18 May 2024, 14:32
By Furniture News May 01, 2018

Poles apart – Meble Polska comes of age

Paul Farley discovered that a lot can happen in the space of four years when he returned to Poznan in March to visit Meble Polska, the largest B2B furniture show in Central and Eastern Europe …

In Poland, furniture is big business. In H1 2017, the country exported 1.72 million tons of it, making Poland the world’s second-largest exporter by volume (and fourth in terms of value, according to the Polish Chamber of Commerce of Furniture Manufacturers).

The UK has been one of the major drivers (and beneficiaries) of prodigious output. The Furniture Industry Research Association states that Polish imports account for around 10% of the furniture entering the UK – that’s about half a billion pounds’ worth of product.

It stands to reason that such an prolific international manufacturing hub would boast an exhibition worthy of the level of business taking place, and I can confirm that Meble Polska lives up to expectation.

But it wasn’t always so. A look back at the show’s history reveals the key decisions and developments which helped cement its leading position – in turn, bolstering the efforts of Polish manufacturers looking for export opportunities.

Prior to 2010, fair director Józef Szyszka tells me, the fair’s offer and audience had become too diluted, which meant his team faced a difficult decision – either continue regardless and risk a collapse, or commit to a professional, trade-focused model, at the expense of footfall.

Fortuitously, Józef opted for the latter, and that year the event returned its focus to furniture, and was rescheduled to take place earlier in the year to coincide with B2B buying patterns.

“We didn’t want too many visitors,” laughs Józef, underplaying the risk involved in his u-turn. 

As the event grew steadily over the subsequent years, it became clear that the decision was paying off.

When I first visited Meble Polska back in 2014, I was impressed by the exhibition’s quality and content – but fast-forward four years, and it feels like it has truly come of age. 

Arrayed across 11 halls of the Poznan International Fair showground (so somewhat larger than the four it occupied in 2010!), the event boasts the presence of most of Poland’s exhibition-level exporters. Of course, says Józef, there will always be those companies that wish to create export business in their own way, but “when they want to reach out, they come here”.

Last year, Meble Polska celebrated a major coup when manufacturing giant Black Red White returned to its roster. This gargantuan company, which has more than 8000 employees and operates from 22 production plants, occupies the exhibition’s largest stand, and its return (and repeat performance this year) is emblematic of the latest successful stage of the show’s evolution.

“The show took a great leap forward in terms of exhibitors and visitors in 2016, when many leading companies that had been watching from afar chose to take part,” says Józef. 

In 2017, the organiser also invested a great deal in courting foreign buying groups and international visitors, and this, too, has had a noticeable effect. Official figures from this year’s event – which ran from 6- 9th March – posits attendance at 20,885 trade professionals, from 59 countries. 

In a post-show report, Józef writes that exhibitors “unanimously emphasised the high quality of the visitors’ profile, and they especially stressed the large presence of key traders offering the largest purchasing budgets”.

International visitors comprised 34% of Meble Polska’s overall attendance, the biggest complements arriving from Germany, followed by the Czech Republic. Indeed, much of the product seems to have been designed with German tastes in mind – but with remarkable growth in the number of Ukrainians and Russians attending, diversification is likely to be on suppliers’ radars.

The product arrayed is overwhelmingly cabinet furniture – often coming RTA, in chipboard or solid wood, and generally contemporary in nature. Colours span every possibility afforded by the latest vinyls – concrete is popular, but there’s a more general leaning towards warmer wood finishes. 

There’s also a good number of upholstery suppliers, on top of a myriad mix of lesser product sectors.

Visitors from the UK accounted for 7.5% of the show’s international attendance – the third-largest delegation. As the figures suggest, sourcing from Poland is an appealing prospect for UK sellers – trading partners can expect high-quality product, relatively straightforward distribution and clarity of communication (it’s telling that an English speaker is on hand at almost every stand). 

Yet this standard of business comes at a cost. The pressure of legislative trade barriers such as the UK Flammability Regulations continues to put paid to the prospect of cheap Polish goods.

“We produce a lot of furniture for the UK market,” says Józef, “but it can be hard to offer the right level of service, and it’s risky (and expensive) to produce goods solely to meet UK specifications. However, many of our exhibitors already have considerable experience in the export of furniture to the UK, and their products have the required certificates and meet the relevant British Standards.”

Poland’s design handwriting has evolved in tandem with its manufacturing prowess, as evinced by the arena DESIGN segment of the show, which presents a lively mix of fresh talent and engaging installations. 

One stand-out display, by #loveOriginal, celebrates the sacrosanct virtue of designs from the likes of Vitra, Knoll and Fritz Hansen by concealing them behind curtains within private booths, sending a strong anti-copying message to visitors. Reinforced by various seminars and awards, arena DESIGN confidently delivers the crucial creative component demanded from any truly international exhibition.

So far, so good, then – but Meble Polska has its faults, too. At its worst, the venue becomes a sprawling complex of outdoor hall-hopping and overhead walkways (the walled stands make hall six especially labyrinthine), making traversing the halls somewhat tiresome.

Also, with the Home Décor show at the fairground’s centre, offering everything from textiles, lighting and candles to sculptures, there’s a mild threat of product dilution facing the furniture-focused buyer. The addition of panel, kitchen and bathroom suppliers certainly lends Meble Polska broader appeal, but there’s a feeling that these additions might be merely fleshing out the core offer.

But these are minor complaints, given the show’s impressive growth in size and reach. In terms of quality and presentation Meble Polska has stepped up significantly since my visit in 2014, and with growing interest from manufacturers and visitors in neighbouring countries and further afield there’s scope for further consolidation, despite fresh competition from Warsaw Home Expo.

“We now have such a strong visitor base that it perpetuates itself by word of mouth,” says Józef. “Following our growth last year, this year’s edition has further confirmed that our model works. Everyone is happy out there, so I’m confident that we’ll have a strong show next year too.”

The 2019 edition of Meble Polska will take place from 12-15th March – and this time, I’ve already pencilled in a return visit.

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