26 May 2024, 03:23
By Gavin Boden Aug 15, 2018

A crisis of confidence

The furniture industry is all about consumer confidence. 

Because the industry mostly comprises high-ticket items, it accounts for a good percentage of gross sales in the marketplace.

Over the last 11 years since the very beginning of the recession, the furniture industry has, let’s say, evolved, with the emergence of more and more multiple outlets on retail parks, the internet, and cheap imports from the Far East and Eastern Europe.  

All this has caused a huge decrease in the number of independent retailers on high streets all over the country – and particularly in the north of England.

The internet has swept up most of the lower end of the market, while the big multiples like DFS, ScS, Furniture Village, etc have taken over the majority of the middle market, and the better independent stores have retained the bulk of the top end of the business (apart from branded product).

Consumer confidence over this period has been up and down like a yo-yo – but if we are talking about the independent business, then the lack of consumer confidence has made for very tough trading. As I have said before, independents not using the internet as a force for driving traffic into their stores have struggled, and I’m not just talking about websites, but social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) too.

There’s been plenty for the average consumer to complain about over the last 11 years, which has had an effect on their confidence. Any kind of election has historically affected business within the furniture industry, and we have been through it all during this period (I’m not saying that the downward turn in confidence is justified, but it is an excuse not to buy big-ticket items). 

We’ve had the referendum which led to Brexit, three major elections, the whole Donald Trump thing, and various other scandals. 

Another factor which affects the confidence of the public is world conflicts, and there is a mountain of them – Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Libyan and Yemeni crises … not to mention Kim Jong Un in North Korea. 

All these things make the British public stop and think – not only because the British Government must get involved in every crisis around the world, but because the world is so small now and we hear about absolutely everything, seconds after it happens.

The consumers on our little island are stressed – about the recession, about leaving Europe, about the wars, about wages, the cost of living, immigration, gun crimes, terrorism … the list could go on and on. 

So, now, when little Jonny damages the dining room table which has been in the house for seven years, mum and dad will repair it or cover it up, whereas before 2007 they would have considered buying a new dining room. 

Why? Because they are not sure what is going to happen next year, next month, or even next week. They will be worrying if dad’s company is going to shut down, or about the interest rate going up, which will cost them another £50 per month on their mortgage. At the moment, families would rather spend their money on a holiday to somewhere warm than buy a new piece of furniture.

When I first left school and went into furniture retail, before the internet, when DFS had just three stores and everyone was paid cash in a brown envelope at the end of the week, we knew where we stood – when the busy times of the year, the month and week would be. On Saturdays, it would be busy right through the day. 

All of that has gone now. Our pay comes into our bank accounts, at different times of the month, we work whatever hours we need to including weekends, and have a choice of seven days in which to shop. 

How can retailers plan anything – their staff, their opening hours, or their sale periods (which for most multiples is all-year round)?

Over the next 10 years we’re going to witness a rise in consumer confidence, caused by a lot of different contributors – but how will it affect the independent retailer? 

Positively, let’s hope. Yes, we are going to see more casualties – that I am sure – but we will have a smaller, stronger industry which will have gone through the biggest changes in its history, and, for those who have survived it, through the back of the wardrobe will be a much better, brighter world.

Written furniture sales and marketing professional, Gavin Boden.

© 2013 - 2024 Gearing Media Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved.