19 July 2024, 07:31
By Furniture News Apr 08, 2019

Cabinet design directions from Antelope's Paul Galley

Product development is a costly process – even more so when such a high proportion of new designs fail to hit the mark. That means it really does pay to be informed before committing to new lines. Together with his team at Antelope Design, Paul Galley has developed a new biannual report which offers manufacturers and retailers greater clarity of the UK’s dominant product trends, enabling them to assess their existing ranges in line with national trends, and create more accurate briefs before setting out in expensive new directions. Paul Farley reports … 

As the fairy tales have it, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince. And so goes furniture design – the challenges of creating something that’s in tune with demand can take a great deal of time and money to overcome.

From sketches and 3D modelling to prototypes and marketing materials, the cost of developing a new cabinet range for display is probably in the region of £10,000, estimates cabinet furniture designer, Paul Galley, who, having worked with the likes of Willis & Gambier, Carlton, Frank Hudson and Loma – plus numerous white-label clients – can comfortably be described as an authority in his field.  

So why, asks Paul, do so many commit to launching new product without first doing their homework?

“We’ve talked to some very candid importers at the UK’s key furniture shows, and my team and I have been struck by how many of the new ranges on display don’t succeed,” he states. “The effort and cost that goes into developing a new range is significant, and a failure will set you back months – not to mention the expense of doing it all again next year.”

Antelope Design’s answer to this uncertainty is a new report that attempts to deliver a clearer picture of what’s in and out on the cabinet scene. From finishes to fittings, Paul’s team has analysed the modern, traditional, retro and industrial lines offered by seven leading nationals and independents – spanning a total of over 350 ranges throughout 380 stores – to give the report’s subscribers a detailed picture of the most popular looks in today’s market.

“In the past, clients often asked us to analyse ranges, and to present our findings – and they were often staggered by the accuracy of our information,” says Paul, who drills down into each collection’s handle type, material, finish, turnings, frame style, leg style, profile, details, and more.

Antelope’s findings are presented in clear graphs and mood boards, and supported by analysis of contextual factors such as online search term, housing and material trends, alongside insight from leading buyers and specifiers.  

A breakdown of living/dining cabinet finishes at John Lewis & Partners, based on 34 ranges

As well as comparing and contrasting the most popular ranges (these are selected according to their ranking within each brand’s online listings), crucially, the report also tracks which ranges have fallen out of favour, in an attempt to reflect the tail end of the trend curve at the same time. “We don’t always know the exact reasons why ranges are discontinued,” says Paul, “and there could be many – but surely, if they were working at all, the retailers would have found a way to keep them going?”

Paul admits that without access to actual sales figures, there’s no way the findings can be completely accurate. “But there’s so much data available online that informs our analysis,” he says, “and it’s enough to give other businesses an insight into the market’s niches and saturation points, without having to spend many, many hours conducting their own research.”

Bubble charts are used to plot each range according to its popularity and characteristics 

Occasionally, the analysis turns up quite unexpected findings, and Paul’s team is able to weigh in with insightful explanations. “We have found that there is a mismatch between what consumers are searching for and what is being offered,” says Paul. “For example, while there is a significant volume of online searches for modern white beds, very few were on display at this year’s January Furniture Show. 

“Housing trends also threaten to impact the industry’s future. With the movement towards smaller living areas, and the huge growth of open-plan kitchen and dining areas in new homes (and the reduced wall space that comes with it), are the days of dining cabinet furniture numbered?”

What’s new in bedroom cabinet at John Lewis & Partners, complete with colour summaries

In all, the report reinforces Antelope’s credentials in original cabinet design, alongside the benefits of visual assets, which it develops through its sister brand, Symmetry CGI. It also serves as a timely reminder of the need to gather good, contextualised intelligence before deciding how to proceed with product development.

“Often we see that businesses are overly focused on one or two areas of the market,” says Paul, “while completely neglecting another. Also, many ranges are developed or bought based on the knowledge of one person alone. If the broader context offered by our report can save manufacturers wasting their time on just one red herring, then it’s done its job.”

Antelope Design’s Furniture Trend Report is published twice a year, in February and August – and is accompanied by a free supplement that covers the team’s findings at the January Furniture Show. While Paul currently has no plans to expand the report’s remit beyond cabinet furniture, he is keen to explore a broader base of retail influencers, including online powerhouses such as Made.com and US trendsetter, Restoration Hardware.

“Over the years at Antelope we have put significant time into research,” he says, “and believe there is a lot to gain by having a clear understanding of the market and its direction. We believe the furniture trade is in for a tricky time, so anything that can help you succeed when dealing with Brexit, an increasing number of customers shopping online, and generally slow growth in the economy, cannot be a bad thing.

“There are no guarantees in life,” Paul concludes, “but working with the report should have you well prepared, rather than preparing to fail.”

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