Pictured: Donna Edwards, Programme Director at Made Smarter North West Adoption programme
Furniture and home goods makers are being urged to use the ongoing home improvement boom as a catalyst for digital transformation.
The sectors, which produce sofas, beds and furnishings, face a challenging time following the pandemic, Brexit and rising inflation.
However, the huge demand for interior design, home and garden products and customisation, as well as a further shift to online shopping - driven by lockdown-induced focus on home upgrades in 2021 - looks set to continue, presenting a significant opportunity to manufacturers.
The ongoing renovation boom means the UK furniture and furnishings market, worth an estimated £14bn and the second largest in Europe, is estimated to grow by around 3% in 2022.
Almost 140 SMEs are working with Made Smarter’s Adoption Programme in the North West to navigate the multitude of challenges and capitalise on changing trends. By tapping into impartial expert technology and skills advice, and digital transformation workshops, Made Smarter are helping them take their first steps.
Meanwhile, many of them, supported by matched funding, are investing in new digital technology to become more efficient, build resilience, increase productivity and sustainable growth, and create new high-value jobs.
Made Smarter, which has supported hundreds of businesses to deliver an additional £176 million in gross value added, is now keen to reach more SMEs across the furniture and home goods supply chain. They have produced a free guide to help demystify digitalisation and drive technology adoption.
The downloadable guide showcases the benefits of digital technology, how to get started, the top five technology trends across the sector, and case studies of businesses supported by Made Smarter, including furniture maker Starlight Bedrooms and fabrics and upholstery expert Panaz.
"While UK manufacturing is facing a challenging time, it also presents an opportunity to innovate and transform," says Donna Edwards, Programme Director for Made Smarter’s Adoption Programme in the North West.
"Businesses working with Made Smarter over the last three years have shown that investing in technology and digital skills can build resilience and enable them to keep up with the fast moving industry.
“Digital tools can help manufacturers make marginal savings, set themselves apart from competitors in a volatile time, make products quicker, affordable and more efficiently.
“Working with Made Smarter we are helping businesses introduce technologies incrementally, making the most of funding and support to minimise the impact on budgets.
“To help demystify digitalisation and help SMEs to their first step, we have produced some vital guidance as well as explain why implementing digital tools is such a priority in this sector.”
Bolton-based furniture manufacturer, Starlight Bedrooms, turned to Made Smarter to digitalise their manual and paper-based processes – and keep ahead of their competition.
The business invested in a bespoke customer management system, which integrated with new CAD design and production software as well as their sales and marketing operations.
Rob Barrows-Langford, CEO, said: “We operate in an extremely challenging and competitive market, so it is vital we keep up to speed with the technology trends available.
“With this investment we can now quickly create room layouts and furniture and fittings configurations, send machine instructions to their production plant, and have complete oversight of our entire sales and production pipeline to make more informed business decisions, eliminate bottlenecks, and minimise errors and waste.
“Working with Made Smarter has been incredibly valuable. The experience of creating a digital transformation roadmap and the subsequent support and expertise has given us a lot of confidence to invest in the tools and technology we need to take Starlight Bedrooms to the next level.
Burnley-based Panaz, a leading supplier of high-quality decorative fabrics and wallcoverings for the hospitality, healthcare, workspace and contract sectors, leveraged the power of technology to boost their efficiency.
Working with Made Smarter they developed an end-to-end custom design and digital printing solution, which uses software to allow for design customisation and ordering in a single click. This has radically accelerated and streamlined processes from two weeks to one or two days, doubled their production capability, and significantly reduced waste. Meanwhile, the automation means Panaz can move its highly skilled design resource to more complicated design and range work.
Rollie Attard, Chief Executive, said: “We see Panaz as being at the forefront of innovation within its industry and, as a consequence, need to keep pushing the boundaries when it comes to technology investment,” he said. “Made Smarter has enabled us to get to where we want to be much, much faster.”
Commending the impact of the programme, Jonathan Hindle, chairman of the British Furniture Confederation, a group which represents five of the main trade associations representing UK furniture manufacturers, said: "The tremendous success of the Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West, and the support it is now offering to the sector in other UK regions, has demonstrated the value of targeted support for SME manufacturers to help them take those first steps on their digitalisation journeys.
"The UK furniture manufacturing industry has a global reputation for quality and innovation, combining skilled design and craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology. To maintain that achievement and ensure the UK remains competitive against global competition, manufacturers need to embrace current and emerging technologies, and the huge potential digitisation offers, as well as to raise the skills and productivity of the people who work in our sector to the highest level."
To download the free guide, click here.