The furniture industry sector
The furniture industry is essentially an assembling industry, which employs various raw materials to manufacture its products. They range from wood and wood based panels to metals, plastics, textile, leather and glass. There are many different types of furniture (e.g. chairs, sofas, tables, wardrobes, kitchens, mattresses) with very different uses (e.g. households, schools, offices).
Nowadays, the EU furniture industry has a high level of production quality in technical, aesthetic, design and fashion related terms and has a strong image worldwide.
The European furniture sector comprises around 150,000 companies, generates a turnover of almost €126 billion and an added value of €38 billion and employs around 1.4 million people (EU27, 2006). Main producers (in terms of the value of production) are Italy and Germany followed by UK, France and Spain and, to a lesser extent, Poland.
The sector is dominated by micro enterprises (86% of EU furniture enterprises have less than 10 workers), but there are also some large manufacturers. Small companies often act as subcontractors for larger firms producing, for instance, components and semi-finished products for the finishing and assembling of furniture. Wooden furniture used in bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms and other spaces together with plastic and metal furniture are the dominant manufactured products in the EU (38% of total furniture production value). Other important production subsectors are seats and office furniture (29% and 17% respectively) as well as kitchen furniture (12%).
Over the years and as a response to competitive pressure, in particular international competition, furniture companies have undertaken a lengthy process of restructuring and modernisation and production volumes went down. From 2005 production volumes increased slightly but in 2008 this positive trend was reversed and production dropped again. Major factors of competitiveness for the sector consist of research and innovation, skills and quality, design and added value, knowledge and know-how, together with better access to third country markets.
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