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Italian furniture sales continue to grow in overseas markets

by Giovanna Mancini

Italian design and furnishings continue to grow in the international market, according to figures from trade group FederlegnoArredo (FLA). This year may not be able to match the 6% growth in exports seen in 2015, but data for the first half show the sector grew 2.9% in home furnishings – actually 3.3% when counting the whole value chain, wood to furnishings.

Two major aspects emerge from these figures, points out FLA president Roberto Snaidero. In the first place, the European markets' restored vitality, which is particularly important since the Old World alone accounts for about half of the industry's total exports.

“I feel the current trend of historic markets like France or Germany is very positive considering their value in absolute terms,” said Snaidero. France alone, for one, purchased €1.1 billion worth of furnishing products from Italian companies over the first six months of this year, 9% more than the same period in 2015.

Germany also did well: €796 million in imports in the sector, showing 1.5% growth (+3.1 if you consider the whole wood-furnishing supply chain); and if the UK is still going strong (any possible Brexit effect will only be detectable over the next few months), with +3.8% in the first six months.

Spain has also made a comeback after stalling for years during the recession, with a 7.1% rise in furniture imports from Italy, worth €276 million.

The second interesting aspect, Snaidero remarks, is the persistent growth of non-EU markets, starting with China (+23%), the United Arab Emirates (+23.4%) and the US (+9.1%) . This is all the more important when you consider it bucks the general trend of Italian exports towards non-European countries as calculated by ISTAT, which dropped 3.9% between January and June (whereas it grew 3.1% towards EU markets), albeit returning to a positive trend during the month of August.

“The credit goes to the companies, as well as to all the work we've done as an association over the years on strategic markets, China first and foremost, which is going to see the debut edition of Salone del Mobile in Shanghai in November that's bound to boost exports even more,” said Snaidero.

The goal is reaching €350-400 million in sales in the Chinese market.

A similar, structured effort in the market – thanks to systematic action of FLA in synergy with the ICE  and the Ministry for Economic Development – is under way in the United States, where, Snaidero confides, a B2B mission is scheduled for late October in Miami, liaising Italian companies and local players (design studios, designers, developers, distributors).

A few other markets where preliminary research and scouting work have been initiated in order to identify the most suitable contacts, as well as the ways and means of penetration and performance, are Mexico, the Middle East (notably the Gulf area, but Israel, Lebanon and Iran as well) and the Far East, from Japan to Vietnam.

“It's not easy to venture forecasts – considering the international markets' many uncertainties,” Snaidero concludes: “The prevalent feeling in the business, though, is positive, and companies believe the second half of the year will confirm the fine performance of the first six months.”