Furniture from Poland makes sense for US market

HIGH POINT—A one-two punch in the form of tariffs imposed on furniture imported from China and related supply chain disruption since the pandemic has resulted in new suppliers of furniture.

For a growing number of retailers, wholesalers and suppliers set to attend furniture market here later this month, Poland is becoming increasingly considered as a source.

Attendees at market wanting to see the latest furniture from six leading Polish factories — Black Red White, Homenestry, Intermeble, Meble Wojcik, Spin and Wajnert — and their respective CEOs can visit their space on the fifth floor of the C&D Building beginning April 20.  

For the record,  this is certainly not the first-time furniture manufacturers in Poland have been called on to fill the pipeline. Back in the 1960s, Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, moved his manufacturing base to Poland and today the country has maintained its ranking as the largest producer of Ikea’s furniture. 

While establishing itself as a favored source for flat-pack furniture, Poland has earned an equally positive reception as a producer of case goods, upholstery, decorative accessories and other popular home furnishings.

Companies here already sourcing from Poland say the country’s furniture offers them capacity, competitive pricing, Euro designs and styles, and multifunctional and small-space solutions, and its long history making flat-pack furniture gives them easy entry to online sales.

According to market research firm Statista, Poland also is recognized as the second-largest global exporter of furniture, only behind China, but well ahead of Germany, Italy, Vietnam and Mexico.

In 2021, China was the leading exporter of furniture to the rest of the world, with an export value of approximately US$87 billion. Poland, ranking second, exported about US$15.75 billion worth of furniture that year.

Additionally, a recent white paper from Tomaz Wiktorski of B+R Studio determined that Poland held onto the top position in terms of the dollar value of furniture exported to Europe last year.

That report found Germany to be the largest importer of Polish furniture, followed by Great Britain, the Czech Republic, France and the Netherlands.

Wiktorski’s report concluded that the United States was the largest non-European customer for furniture made in Poland, adding, “With Poland being  a country of 2,000 furniture companies and 30,000 cabinet and furniture craftsmen, manufacturing capacity is not an issue.”

In fact, according to one estimate, every second sofa in Europe is made in Poland.

Closer to home, many industry observers say that the majority of U.S. retailers source furniture from suppliers producing between $10 million and $600 million annually. 

With that in mind, Wiktorski said that Poland has some 200 furniture manufacturers in that range, making them excellent partners for American retailers, adding, “Poland also has manufacturers, including Black Red White, Meble Wojcik and Intermeble, easily capable of suppling big box retailers.”

In addition to case goods and flat-pack production, the country also has an ample number of upholstery manufactures: Wajnert, a $50 million company; Spin, a $10 million producer; and Homenestry, a supplier of high-end upholstery influenced by nature.

A recent report from market research firm Valassis found that the pandemic has prompted a significant change in consumer shopping patterns. 

Specifically, the report found that more than one-third (34%) of U.S. shoppers added new brands to their consideration set during the coronavirus pandemic, with 24% adding new brands to the usual mix on their shopping lists and 13% using the opportunity to discover new brands.

With those statistics in mind, furniture from Poland, which offers a blend of European design and quality construction, can more than satisfy American consumers on the hunt for new looks and new brands.

According to the 2016 American Community Survey, German Americans (13%), Irish Americans (12%), English Americans (9%), Italian Americans (6%) and Polish Americans (3%) were the five largest self-reported European ancestry groups in the United States, forming over a third of the total population. 

Those groups comprise a significant portion of the U.S. population, and with many Americans having to choose between traditional, transitional or astronomically high-priced high-end furniture, Poland’s wide assortments of popularly priced Euro-centric case goods and upholstery are helping retailers here offer their customers styling and affordable alternatives.

While tiny homes are the next new thing here, residents of Poland have been living in smaller spaces than Americans for years. The average house in Poland is 1,500 square feet while the average house in America is about 2,500 square feet.

Apartments in Poland are even smaller, averaging between 500 and 600 square feet. By comparison, the average American apartment is about 1,000 square feet.

As a result, Polish furniture makers have mastered the art of integrating storage into almost every piece of furniture made there. With living spaces in Poland at a premium, Polish manufacturers were also early to the game in terms of designing multifunctional furniture.

Sofas that transform into beds, tables that can extend or retract and home offices that “open” during work hours and can be hidden or “closed” after work are all second nature to furniture makers in Poland.

These smaller-scaled, multifunctional pieces of furniture became much sought after during the pandemic as people worldwide sheltered in place, worked from home and basically stayed home.

Poland’s long history as a primary supplier of flat-pack furniture, often also called ready-to-assemble furniture, has made the country a sought-after source for furniture sold online.

The flat-pack furniture, which is a highly viable and less expensive alternative to traditional case goods, allows customers to load thousands of items on a 40-foot container, saves warehousing costs and is easier and lighter to deliver than traditional case goods.

Retailers selling RTA can also offer customers the instant gratification of taking the furniture home the same day they purchase it and, for an additional fee, assemble it for them.  

If the pandemic has taught retailers one thing it is this: Every business needs a contingency plan. As the pandemic unhinged the supply chain between Asia and the U.S., retailers scrambled to find inventory and then faced outrageous ocean freight costs.

Containers that had cost $2,500 from China to a U.S. West Coast port, skyrocketed to upwards of $25,000. And while container costs have dropped considerably, no one can predict if and when they could spike again.

The solution is diversification. With its strong manufacturing base, furniture from Poland can easily give American customers a double-digit replacement factor of Asian goods, observers say.

Just as critical, furniture made in Poland can provide American retailers with new looks and new options at competitive prices for consumers hungry to change and upgrade their homes.

Lastly, furniture made in Poland can offer specific values to the customer in terms of design, multifunctionality, mobility and sustainability. And it all comes from a U.S.-friendly European country with great capacity for furniture manufacturing. 

Furniture from Poland makes sense for American consumers and profit dollars for those selling it to them.

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