We’re in a pivotal chapter that will shape things to come. The political swing from right to left (or left to right depending on where you stand), the battle between opaque regimes and transparent people power. Wall Street versus the general public. Vaccine versus virus. Believers versus conspiracists. BLM versus racism. Feminism versus sexism. Britain versus the EU (can’t we all just get along?). Home office versus physical office.

Contract v Retail

Big change and opportunity in our beloved furniture industry. The battle to win a piece of the largest addition to the real estate market; the home office, was bullish like Bitcoin. Commercial furniture dealers rushed to tool up with online shops, e-logistics and a retail-focused business sidekick, chasing WFH expense budgets of big business clients. The dealer model was already under pressure to respond to the Information Age but the speed of this development was unforeseen, with online retailers benefitting from newly released expense budgets.

Physical vs Virtual

Granted we can do more than ever online, but amongst the clamour of webinars, mailshots, discount codes and online ordering, the personal touch has more value than ever. Last week I spoke to a Zürich and London based clothing store who, alike many furniture brands, note the importance of a physical store presence to support and facilitate its virtual sibling. For tactile, design-focused products, where quality, look and feel are deal-breakers, revolution is overdue in the form of a nespresso-style hybrid service model. An apple store for furniture.

Flexible futures

Covid displaced businesses, employees and communities. After most of the last year in home office, many can’t wait to get back, whilst others want permanent WFH and no more commute. Many business models have been rendered obsolete by changes in consumer demand. Some outdated big brand names went under and yet more zombie companies will disappear once state-funded financial aid dries up. Urbanites sold up and moved to the countryside, leaving cities barren and empty. Coworking spaces, event companies and businesses reliant on local footfall got hammered. And it may never be the same again, because what we learned during this big experiment is that for many, the future of work is autonomous, flexible and malleable: not nailed to a physical workplace. A mix of virtual and physical work is ideal. But with the displacement of our workforce, comes a huge emphasis on company culture, empathy and understanding and a shift of the goalposts for HR teams. A big virtual “U ok hun?”.

Trade show no go

Whilst virtual seminars and networking events have plugged some gaps in business circles, it’s abundantly clear that the furniture industry desperately needs its trade fairs. With Milan postponed til September and CDW looking borderline, these events are certainly not going to be as they were…. but have become more meaningful than ever. With this in mind, we welcome the virtual interiors events that are being launched, although they do not replace the social and tactile aspects of our fascinating industry.

With all this change as a backdrop, furniture strategist will also be changing and making strides forward this year. More on that soon, but let’s just say FS is very excited about what’s to come in 2021. As Spring approaches, let’s embrace cautious optimism and take what we’ve learnt into the new world. Onwards my furniture and interiors folk, onwards and upwards.