Country report  

Austrian Furniture Industry

Current trends in the Austrian Furniture Industry

AAUTHENTIC, HONEST AND TACTILE – ’natural chic’ is still very much on trend and brings both warmth and quality to interior décor. A treat for all the senses: oiled solid wood carries the scent of the forest and rough sawn surfaces feel simply great to touch. Textiles left in their natural state, such as wool, linen, hemp and leather, also enhance living spaces. When these are combined with organic forms, truly treasurable pieces can result, from the flexible recliner right through to the ‘healthy sleeping system’. This was demonstrated by Austrian manufacturers at the start of the year at the international furniture trade fair ‘imm cologne’. One of the major strengths of the Austrian Furniture Industry is the way in which skilled craftsmanship is successfully combined with exclusive design and innovative technology to produce quality furniture. Its creations are cosy yet modern, modest with a discreet hint of luxury, have a clearly-defined design style, are sustainable, extremely comfortable and promote a healthy living environment.

When coloured glass meets natural wooden surfaces, attractive combinations result – after all, life is colourful. Contrasts and swathes of colour are therefore a perfect choice. Simple ideas often have a big impact, such as practical reversible cushions in fabric and leather.

Available in a variety of sizes and shapes, they make for colourful and tactile surroundings. Stitching, cut-outs and striking accents also catch the eye. The absolute colours of the moment, alongside modest greys and coppers, are various blue and green hues, be it soft and gentle lighter shades, deep, dark tints or petrol hues. It is up to consumers to decide how vivid they want to make choices. Ultimately, what they like goes. The enormous range of colours and materials available provides the freedom to create individual designs. Whether in modest natural shades or a bright and bold combo of chequered patterns, whether wood with metal or glass with varnish – it’s all in the combination.
From basic solutions, through to home cinema and highend audio, technology is moving in to our living spaces. The need to integrate this multimedia technology discreetly yet effectively is bringing about new interior design solutions. Flexibility is key: cable ducts, ventilation solutions and precisely fitting furniture make it possible to play around with the space. Modules, panels, individual cupboards and glass display cabinets inspire new combinations. This also applies to sofas, armchairs, couches etc. Cosy and yielding, they stretch and flex in all directions. Switch to a recliner at the press of the button, and marvel at the fantastic storage solutions available. Contemporary LED lighting systems set the mood and give a room a whole new look. Everywhere in the living room light shimmers from shelves, niches sparkle and glass display cabinets become star features.

Austrian furniture production in 2013
EXPORTS IN STRONG DECLINE – WEAK MARKETS IN THE EU - Imports from Asia and Germany drop by more than five percent. For Austrian furniture manufacturers, 2013 ended with a slight setback following positive growth of 4.4 percent the previous year, as they had to scale back their production by 0.9 percent to around EUR 1.93 billion. The export situation still proved to be difficult, with 7.9 percent less Austrian furniture being sold abroad than in the previous year. Exports amounted to EUR 788.7 million compared to imports of EUR 1.65 billion – a drop of 3.3 percent – which provided some relief: “Import furniture has had a harder time in the past year,” says Dr Georg Emprechtinger, Chairman of the Austrian Furniture Industry, “and local manufacturers have benefited from this. The downturn in production amounts, in absolute terms, to only about a quarter of the export losses and the high demand within Austria has compensated for the majority of these losses. Plus, the outlook is very favourable at the moment – the most recent economic survey by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research, answered by 41 furniture manufacturers for the second quarter, shows that there is an above-average positive mood in the industry. Both the order books and production at home and abroad are above the average level of recent years. Capacity utilisation has also increased and the furniture industry is expecting significant growth in production. Bottom line: the current situation is widely optimistic.”

With production growth of 4.7 percent, the household furnishing sector show significant improvement and manufacturers of mattresses recorded significant growth of 9.9 percent, although both of these sectors were still affected by declines in the previous year. Bathroom furniture (made of wood) was up again, this time by 7.0 percent. The remaining sectors, which were mostly still on the winning side in 2012, saw a decline. This was especially true for shopfitters, which were down by 12.3 percent. The seating furniture sector (and component parts for this sector) and office furniture sector suffered losses of 6.2 percent and 4.9 percent respectively, whilst production amongst kitchen manufacturers was down by 6.5 percent. For the second time in a row, the (wooden) garden furniture sector had to absorb losses (-7.3 percent).

