tabs of participating stores.

These results, of absolute importance, are, in our opinion, further confirmation of the importance of a measure that, since it was introduced, has contributed decisively to inverting the trend of consumption in the sector, allowing at least a small part to recover from the fall, in excess of 30% in value, recorded during the Great Recession.

The numbers tell us that, from the introduction of the incentive (2013) to the last year of which data is available (2016), more than 820 thousand taxpayers have used the Bonus and that the total expenditure was 4,844 million euros, an average of 8.4% of the annual value of internal consumption of furniture and home appliances eligible for subsidies.

If we read the data published at the end of April by the MEF, in 2016 there was a strong acceleration in the use of tax benefits with 29.5% more taxpayers than in 2015 (255,217 in 2016 against 197,112 in 2015). Total expenditure also rose significantly (+45.5%) from 1,173.5 million euro in 2015 to 1,707.5 million euro in 2016. In addition to this, it should be noted that the average amount of purchases has also increased from 5,953 euros to 6,691 euros in 2016, and it is a figure that we hope is attributable to an increase in spending in the shops of qualified independent distribution, where the spending ceiling of 10,000 euros is often exceeded.

Magis Booth, winner of a Salone del Mobile.Milano Award.

Preludia Collection, by Brad Ascalon for Carl Hansen & Son
Booth of the company Riva 1920, winner of a Salone
del Mobile.Milano Award.

New trends

The second most important element of the Salone del Mobile.Milano is the fact that it has become the world centre for the creation of furnishing trends, which makes the event a must for those who deal with contemporary design furniture.

However, it should not be forgotten that furnishing is not clothing: if we change clothes, shoes and bags several times a day, this is not the case for furniture, which has a replacement rate, therefore a purchasing rate, which is much slower over time. The occasions in which you buy furniture in life, in fact, are no more than 5 or 6. A different case is for the objects, and also for the finishes, wallpapers, for example, which for some years are returning in vogue, as an element of decoration.

This is probably the reason why the Show also adapts, and different product sectors other than furniture find their place inside the pavilions, such as wallpapers, carpets, fabrics and accessories.

As far as the specific furnishing trends are concerned, the main products are developed around different themes: small spaces, the excellence of manufacturing, which rediscovers craftsmanship and the environment. In a way, Made in Italy has become synonymous with quality craftsmanship, and the 4.0 industry in the furniture sector, on the one hand, combines top-of-the-range design with a popular brand. For example, Natuzzi with Mario Bellini and Marcel Wanders, which on the other hand, develops smart furniture, such as the table/cooking top by Kartell.

Another important trend is the research in environmental protection, like with Kartell, which adopts organic plastics for its furnishings, or combining traditional and digital processes, for example with companies such as Carl Hansen, which, while having an established tradition of solid wood, adopt the 3D laminate for contract collections.

The Salone del Mobile.Milano Award, for its part, has given awards for the research of furnishings in small spaces by the Japanese Sanwa (convertible kitchens); the carpets by CC-Tapis; the Italian excellence of the multi-faceted Magis; and the continuous research in the development of wood by Riva1920.

Torsion table, by Mario Bellini for Natuzzi