HGO Merchandiser: The upholstery issue
BRIGHTON, Ontario – Innovation is the key to the survival of the Canadian upholstery manufacturer. In this edition of the HGO Merchandiser, we look at the current state of the industry. Our conclusion, its future is bright but the world in which it completes is vastly different from what it was just a year ago.
Looking solely at the numbers, without any context, gives a depressing view of the Canadian upholstery manufacturing sector. They tell us both the number of producers and the value of their shipments – to retailers here at home and in the United States – are shrinking at an alarming rate. But talking to executives from the two dozen or so companies that account for most of those sales gives credence to the belief they’re not going to die out anytime in the immediate future.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic is the proximate cause of their current level of prosperity. Because of emerging trends, such as the increasing popularity of working from home and government restrictions putting a damper on travel and vacation spending, consumers are spending more money on their homes. Those restrictions have also slowed the flow of imports creating at a heightened demand for furniture made in Canada.
How long will this last? That’s the question no one can answer. As the fourth quarter of 2020 entered its final weeks, housing starts and consumer confidence – two key drivers of furniture sales – were beginning to falter.
Less than a decade ago, there were about 254 upholstery manufacturers operating in this country. The latest count from Statistics Canada, this past June, shows that number fell to 153 and of those, only about half had more than two employees. If you winnow that number further, it’s obvious there are only about two dozen employing more than 20 people. And these folks certainly aren’t planning to fade away quietly anytime soon.
They are embracing technology, both on the factory floor to make their product and in the marketing department as they reach out digitally to consumers with their message of quality, value and flexibility.
As contributing editor Ashley Newport reports, they’ve busy innovating on the product development side, incorporating technology into fashion-forward designs. Canadian producers are shaking off the price game, which is where they believe they first got into trouble, focusing instead on the upper price points where customisation is king and quality is the ultimate goal.
What we’ve learned is Canadian upholstery producers are here to stay. The challenges they face are difficult but their willingness to adapt and learn are standing them in good stead. We hope you enjoy learning about them and their outlook on the future.