Customers, competitors, and challenges
Design Middle East had yet another exciting round of discussion on workspace furniture-current market trends, competition, satisfying customer’s demands, and how the brands are sustaining despite the innumerable inexpensive duplicate products coming into the market. We invited the spokespersons from the leading office furniture companies in the region to share their views and highlight the matters of the workspace furniture industry..
Trends in workspace furniture
Eric: Trends that we are seeing in the office furniture in the region consists of blending international and local designs focusing on communal community spaces. Additionally, sustainable design with a strong focus on quality and durability. With regards to ergonomics in the office space, USM’s Kitos tables are designed with maximum functionality and maintain their captivating design.
Monika: The modern employee is demanding a more creative and innovative space to be more productive and efficient in his/her work. According to our research, we are finding today’s office spaces are more commonly incorporating elements like biophilia, ergonomics, personalisation, and informal spaces.
Gilbert: A happy employee results in higher productivity, thus better profits for the business. Our focus this year is to improve the workspace for everyone in the office and not just heavily focus on a grand reception or CEO room.
Grace: Ergonomics, biophilia, and smart control are all important factors to take into account when looking to create ‘healthy and happy’ spaces. Allowing employees to adjust to their surroundings rather than expecting them to adjust to it. This is done by incorporating natural elements into the design of interiors, often with a local twist and advanced technological changes to meet the needs of employees. For instance, individual light and temperature can be controlled through smart apps and occupancy sensors.
Lucy-Anne: The terms ‘ergonomics’ and ‘wellness’ and ‘well-being’ are used quite frequently in the market now. Bisley recently commissioned its own research into well-being in the workplace and found out that employees appreciate their own personal space in the workplace; we now use these findings when specifying our lodges.
Paul: The key trend in the region is changing and employees are certainly inclined towards more collaborative working spaces that have a hospitality/coffee shop feel alongside the traditional working desks. We have also seen an increase in height adjustable desks and a general focus on well-being.
“The key trend in the region is changing and employees are certainly inclined towards more collaborative working spaces that have a hospitality/coffee shop feel alongside the traditional working desks. “
– Paul Todd
Role of technology
The morphing differentiations between spaces, both work and home, was the focus of our stand at the recent Salone Del Mobile in Milan in April 2018. From a product perspective, USM introduced electricity to its most iconic design with the launch of the USM Haller E in 2017 that features dimmable lamps in either warm, cool white or alternatively can accommodate USB chargers for mobile devices.
Monika: When designing solutions, we always consider three things: people, space, and technology. This is one of the reasons why we partnered with Microsoft last year. Together we introduced ‘Creative Spaces’, an immersive ecosystem that brings together space and technology to help people generate new ideas and move them forward.
Gilbert: Technology is one of the key reasons why we invented ergonomic chairs. Without desktops and landline telephones, we won’t have any reasons to be fixed on the desks that we are sitting on right now. Grace: Technology creates a world built on choices that allow users to modify settings as per individual preference.
Lucy-Anne: Technology such as 3D scanning are fantastic tools which eliminate error and saves time, but it also makes a consumer want everything else faster!
Paul: Smart technology is a key driver in everyone’s lives, both at home and work, so there is a level of expectation from us all on what we consider basic requirements of power, high-speed Wi-Fi and data, no matter where we are, either at a desk or in the coffee shop.
“To remain competitive and effectively innovate, organisations must become more agile and accelerate the flow of information and cycles of learning to take risks and make better, faster decisions.”
– Monika Steilen
The challenging part!
In such a multi-cultural, transient market, it takes real effort and time to maintain relationships in the industry, keep up with trends that the market wants to see, and communicate your brand’s news and personality in a way that leaves a lasting impression.
Monika: To remain competitive and effectively innovate, organisations must become more agile and accelerate the flow of information and cycles of learning to take risks and make better, faster decisions. So, we have to do both: We need to find our own ways to innovative faster and better and we have to help our customer to be better by providing valuable products, applications, and services. The LINC, our new Learning + Innovation Center in Munich, will help us with that.
