In 2020, pandemic pressures prompted traders and consumers to wake up to the benefits of buying British. In part a result of severed supply chains, in part a declaration of support for local businesses and jobs, those national manufacturers able to operate were spurred on to meet demand as best as they could.
But what did the demand for British-made furniture look like? Read on to discover whether consumers actually prefer to buy British, courtesy of thoughts from our panel: Edward Tadros (Ercol); Nick Gigg (Airsprung Group); Nick Williams (Sweet Dreams); Paul Myerscough (Westbridge); and Phil Whittell (GNG Group).
Ben Fowler: This is hard to say, as so much of the consumer decision is based on cost. However, I think once people begin to recognise how much quality can affect the value, they will be more happy to spend a little extra to buy furniture made here in the UK – furniture that is going to last and stand the test of time. Overseas, there has always been a recognition that the British furniture industry has produced high-quality products – but we do have a way to go to rebuild, and sell, our local furnituremaking industry. All our factories have been turned into bijou apartments and coffee shops!
Nick Gigg: I am certain that consumers would buy British given the choice – I do, for one! There will always be a demand for low-cost products in all consumer sectors, therefore imported products will likely continue to meet the needs of certain buyers – but, as we know, cheap does not mean better, therefore demand for homegrown, quality products will always be there.
Nick Williams: Generally speaking, Britons are increasingly preferring to buy British, and there is an increasing appetite to buy British/local due to a variety of issues including climate change management, sustainability, coronavirus, Brexit and the geopolitical situation. There will always be an appetite for imported goods – however, with increasing costs in containers/freight, the price advantage is slowly being eroded.
Paul Myerscough: Overall, I believe British consumers would prefer to buy British and feel that they are supporting local, skilled jobs. The carbon miles travelled by bulky, finished furniture probably do not feature highly in that decisionmaking process. For overseas competition, there is of course the allure of Italian design, or the scale of an American brand like La-Z-Boy – but our principal competition from China. Yet China only has the advantage of price, and the current rising transport costs may be eroding this. British manufacture is ethically compliant, with factories bound by strict UK legislation regarding employment laws and benefits.
Phil Whittell: I think consumer desire to buy British goods will increase sharply, as long as UK companies can provide good value and quality goods which are superior to, or match, imported products. Personally, I prefer to support local produce from my farm shop rather than imported produce from the supermarket, so why should furniture be any different? We label food clearly, but I would struggle to find out where a mattress being sold on many websites was actually made.
This is an excerpt from an article featured in the June 2021 issue of Furniture News magazine. Read the rest of the feature here.