Exports sank compared to the previous year by 7.9 percent (approximately EUR 67.8 million), down to around EUR 788.7 million, indicating a strengthening of the downward trend from the previous year. A decline of around EUR 62 million was attributable to EU countries alone, as they ordered 10.0 percent less furniture from Austria than in 2012. Negative export rates reaching double figures were recorded in the seating furniture and office furniture sectors; the only sector with significant growth compared to the previous year was mattresses/bed frames.

In terms of exports, the German market proved unexpectedly weak, down by 11.3 percent (approximately EUR 42.5 million) to around EUR 333.5 million.

After a slight downturn in the previous year, foreign business with Switzerland saw a turnaround to a pleasing growth level of 3.9 percent, up to approximately EUR 140.7 million. Mattresses/bed frames and home furnishings each scored points with double-digit growth rates; however kitchens and office furniture lost out in the Swiss market.

In contrast, there was a deterioration in exports to Poland with a drop of 16.1 percent (about EUR 7.6 million) compared to the previous year, down to EUR 39.6 million. In this case, the seating furniture sector alone saw a drop of around EUR 7.2 million. Italy was the fourth most important export partner with EUR 30.7 million (–2.5 percent), followed by Hungary with around EUR 29.9 million (+39.6 percent). Developments in relatively new markets such as Russia and China in 2013 were clearly disappointing (–23.1 percent and –30.5 percent respectively).

In the course of the year, a downward trend in imports could already be observed. This trend became even stronger towards the end of the year as imports of furniture to Austria decreased by 3.3 percent, down to a total of around EUR 1.65 billion. Only manufacturers of office furniture and kitchens had to compete more fiercely with import products than in the previous year. This development points to Austrian consumers being drawn more strongly to domestically produced furniture which, with the promise of sound quality and sustainability, meets the demand for products that keep their value and are manufactured in a socially acceptable and environmentally friendly way.

Furniture imported from Germany had a value of around EUR 851 million. This equates to a drop of 5.5 percent. The seating furniture and home furnishing sectors, which together account for a good three fifths of the total imports from this neighbouring country, saw the biggest declines in competition for the domestic furniture market. Poland followed with an import volume of around EUR 135.5 million, an increase of 2.2 percent, most notably in the office furniture sector (+50.3 percent). However, the country’s large seating furniture and home furnishing sectors also saw an increase of 5.8 percent and 4.6 percent respectively. There was therefore a significant deterioration in the balance of trade with Poland – the country now brings almost four times more furniture into the Austrian market than is imported there by manufacturers. The pressure from China has been alleviated following a drop of 4.6 percent, down to 122.3 million, compared to the previous year, but China remains in third place amongst the importing countries nonetheless. However, the even more significant downward trend in imports from the Asiatic region, with a total decline of 5.6 percent, could indicate that more and more consumers are turning away from products from this area. Italy is the country with the fourth strongest presence on the Austrian market, with EUR 117.1 million; however it has also lost out compared to the previous year with a drop of 4.6 percent.
Please note: all figures refer to industry (47 enterprises/6,700 employees) and crafts (6,700 enterprises/40,000 employees).

“The successful positioning in the Austrian core market and the increase in exports to Switzerland demonstrate that local manufacturers are able to perform very well in quality markets,” says Dr Georg Emprechtinger. “As a medium-sized industry traditionally characterised by artisan furniture making in a high-wage country, this is exactly what we are designed for.” It is especially pleasing that in 2013, we have been able to assert ourselves much more effectively over import furniture.” Austrian manufacturers take great care to come across as quality conscious in terms of execution, design and functionality during regular appearances at industry events, such as the international furniture trade fairs in Cologne and Milan. “Our products have once again been very popular this year,” says Emprechtinger,” and we are continuing to look at countries such as China and Russia as well as markets in the EU, in particular Germany.”

The Austrian Furniture Industry is part of the Association of the Austrian Wood Industries. It comprises 47 member companies with approximately 6,700 employees. Most of these member companies are medium-sized and privatelyowned enterprises. Furniture ‘made in Austria’ stands for traditional craftsmanship and industrial precision. They guarantee the consistently high level of quality of this industry’s products.