Upholsterer sector trends

Man in grey jumper and brown dungarees repairing wooden chair

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the upholstery sector

The nature of the upholstery services sector has changed somewhat over the years with the introduction of modern techniques and materials. For example foam is a modern alternative to padding materials such as fibre and horsehair. Upholsterers offering a traditional craft service however tend to use traditional materials and techniques wherever possible. This is particularly important when working on valuable antiques.

Demand for domestic upholstery is influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • the level of activity in the housing market - a new house purchase is often a trigger for refurbishment
  • the state of the economy
  • fashion
  • the availability of cheap new furniture and furnishings

As a result of the increased economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote in June 2016, consumer confidence in the economy fell and the housing market became sluggish. The economy and the housing market continued to perform poorly throughout 2017 and into 2018 as household budgets came under strain due to inflation and limited real growth in wages putting pressure on consumers' disposable income. Consumers have tightened their belts and have shown a tendency to spend on experiences and entertainment rather than on big ticket items, which tends to adversely affect the upholstery sector. Little change is expected in 2018 and 2019.

Demand from trade customers has inevitably been affected by the economic downturn which saw many businesses cut costs by postponing planned refurbishments. There were also fewer start-ups during this period as new businesses found it difficult to get access to finance. Nevertheless, businesses in some sectors where the volume of custom they attract is strongly linked to the quality of the interior fit-out (hotels and restaurants, for example) did continue to spend, recognising that this was important to their own survival. Demand from trade customers increased when the economy recovered in 2013. The recovery stalled in the second half of 2015, however, and the uncertainty following the Brexit vote in June 2016, leading to increased inflation, little growth in wages and a reduction in consumer confidence and disposable income, has meant that demand from trade customers has come under pressure once again in 2017 and 2018.

Give some thought to whether:

  • there is sufficient demand to support your business, either in your area or nationally
  • any trade customers that you do a lot of work for - such as a regional pub chain - are going to survive into the future
  • you will be able to compete against established upholstery businesses
  • your business will be able to weather any downturn in the economy.

Keep up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. There are a number of associations that represent the interests of those working in the upholstery sector:

  • the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers (AMUSF) represents craft upholsterers and other businesses in the traditional soft furnishings sector. It produces a number of publications including the monthly journal, Upholsterer and Soft Furnisher. It also offers members a range of services such as help with complying with furniture legislation. Members' details are included on an online directory
  • the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA) represents the UK contract furniture and furnishings industry

Trade shows

You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the upholstery and soft furnishings sector. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. The AMUSF and Exhibitions websites contain details of forthcoming shows and events.

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