Phil Reynolds, chief operating officer at the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA), talks to Furniture News about the association’s work in improving sustainability, the impact of globalisation and why furniture testers should be very careful when choosing where to sit …

Could you describe what your company does?

The world’s leading furniture technology centre, providing professional support services to the furniture industry, including product testing, certification, consultancy, after-care and dispute resolution.

What development in your own company are you most proud of, and why?

Probably our involvement with the biomass debate. FIRA is an integral part of the British Furniture Confederation and has inputted heavily in the lobbying to stop the bizarre subsidies on biomass, which is pushing up the cost of board materials. Finally, it seems some momentum is building and Government is starting to listen. If we can reduce the cost impact on the industry we will have done a fantastic job.

How did you get into the industry?

By accident, I am a mechanical engineer by training and was engineering manager at a company producing special-purpose machines for the paper industry. However I saw an advert for FIRA, who were looking for somebody to run the testing business. It looked interesting, I applied and it’s been a rollercoaster ride since then.

What was the most notable turning point in your career?

I guess it would be when I moved out of furniture testing and ran FIRA’s commercial team. This allowed me to get a much broader understanding of both FIRA and the furniture industry, which has been key to my career so far.

Which development in the last 10 years has had the greatest impact on the furniture manufacturing industry?

Globalisation – its impact has obviously been massive. Whilst initially the impact was dramatic, with the loss of many businesses and jobs, it has allowed the UK furniture industry to focus on what makes it great – high quality and great design. These are the attributes we need to maximise to really start exporting again.

The FIRA Export Hub website we developed should be a useful support in assisting companies with exporting opportunities. To help globalisation, we have also developed a joint venture, FIRA-CMA, to enable furniture testing to FIRA standards in Hong Kong.

How is your company becoming more sustainable?

As one of the leading forces behind the Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme (FISP), it is important that we practice what we preach. We are always looking to improve our environmental performance. For the last two years nearly all the product we test has been recycled through Senator’s furniture recycling service, rather than going to landfill. Looking at 2013/2014 we plan to get accredited to ISO 14001, the Standard for environmental management systems.

Give an example of how changing consumer tastes have affected approaches to manufacturing.

Linked to the globablisation of the industry was the move to flat-pack furniture. Now we are in an age where everybody is too busy to build furniture – this all plays into the hands of the UK furniture industry. If the industry can supply cost-effective, ready-made furniture, it’s onto a winner.

How is your company likely to develop from here?

FIRA is here to serve the industry. We will continually evolve to support whatever the furniture industry needs as it moves into the future.

Do you have a personal work philosophy?

I believe you need to lead by example and never ask anybody to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.

Can you share any amusing industry stories?

Early on in my days at FIRA, running the product testing department, I was in Singapore at the IFFS show. Along with a number of the UK trade press I attended the awards ceremony, after which we decided to hit the town.

We chose an outside bar, and were enjoying the evening when suddenly my chair collapsed. For some reason, whilst I was sprawled on the floor everybody else seemed to find it highly amusing that the furniture tester had broken the chair.

Article courtesy of Furniture News' sister title Furniture Production, dedicated to machinery and components for the furniture manufacturing industry.