Special Report

Beyond The Emergency: New Scenarios For Furniture Industry

A conversation with Mauro Mamoli, President of Federmobili, Federation of Italian Furniture Retailers

Mauro Mamoli, resident,Federmobili

The first months of 2020 witnessed the Covid-19 health emergency, a hold-up that is likely to cause substantial changes in some of our practices. How will these changes be reflected in furniture purchases? We asked the President of Federmobili, Mauro Mamoli, what can be expected for the future, and how our homes will change.

Roberta Mutti (RM): On 18 May, furniture stores reopened in Italy. How will furniture choices change after such a long forced closure?

Mauro Mamoli (MM): Of course, nobody has a crystal ball, but one can try to imagine some scenarios. The first, and probably the most important change, will be smart working, or remote working, whatever you want to call it. Many people and many companies have experienced this way of working, remotely, and come to appreciate that it can have many good sides. For workers, it can be easier to manage their days, with less travel stress, and less downtime. For employers, it can be a saving of workstations, therefore a saving of money, and for everyone, it can increase productivity.

Given this situation, a furniture retailer automatically asks himself: “How many homes are really equipped to work remote continuously? How many have a really adequate working corner, with the right equipment, to work with the right peace of mind and the right ergonomics?” I don’t think there are many houses are already furnished in the most efficient way. So, from now on, there may be a demand for furniture to adapt the house to a permanent smart working practice, which allows to create a full-fledged home office.

After all, for some years now, smart working has been a trend, even the Salone del Mobile.Milano dedicated an exhibition to this topic, “La Passeggiata” (The Promenade), by Michele De Lucchi, a study of the themes of contemporary work. I think, therefore, that this could be a very topical subject for furniture stores”.

RM: In addition to the home office, could the compulsory stay in the house lead to other considerations about furniture?

MM: Undoubtedly, having spent much more time than usual in your home might tempt one to change something. Most people usually spend a few hours a day in the house, especially those who work full-time. When people are forced to spend long periods of time at home, it is possible that they may notice things that were left out before. For example, one might realize that it is time to change the sofa, or that the kitchen is no longer in step with the times or with one’s habits.

So far, however, the second big question arises:

“What buying capacity will we be able to retain after this historic crisis?” At this stage, it is not yet clear what will happen: there are many people on layoffs, and many others are not working. Many will return to work very soon, so they will be back to earning their full wages, but who knows how many will perhaps lose their jobs in a short space of time. At the moment, we still do not know how the economic situation will really develop, and this is a big question mark, on which the future of many shops will depend.

Assuming that the financial situation is sustainable, we can also hope that the need to reorganize the house for smart working will lead people to renovate their homes, also adapting the distribution of space to new habits. For example, reducing the space dedicated to the kitchen in favour of the living area, or creating a studio where there is none.

There is a lot to think about, even for furniture manufacturers. In recent years, there has already been a trend to include work areas in living area systems, with worktops, ergonomic chairs, integration between TV panel and computer top. In the future, this trend could evolve and become increasingly consolidated.

Finally, in an ideal world, the tidal wave that has hit us could (and should) be a prelude to a general rethinking of our way of life and habits. In the real world, however, we will first have to reckon with the traumas left by this crisis.

RM: This year there won’t be the Salone del Mobile in Milan, and there won’t be many other trade shows. How important are they for retailers?

MM: Trade shows are very important, and, personally, I think they are not replaceable. In addition to the Salone del Mobile, in a year I usually visit at least two or three international fairs, in Europe and Asia, and I think that the set of social and cultural relationships that develop around a fair, is not replicable in a virtual event. After all, the Salone del Mobile has also built its fortune on the set of relationships that develop around design.

A year of forced standstill can make us think about the annual frequency, and this is certainly positive; we can think of ways to integrate the real show with virtual exhibition modes, thanks to technology, but I think that the human relationship cannot yet be replaced. This year, I’m going to miss the trade fairs a lot, and I hope they come back soon.

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