The steady increase in the office furniture dealers’ market since 2012 has largely been the result of buoyant growth in the UK economy and strong recovery in office construction, rising business confidence and the surge in quality fit-out projects. Within the construction sector the level of activity in the office new build sector has been rising as firms continue to grow in confidence, with the level of vacant office space falling significantly, particularly in the City, a major source of demand for office furniture.
The two main distribution channels for office furniture are via the dealer network, accounting for around 45% of the market, and direct sales to end users. Office furniture dealers have lost share within the office furniture market as companies seek to reduce costs by dealing directly with the manufacturers. The growth of the Internet, particularly e-auctions and e-procurement has had a negative impact on the office furniture dealers’ market, with this distribution channel providing cost savings. A large proportion of home office furniture is supplied in flat pack form by specialist manufacturers and importers and sold through retail furnishing outlets such as Argos and IKEA.
There are three main categories of companies active in this market; commercial refurbishment and fit out companies; pure office furniture dealers; and general refurbishment and fit out operations. The office furniture dealers’ market is extremely fragmented with over 2,000 companies operating in the UK, largely single branch enterprises. Whilst supply capacity pressures has resulted in some consolidation, supply continues to exceed demand, maintaining high levels of competition.
Despite recent solid growth, prospects for the office furniture sector are less certain. The continuing uncertainties regarding the form and process of Brexit are not currently conducive to speculative or substantial investment in new commercial premises. Therefore, it is likely that institutional investment in office building will fall in the short-medium term. Other factors that could constrain growth include competition for increasingly scarce development land across Greater London and change of use development. Over the next 4 years, the market is forecast to show modest growth with rates of 1-3% per annum likely.