Flat-Pack 2.0.

The new generation of consumers has changed expectations.

Ready-to-assemble furniture for digital natives. Right now, connected solutions are still a topic in the furniture world. The tendency to networking of end consumers, especially the young generation, is doubtless. The increasing digitalization of young people is accompanied by an increased alienation from the analogue world and its constraints. The population ages in the developed world and generates new consumer reflexes. At the same time, however, the behaviour of younger people is also changing rapidly.

Buying furniture online has become a fast growing trend. It goes hand in hand with the rapid dematerialisation of shopping sources altogether, away from the brick and mortar shop, as the Anglo-Saxons call it, to the virtual marketplace Internet. The power of new media and the Internet as a source of supply for goods, goes along with the elimination of an increasingly perceived as unnecessary intermediary: the conventional shop? This is partly due to low sales and logistics costs which are usually below the margin of traditional trade, but also due to the legal possibilities, in case of not liking the product, to simply return the purchased goods. Both together are very potent driving forces for the new behaviour. The longing for new design trends outside the burgeoning offer of the world’s giants and the desire for solutions that are more precisely tailored to their own needs, ensure a further upswing in the blooming of Internet furniture shops.

If the customer then open the package delivered, what he gets isn’t necessarily what he expects today. Consumer surveys across Europe show that the new generation has extremely nimble thumbs, but seems to be partially blessed with two left hands. In the seventies and eighties of the last century, no tool chest was big enough for the average home improvement worker. According to the statistics, depending on the country, there were 1.2 drills, 2.1 cordless screwdrivers and a large number of circular and jigsaws, as well as all the fuss about it.

The new generation finds increasingly less fulfilment in do-it-yourself and has at best a tape measure, a set of screwdrivers and a hammer at hand. On top and to make sense, one should not have to spend the weekend with the tinkering related to doing it yourself. Life priorities are elsewhere: leisure, travel and social networking are increasingly the socially accepted time-wasters.

The furniture industry would do extremely well not to respond to these changing expectations with the usual sluggishness. The continuing focus on price of the furniture trade and its trading power are today’s metronome. The furniture manufacturers are increasingly sub-contractors of the furniture retail and the hardware manufacturers at the beginning of the value chain have extreme difficulties putting their innovative power at the service of the consumer, as the network of decision-making filters is virtually impenetrable. The much talked-about shift of consumer spending away from furniture and towards other areas of interest can only be interrupted if the industry this time devotes the necessary amount of interest to the new requirements, carefully listening to what the end users say and then respond to those expectations with their product offering.

Flat-Pack 2.0 is one of the trends underlying these expectations. To open a ready-to-assemble furniture box and then face an incomprehensible, cumbersome or encyclopaedic instruction is clearly a deterrent. Then, when the ominous fitting bag is opened, the guesswork of “what-is-what” begins and the separation by quantity, type and function of the components even strains the patience of first-semester students in engineering studies.

Consumer surveys have shown that this is the first approach, perhaps this time to win the spending competition against the latest edition of a well-known smartphone for the furniture world. First signs that manufacturers are aware of the development show up in different product categories. The solution approaches can be found on at least three levels:

  1. factory assembly of components

Wherever available technology allows, this approach should become the norm in flat-pack furniture. Hardware solutions such as the one-piece BLU connector developed by the Italian manufacturer CAR-FITTINGS, which was specially developed for machine assembly, have been on the Anglo-Saxon market since 2016, drawing even the first Me-Too solutions. Just as adjustable feet which can be integrated in thin side walls or pre-assembled back panel connector. In the United States, it is also quite common for ready to assemble furniture to have pre-assembled drawer guides in the factory.

  1. Tool-less assembly of the components

Expansion dowel technology, which is activated with finger pressure or small levers has been popular with craftsmen for years, but very few ready-to-assemble furniture models offer this advantage to the inexperienced end user. Again, there are already more approaches. The steel bars for base cabinets in takeaway kitchens of the German manufacturer RENNERICH GMBM, which hold together the body without tools through a patented solution, are gradually penetrating well-known manufacturers.

  1. One tool only for the rest

If there is still a need for a tool, in order for the assembly process to be simple and intuitive, the entire design of the furniture should be such that one tool type is sufficient. A Phillips screwdriver or a hex key are the preferred types here; the hammer – also made of rubber – never has to come close to flat-pack-furniture.

Last but not least, Flat-Pack 2.0 is also a very hot topic for two other areas of furniture construction: dismantled delivered furniture, which must then be mounted by the technicians of the trade and fitter assembled furniture.

Logistics costs and handling of the furniture make it increasingly necessary that even higher-quality furniture is not delivered completely assembled, but partially disassembled. The often poor quality of the fitters to be found on the market, as well as the high costs of this service, are also an incentive to use the Flat-Pack 2.0 approach, even for partially disassembled furniture. Low installation costs on site, quality of the mechanical assembly and speed of the final assembly at the customer’s side cannot be dismissed as advantages.

Surprising are the arising opportunities for manufacturers traditioannly active in the fully assembled furniture. The robotization of the assembly is already well advanced in many manufacturers of this type of furniture, or for reasons of cost optimization are in the planning or in progress. This type of furniture manufacturer can actually adjust its own business model fairly quickly to the growing market of online retailing. Existing equipment continue to be used for the factory assembly of all components, but then the cabinets are not fully assembled, but are packed partially assembled: the offer is perfect.

Translation of the article by Roger Reichert published in the December 2018 issue of the German furniture production magazine Möbelfertigung (https://bc.pressmatrix.com/de/profiles/62108939bed5/editions/b93bc4ef17f954bc0285/pages/page/17).