Gilbert: Few clients recognise that, unlike other countries where another manufacturer can just call another local manufacturer for missing materials. In the UAE, everything has to be planned properly for any business operation to flourish. Grace: Our clients are no longer restricted to purchasing products in one place. Consumers have the ability to order anything from anywhere in the world. We have to constantly widen our horizons as companies are now sourcing products globally instead of locally.
Lucy-Anne: For suppliers, I find that they are faced with a lot of price constraints and face demands of dreaded “price engineering”. This then trickles down to the manufacturers, sometimes making us sell ourselves short. Other constraints that many dealers face is trying to please all the brands, which are featured in their portfolio. This is where manufacturers need to support their dealers, dealing with correspondence on time and being there when support is needed.
Paul: One of the main challenges in the current market for most suppliers is cash flow due to lower deposits and an increase in credit terms.
“Technology is one of the key reasons why we invented ergonomic chairs. Without desktops and landline telephones, we won’t have any reasons to be fixed on the desks that we are sitting on right now.”
– Gilbert Grino
How to survive the competition?
Eric: The USM Haller System is a design classic, and the brand is known for delivering highend modular solutions. This is something that really helps us to differentiate from other competition in the market. There are a lot of brands in the region fighting for market share but as the Middle Eastern market matures, we are seeing more appreciation for legacy brands like USM that reflect a level of design expertise and history.
Monika: Competition is a healthy thing; it challenges us and inspires us to move forward and keep innovating and introducing the best office solutions to the market. Without competition, companies can get stagnant and stuck in their old ways.
Gilbert: For any consumer-driven economy, competition is always healthy and benefits the clients since they have competing companies pushing product development boundaries. Grace: It’s always a good thing to have healthy competition; it helps us create more innovative products, which keeps our users up to date with the latest equipment in the market.
Lucy-Anne: I don’t think that the competition is too fierce, good competition raises everyone’s game! We have players in the market who can supply similar products to Bisley but we pride ourselves on building strong relationships with our clients so if a competitor comes along, we can remain confident that our brand would still have the edge in terms of quality, service, design, and brand.
Paul: Every country and every industry has competition, which will vary from time to time in how competitive it is. At present, competition is fierce resulting in a reduction in margins but this always rights itself over time.
“There are a lot of brands in the region fighting for market share but as the Middle Eastern market matures, we are seeing more appreciation for legacy brands like USM that reflect a level of design expertise and history.”
– Eric Berchtold
Dealing with replicas!
Eric: USM systems are technically complex and very difficult to duplicate. At USM, we laser engrave parts of our systems with our brand to ensure authenticity and we brand each of our ball joints of our Haller System with our logo, something that differentiates our products from the counterfeits that are in the market. Furthermore, we aim to point out all of our differentiating factors to customers and partners alike in order to enable them to be able to pin point those differences when looking at different systems.
“You might see a good attempt at copying the aesthetics of a product, but from a functionality and longevity standpoint, they hardly ever come close to our quality.”
– Grace van Beusekom
Monika: Just as in other industries we are also facing this problem. Our legal department is visiting major furniture fairs in the three regions (Americas, EMEA, and APAC) and actively monitors the market. Our extensive dealer network also helps us to identify potential cases.
Gilbert: Educating your customers is very important. Like, we continuously educate our clients that not all that looks shiny are metal. A lot of products are actually electroplated plastic that has a short lifespan and brittle when exposed to sunlight. Grace: At Humanscale, we maintain a level of quality that makes it difficult to duplicate. You might see a good attempt at copying the aesthetics of a product, but from a functionality and longevity standpoint, they hardly ever come close to our quality.
Lucy-Anne: It is understood that there are duplicates, which are cheaper and easier to obtain. Our way of dealing with this is by highlighting the quality of our product, and our values of manufacturing and design.
Paul: We emphasise the value and quality of our products that benefit from genuine manufacturer warranties in addition to the service and back up we offer as a dealer.
“It is understood that there are duplicates, which are cheaper and easier to obtain. Our way of dealing with this is by highlighting the quality of our product, and our values of manufacturing and design.”