Stockholm Furniture Fair – a marketplace in transit
- does a pandemic amd emerging meeting venues affect the future of the fair?
The annual Stockholm Furniture Fair returned in 2023, after a two-year break. Meanwhile, other meeting venues have emerged, and new digital arenas have gained terrain in the eyes of the industry. How does this affect the future of the fair, and what does it mean for the furniture and design industry?
Stockholm Furniture Fair was held for the first time in 1951 and has since evolved to become the world’s leading event for Scandinavian design. In 2002, Stockholm Design Week was introduced as an addition to the fair, a city event taking place all over Stockholm during a week in September. Over the years, alternative meeting places and showrooms have emerged in the furniture and design industry. One example is Copenhagen’s 3 days of design. When Stockholm Furniture Fair made its comeback in February this year, there was an underlying question about the future attractiveness of physical fairs – not only in Sweden but internationally.
Cecilia Ask Engström, Director Industrial Development at TMF, Swedish Federation of Wood and Furniture Industry, thinks the questions are relevant.
– Even before the pandemic, questions about the future of the fair had arisen, mainly due to the rapid digital developments we have seen over the last couple of years. Stockholm Furniture Fair is still a leading platform for Scandinavian design that attracts visitors from all over the world, and historically speaking, the fair has had great significance for our members and the industry itself. However, it’s crucial that we keep listening to companies and customers and continue to explore and embrace changes in this ever-evolving industry, she says.
Cecilia Ask Engström emphasizes that the pandemic has undoubtedly left a mark on the industry and making a comeback in just one year is a difficult task.
– Many companies have had financial challenges and are still recovering from the pandemic. However, the exhibitioners from last year’s fair were satisfied, and many thought it was the best fair so far, she says.
One of the companies that opted out of the fair in February was Småland-based Swedese. CEO Sonnie Byrling notes that the company has always partaken, but after the pandemic, they have chosen to reconsider their participation.
– Fairs are beneficial because they’re an effective way to meet customers, and that has always been important to us. But we have grown a lot in our home market and are now focusing on the export market, he says.
For several years, Swedese have worked on developing their showroom in Stockholm and are currently focusing large parts of their marketing budget on other markets as well as their digital presence.
– Digital is taking over, including digital meeting places. Today, many companies build their structural methods based on online launches. However, in my opinion, physical meeting places will continue to be important. Personal relationships are always necessary, says Sonnie Byrling.
Furthermore, he points out that the fair will have a key function in the future.
– The fair is an excellent place for building relationships. However, I think it should be held every two years. In that way, the fair can maintain its purpose, and the customer’s budgets will be considered.
A company that reasons differently is family-owned Karl Andersson & Söner. They have been proud exhibitors since the 1990s and still believe there is no better environment for interaction, customer engagement, and news releases than physical fairs.
– Stockholm Furniture Fair is an extremely important meeting place for the entire Nordic market, but also for our customers in Europe, USA, and Australia, who come to Stockholm every year, says Sara Wadskog, Marketing and Export Manager at Karl Andersson & Söner.
Karl Andersson & Söner participated in this year’s fair, and Sara Wadskog thinks it was the best one so far.
– Unfortunately, there were a lot of empty spaces this year, and I think the fair should have been able to solve that better. But we have never been as satisfied with our participation as this year. There were a lot of high-quality visitors and customers on-site.
The fact that there is currently an ongoing discussion about the future of fairs and exhibitions worries Sara.
– I agree that city events are fun and a good complement, but the most effective way to meet customers and do business is undoubtedly at the fair. I hope that Stockholm Furniture Fair will remain and that people are responsive to how it can develop, she says.
Hanna Nova Beatrice, project manager at Stockholm Furniture Fair, agrees that the fair needs to be responsive and adapt to the rapidly evolving business landscape. She started working at the fair in the middle of the pandemic, with the task of developing a strategy going forward.
– My firm conviction is that the fair should not try to compete with other meeting places but rather focus on strengthening what sets us apart, says Hanna Nova Beatrice.
She has worked in the design industry throughout her entire professional life, including as editor-in-chief of the magazine Residence, and is a regular visitor to city events as well as showrooms and fairs. She believes that there is great potential in letting the different arenas complement each other.
– What makes Stockholm Furniture Fair unique is that we are a meeting place and a collective marketplace where hundreds of brands come together and attract a large group of people. It’s not just about brand building, the focus is on the business and what we can do together, she says.
Hanna Nova Beatrice also underlines the importance of the fair as an arena for unestablished designers and a platform to promote Sweden as a sustainable furniture and design country. She emphasizes that you must think outside the box to prepare for the future.
– In the past, it was almost like a race – the bigger the stands, the better – that was the mentality. Today, we need to think differently, especially from a sustainability perspective. Therefore, we encourage participants to think differently, to reuse and make smaller stands, or to collaborate with other companies. We want to make it more sustainable and financially beneficial for everyone, she says.
The issue of periodicity is an area that Hanna Nova Beatrice thinks needs reviewing over time.
– For me, it is a natural development to start thinking about how regularly the fair should take place. However, right now, we see an apparent need to organize it every year to strengthen the brand after the pandemic, she says.
Stockholm Furniture Fair as a brand – both in Sweden and internationally – is something that Jenny Bergström Bonmot is well versed in. She works as a project manager in design and culture at the Swedish Institute, SI, and has collaborated with the fair multiple times – including the Swedish Design Movement – a government initiative aimed at bolstering Sweden on the international design map.
– Our main task has been communication and promoting the image of Sweden as a sustainable design country, she says.
Jenny Bergström Bonmot believes that the Stockholm Furniture Fair and Stockholm Design Week constitute important communication platforms internationally, and she believes that they will continue to do so.
– There is an established ecosystem at the fair where everyone has different roles and strengths, which allows us to work together to strengthen and develop Sweden as a sustainable design country.
STOCKHOLM FURNITURE FAIR
Since the Stockholm Furniture Fair was held for the first time in 1951, it has evolved to become the world’s leading event for Scandinavian design, welcoming visitors, and exhibitors from all over the world. In addition to being a central marketplace, the fair is a leading arena for unestablished designers.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Back in 2003, Greenhouse was born. It is an area at the fair where unestablished designers can showcase their work and establish themselves in the industry. Next year, 2024, a new arena for young progressive design brands will open at the fair.