The Italian furniture industry confirms its international leadership, having its engine in the North-East

With 18,615 companies, for a total of 1,34,400 workers and almost Euro 23 billion in turnover in 2018, the Italian furniture industry continues to be a key strength of Made in Italy, despite the drop in market share and loss in turnover incurred in recent years. This is backed by analysis carried out by Intesa Sanpaolo which showed that the furniture industry recorded the fourth highest trade surplus in Italy last year with Euro 7.6 billion (8.1% of the total manufacturing sector which earned Euro 94.1 billion).

Trunks cut in a sawmill near Brunico (BZ) with a Church on background, Val Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy

The overall wood and furniture segment, which employs approximately 320 thousand workers, ended 2018 with turnover of Euro 42 billion, generated by 80 thousand companies. This currently amounts to 5% of the Italian GDP.
The global market of high-range furniture is worth roughly 50 billion dollars. The European high-range furniture system dominates this market with strong brands that are known all over the world for their quality and innovative design. Italy has the world’s third highest market share in this specific segment (10.4%), just after Germany (13.9%) and China (10.9%). Intesa Sanpaolo’s estimates for the years up to 2022 indicate that Italian exports of high-range furniture could grow by 700 million dollars (Euro 624 million) and the most interesting prospects point to China, Germany and the Unites States, which are Italy’s main competitors.
The industrial districts continue to play a leading role in Italy, with six out of ten workers employed in the areas where Euro 5.7 billion of the sector’s sales are made. Some districts have succeeded more than others in maintaining their competitive standing by making the most of important strategic assets, such as broadening and diversifying their portfolios, including with specific products for the contract market, raising the level of quality, attention to design, devotion to environmental sustainability issues, and, above all, the internationalisation of the markets.

On this scene, Veneto and Friuli (the regions around Pordenone) play a crucial role. The history of the furniture and design industry is deeply rooted in these two regions. Unlike in Lombardy, the furniture industry has remained for many years in an almost secondary position here, though with successful and large enterprises which often base their business most of all on the supply of components or entire pieces of furniture for mass retailing or industry brands, especially abroad to Ikea and the large German kitchen brands.

The industrial districts continue to play a leading role in Italy, with six out of ten workers employed in the areas where Euro 5.7 billion of the sector’s sales are made.

SICAM showcases ‘Made in Italy’ designs supporting high-quality furniture manufacturing
One of the exhibition components which has always had the most success at SICAM (held between 15 to 18 October, 2019 in Pordenone, Italy) and attracted the attention of the visiting professionals and buyers is design, especially the design presented by the many small Italian enterprises which find an excellent showcase at Pordenone to present their wares to the global furniture industry. The fact that Italian style and know-how are points of reference at a global level, representing the quality of an industry capable of meeting the challenges of international markets, is well known by a sector where creativity and innovation combine excellently with the quality and attention of high-level artisan production.
Design is a trademark of Made in Italy production and it contributes to the appeal of Italian products at international level. However, it is still plagued by the sector’s very high level of fragmentation. According to a recent survey by Fondazione Symbola, companies with less than two employees still amount to 45% of design enterprises in Italy. Basically, creative people like working on their own. However, there is more vitality among medium-sized enterprises. Indeed, between 2011 and 2017, companies with at least 50 employees increased their market share, both in terms of employees (from 6.6% to 8.8%) and turnover (from 15.1% to 20.7%).
These are companies which have generally succeeded in growing without abandoning the traditional quality of Italian artisan production, investing heavily in innovation and ongoing research into beauty mixed with functionality. Thanks to its ability to connect the worlds of planning and production, in this way design also becomes an ever more strategic factor, essential for developing a new generation of products which, devoted to beauty and aesthetic pleasure, simultaneously also meet the creeds of the most advanced circular economy: efficiency, using less energy in production, using new sustainable materials, recycling, and reuse.
The presence of components of design finds increasingly greater application in the high-range bracket of the furniture industry. The illustrious enterprises of the Italian industrial districts, which find a highly efficient showcase at SICAM every year to project themselves towards the most distant international markets, take advantage of their top productions to stand out in an increasingly more competitive and challenging sector, where the artisan know-how (which in Italy continues to be essential) is the critical factor for competitive advantage, the factor that can generate prospects for development and success in the future worldwide panorama.

According to a recent FederlegnoArredo report, Lombardy continues to be Italy’s top region in terms of number of companies (over 5,200 in 2017), but Veneto has the largest number of workers. They have been head-to-head for years in terms of production revenues and exports, with turnover of over Euro 5 billion for Veneto’s companies and Euro 5.7 billion for Lombard entities. Though a small area, Friuli is however the third region in terms of turnover and sales abroad (+3.6% in 2018), only topped by Lombardy (+5.5%) and Veneto (+3%) last year. These are followed by Emilia Romagna (+8.5%) and then, with numbers on the decrease, Marche (-1.3%), Tuscany (-4.6%), and Puglia (-4.4%). With 1,150 companies and 16,300 operators, Treviso is Italy’s leading province in terms of turnover in the furniture industry, with almost Euro 3 billion generated in 2017 against Euro 1.8 billion in the province of Monza and Brianza lying in second place with over 1,500 production companies. In third place, Pordenone generated production revenues of Euro 1.7 billion through its 400 companies.
The North-East of Italy has recorded a higher than average number of successes, which highlights a gradual growth in size and the wider spread of evolved company strategies in terms of internationalisation and innovation. In this manner, the wood and furniture districts of this area have managed to grow over the past ten years even in the geographically furthest markets such as the US, China, Canada, and Saudi Arabia, where there are currently further opportunities for growth that can be also seized through the development of e-commerce.
(Based on SICAM 2019 report).