Recent update

Business confidence at and past peak - crisis is looming

Business confidence in the furniture industry in mid-2021 was above pre-corona levels and even at the highest level in the past five years. By August 2021, business confidence had taken a serious knock, and has remained below zero since then.

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The trend of renovating houses had clearly passed its peak by the summer of 2021. This trend started in the 'corona year' of 2020, and continued into 2021 through the summer. Indeed, there was much less travel due to the corona crisis, and the hospitality industry was shut down for extended periods in 2020 and 2021. As a result, many more families turned their attention to their homes: countless unplanned home renovation and interior renewal projects were started. This obviously played to the advantage of the furniture industry and everything related to home decoration.

As a result, by 2021, turnover in the furniture industry had grown by 9.9% to €2.3 billion. Since output prices rose by 6.2%, turnover growth in terms of volume ended up at 3.5%. This more than made up for the (slight) decline in 2020 (- 1.2%).

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Consumer confidence crumbles again

Furniture sales have a strong correlation with consumer confidence. Up until the summer of 2021, consumer confidence steadily improved, as did furniture sales. But from October 2021, Belgian consumer sentiment deteriorated again month on month (-7.8 in December 2021). Furniture sales also fell short of expectations at the start of 2022. By March 2022, consumer confidence had collapsed. More expensive shopping baskets and high energy bills made consumers postpone major expenditure, such as for furniture.

Evolution of turnover by product group

In million euros 2020 2021* 21/20*
Chairs and seating, dining-room, bedroom, bathroom, garden and terrace furniture 812,9 933,8 14,9 %
Office and retail furniture 430,9 490,7 13,9 %
Kitchen furniture 429,4 482,9 12,5 %
Mattresses and bed frames 394,1 365,5 -7,3 %
FURNITURE INDUSTRY ** 2.067,3 2.272,9 9,9 %

* Provisional data / ** Furniture industry nace 31 / Source: FPS Economy, VAT returns

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Foreign trade increased sharply in 2021

Exports of furniture (incl. transit) grew by 19.1% in 2021. 89% of Belgian exports of furniture go to the EU market. These grew by 16.9%. Deliveries to France, the most important export market with a 37.5% share, grew by fully 29.2%. The Netherlands came second with a 24.5% share, but purchased 7.1% less Belgian furniture. It is one of the few countries where furniture exports declined in 2021. 19.1% more furniture was delivered to Germany, the third most important export destination, with a share of 13.9%.

The United Kingdom is the most important export market outside the EU (but with a share of just 3.0%). After falling by 10.4% in 2020, exports to the United Kingdom rose dramatically (+70.4% in 2021). Sales in the US and Switzerland, the second and third most important non-EU markets, also rose sharply, by +57.6% and +17.2% respectively.

Furniture imports also experienced a large rise, at 30.2%. Imports from China rose by fully 68.2%. As a result, China increased its share even further. One quarter of Belgium's total furniture imports now come from China. Furniture imports from the Netherlands and Germany each account for a share of around 13%, and grew by 19.0% and 12.0%, respectively. Poland (the fourth largest supplier with a share of 8.1%) also increased its furniture deliveries on our market, by 26.9%.

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High capacity utilisation rate resulted in higher investments

The capacity utilisation rate in 2021 averaged 86.5%, the highest level since 2000. This resulted in more investment: +1.5% in 2021, or €74.5 million, following two consecutive years of lower investment.

Employment remained stable

The furniture industry employed 9,824 people in 2021. As a result, employment remained more or less at the 2020 level (-0.8%).

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War in Ukraine causes new crisis

Between the summer of 2021 and the spring of 2022, the conjuncture in the furniture sector deteriorated significantly. While in the summer of 2021 there was still some optimism about the continued economic recovery, this had evaporated after the summer thanks to exploding energy and commodity prices. And in the spring of 2022, Russia's invasion of Ukraine completely dashed all hopes of a rapid economic recovery.

Also on the demand side, Western consumers kept their wallets closed, given that too much purchasing power is draining away on overpriced energy bills. Consumer confidence took a serious knock and does not seem likely to recover anytime soon. Even if the war turns out to be short-lived, it will never be possible for the economic damage to be fully made up during the year.

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