May 11, 2013
As the world gets smaller and the communications revolution continues apace, one relatively unnoticed casualty is the design individuality of offices. Time was when you could walk into an office and the furniture would tell you whether you were in Paris, Frankfurt, New York, Milan, Moscow or London. The colours, shapes, materials, construction and image of the furniture were all very local, almost parochial. Who could fail to be struck by the muddy oranges and greens of a French office? Or the inevitable mahogany or teak real wood veneers used in the UK? The panels, worksurfaces and storage units which made up US cubicles were rarely seen outside North America and the massive, dark wood desks and cabinets in Central European deliberately overawed visitors and staff alike.
What do we see today? A blandness, born of internationality, which results in manufacturers’ products looking like the lowest common denominator. Everyone wanting to “emulate” everyone else and create products that don’t look out of place anywhere. Rather than trying to please their own home markets and give customers just what they want, office furniture producers just try to avoid putting customers off, and, as a result, products increasingly lack individuality and personality.
Still; there is at least one upside to these changes. With markets that are happy with me-too products and customers who are prepared to consider buying from almost anywhere, international trade in office furniture is on a high and barriers to trade, both tariff and non-tariff, continue to drop away. When their own home market goes quiet, US manufacturers might well look to Europe and, today, at least as far as products are concerned, they are often in with a good chance of making a sale.
What potential exporters do need is information and for US manufacturers, one problem is that Europe isn’t one market, but at least 27. That’s the number of individual nations inside the EU, not to mention Switzerland, Norway and others that aren’t members. That’s one of the reasons why, until recently, there’s been a dearth of market statistics and information on the companies that make up the markets. Specialist international consultancy firms such as JSA in London, who work exclusively on office furniture related projects and issues, can help companies with tailor-made strategic and tactical advice and introductions.
However, as a first step, US manufacturers might learn a great deal and begin to identify potential local partners by subscribing to the informative League Tables that JSA publish of the 100 largest office furniture companies in Europe. https://www.jsacs.com/european-league-table.php These show the sales revenues, market shares, league position, profit, number of employees and other relevant information for all the largest office furniture companies across Europe and are a good starting point for planning an export strategy.
European corporate financial transparency varies from country to country with high levels in the UK, Netherlands and Scandinavian countries and much less in say Switzerland and Turkey. Within these limitations, JSA’s information is very helpful and every three months, the information is updated and reissued to subscribers with improved levels of accuracy and disclosure.
Barry Jenkins of office workplace designers Broome Jenkins says “Despite globalisation and the free movement of products around the world, we must recognise the importance of culture.
“In a global economy, companies including even SME’s and sole traders, no longer compete only with the guy down the road, but may find their competition is in Shenzhen or Srinagar. Consequently, organisations need to know clearly who they are and what sets them apart from their competition.
“Workplaces should be a direct expression of company values and the culture it represents. Despite the possible onset of a universal and somewhat bland style of workplace, many successful companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, Nike and Virgin Atlantic demonstrate that expressing their unique cultures in their workplace, is a key component in maintaining and uniting a successful workforce.”
For more information, contact John Sacks, Managing Partner of JSA Consultancy Services firstname.lastname@example.org