Industry sector: Manufacturing

Furniture maker: Market research

When you plan your furniture business it's very important to make a realistic assessment of the market and the level of demand for your products.

Your market

Depending on the route you have chosen to take to distribute your furniture ranges, your customers may include:

  • local, regional and national furniture retailers - including professional internet traders
  • architects and interior designers who commission contract work on behalf of businesses such as pub and hotel chains
  • businesses requiring office furniture
  • specialist wholesalers (although these are not commonplace in the furniture industry)
  • members of the public to whom you sell directly, or offer a customised or bespoke service
  • local businesses that place orders for either your standard ranges or for purpose built furniture

It is very important that furniture manufacturers keep up with trends and produce what consumers want, in fashionable styles and finishes and using textiles in colourways that are in demand. Whenever possible it is a good idea to work closely with your retailer customers when putting together new ranges. Retailers will also want to be reassured that orders will be fulfilled within a reasonable time scale if consumers place orders rather than select from stock.

Estimating demand

You'll want to establish whether there will be enough demand for the furniture ranges you propose to produce.

The UK furniture manufacturing industry consists of a large number of smaller businesses as well as some very sizeable concerns that manufacture in bulk for the retail market. The industry is highly competitive, because there are a number of firms which produce lower quality furniture at very low prices. There is also a big market in the UK for cheap imported mass-produced furniture. These factors have the effect of putting pressure on prices across the sector and makes it difficult for a new furniture manufacturer to compete at the mass-produced end of the market.

There may be opportunities, however, for manufacturers that offer ranges for a 'niche' market. For example, this might be:

  • producing stylish ranges for young professionals
  • hand crafting pieces using traditional methods - items that will become the antiques of the future
  • offering a bespoke or customised service so that you design and produce items specifically for a customer
  • focusing on a particular market, for example the contract furniture sector and producing items for pubs, hotels and so on
  • designing and manufacturing upmarket office boardroom furniture

Have a good look at your target customers (if you plan to sell through retail outlets) to see if they already sell furniture ranges similar to the ones you plan to produce. Why will yours be more successful? Identify the things that will make your pieces more attractive to consumers. For example, you might become a member of the Furniture Ombudsman scheme so that consumers know that your furniture ranges are constructed to high standards and you could obtain your timber from sustainable sources.

Consider how you will distribute your product ranges - for example you might:

  • encourage consumers to contact you direct
  • supply a number of independent retailers around the country
  • target one of the major national furniture retailers to see if there would be an opportunity for you to produce items exclusively for sale in their outlets

Whichever distribution route you choose you will need to be able to discuss your ranges with retail buyers and so you should give some thought to your range information and samples. You will need photographs of your prototypes as well as samples of different finishes or textiles that you can show to retailers. Perhaps you could build a miniature version of one of your pieces to demonstrate design and quality features.

When you are showing your promotional material to prospective customers you could take the opportunity to discuss your terms of business and also how much trade is likely to be put your way.

Your market research will help you to identify:

  • whether your furniture products are likely to be in demand
  • the price at which you can sell them
  • how much each of your retailer customers is likely to buy from you

To estimate your annual sales income you will need to estimate how many customers you are likely to have and how much each of them will spend.

Use the record sheets to note down the results of your market research.