How customisation is transforming the Furniture retail industry?


March 14, 2022 | By Zubina Ahmed

Custom-made furniture is the next big thing for renovating, redesigning, and refreshing our spaces to give it an aesthetic appeal.  These days a wide range of our furniture can be customized in the tone, texture, choice, character and style of fabric that suits your interior design scheme best. Be it timeless dining chairs, fancy upholstery, sophisticated sofas, lounge chairs, monochrome or bright tones, classic or modern design, the appeal of custom, made-to-order furniture and decor has increased significantly. A majority of retailers are leading the way in the direct-to-consumer custom furniture and decor market. 

With 30 years of experience, Royal Furniture in the UAE has been offering a diverse portfolio of high-end furniture designs and its own manufacturing units. With a wide range of sofa sets, beds, and mattress design, they offer customizable furniture in a variety of ways. “Customers can work with experts at Royal Furniture to select fabrics to match their required sizes to create a unique piece of furniture. All the products are made with excellent craftsmanship in the UAE with the guarantee of outstanding quality at affordable prices”, said Richard Snowball, General Manager at Royal Furniture.  The brand has a generous yet curated collection of local and international furniture including classic and contemporary sofa sets, dining sets, bedroom sets, and other furniture products. They are expanding into home furnishing and accessories such as soft furnishings, wall décor, curtains, lighting solutions, kitchen utilities, and tableware.  “We have fifteen retail stores in the UAE and three export stores in the UAE that  look after African customers. They’re not retail stores as such, it’s an agent that brings different people from Africa and they usually buy one of two containers worth of furniture to take back to Africa. Whether they sell them or not, it’s quite diverse really but that’s not really what I can involve my opinions in, for me it’s the retail stores which are fifteen. These stores are in every emirate, from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah” added Richard.

In today’s furniture market, consumers are looking for greater choice, flexibility, and the opportunity for their own design input. The way they shop for furniture has dramatically changed in recent years. “People’s mind are much broader when it comes to furniture selection. With a variety of fabrics, styles, and a range of sizes and configurations, Royal furniture has lots of options which are manufactured in our Ajman factory. We give the customer the opportunity to choose what they want, whatever size they want, in whatever colour they want  to create a bespoke home”, stated Richard.  In furniture design, again, especially in this region, it’s a mix of different cultures. “When I first came from the UK, the furniture here from the UK was totally different. Here we get Turkish furniture, European styled furniture, Arabic style furniture. So for me, as an English guy it was a big learning curve as I’ve only looked at English furniture or European styled furniture, added Richard. 

Gone are the days when consumers would simply be satisfied with off-the-shelf mass-produced furniture. Modern customers are now seeking something more unique and personal to their own tastes and style.”The secret of the success of this brand is that it knows the pulse of the global furniture industry and they improvise accordingly. Our showrooms span over an area of a million square feet and showcase the latest collections and concept designs. It serves as a one stop shop for all your furniture needs where as a customer, you can choose from our classical or sleek contemporary designs all with the guarantee of outstanding quality at affordable prices”, stated Richard. “One of the biggest learning curves for me is learning what people want. I visit stores everyday ,I oversee product development and I try to understand what people want to buy. The good thing is we don’t have to buy 30 or 40 sets and try and work this out. I can make one every ten days or so and I can test the waters. Most of the time we design 3-4 brand new sofas or beds each month. Not everyone will sell, we don’t end up selling a ridiculous amount at times so we strategically put them in different stores to find out what kind of interest they get”,  added Richard. 

Furniture retailers are now offering increasingly cost-effective customisation services that enable bespoke-designed furniture on a budget. Royal Furniture will soon be introducing tech-infused furniture items across all their stores later this year. “ A brand new store  has opened in Sharjah. It’s our first store in a Majid Al Futtaim mall, which is a big thing for our retail team. Just to keep increasing our brand awareness, it’s  totally a new concept, it doesn’t look like an old style Royal Furniture store, most of the products there are technology-infused. I feel with the technology we’ve got now people when they go to bed, the first thing they want to do is charge the phone. When I normally go to sleep, I put my phone on charge. We are putting a lot of phone chargers and pods in sofas and in lights as when people go to bed, book worms they like to read so we’ve got little lights. We’re just trying to move and give people what they want, to be honest”, exclaimed Richard. 

If consumers have to purchase custom-made furniture, does it mean it will take more time?  “If it’s certain or rare, I mean they don’t have to sell immediately but what I look at is how many people are looking at them, if it’s of interest then I’ll start putting them in every store and I usually take about three weeks to put them into production before placing them in every store.” said Richard. What about customer detailing then? “In that respect, we’ve got a store in Al Ain which sells slightly different furniture than Dubai as the customer profile and response is different. What I have noticed is that people in Al Ain are very similar to people in RAK so I tend to push the same types of furniture in those stores. They like the more classical pieces. Even I get surprised at times as once I designed a sofa as per the Dubai crowd’s taste but the biggest seller was Fujairah so even in this industry when you think you know it all you really don’t”. 

Trends come and go, and that’s especially true for the furniture industry. The way people buy furniture today is different than how they did even just a year ago, and for furniture retailers and manufacturers to stay competitive in this fast-changing industry, they have to know and embrace the latest trends. “ I believe anybody who sells furniture is our competitor, I go weekly to every single furniture store in every emirate I am visiting at the time and I go and look at their furniture. Honestly, I am being biased but our sofas are the best in the country and I am 100% sure of that as I have visited every furniture store in UAE although we’ve still got lots and lots of work to do yet I’ll say our sofas are built better than anybody else’s.” exclaimed Richard 

The brand has changed the strategy from how it was five years ago by shifting the niche from larger stores to smaller ones “I think everybody 5-10 years ago believed furniture stores need to be 10,000-25,000 square feet, but I believe if you put out your best models in the store with digital technology like iPads for customization, you can do as much business in a smaller store as you would in a large one in the right way as long as you put the right furniture and the accessories That’s one of the biggest changes we’ve done.”, said Richard. Even though it was started 30 years back, the style is not similar to how they were in the past, we’ve changed them massively, so we’re bang –on trends and styles and good quality comes without a doubt, he added 

Designer furniture tailored to individual requirements and adapted to personal style are conquering the market. “With 95% of our furniture manufactured locally in Ajman, Royal furniture’s niche is mainly the customized style. I think that’s our USP (Unique Selling Point)” said Richard. In the past they imported ready-made-furniture  from China or Turkey but now its only 2-3% that’s imported and the remaining 97-98% is produced locally. “With the current pandemic, for young people in particular, home plays an increasingly important role. I think everybody is looking to find a well-decorated home even if they are in another country. It is a focal point for work, leisure and rest at the same time. Custom-made furniture mirrors this trend perfectly”stated Richard. 

With their largest store in the UAE in Sharjah, Royal furniture has a store in every emirate. They also especially customize furniture for the Arab families who want to design their majlis and traditional areas in a certain way.“If you want to transform your guest room into a traditional Arab style, then our amazing Custom Made Arabic Majlis Dubai is the best option for you. As Arabic Majlis is the essential part of a house in Arab tradition, we are providing you with the best customized Arabic majlis designs. If the customers are tired from traditional majlis designs, they come to us and we  provide them with the latest Custom Made Arabic Majlis designs that you have never seen before. We work hard to fulfill your interior needs. When I am in the store I like to talk to the customers and know where they live and what they are planning to purchase just to get a better understanding of what the crowd is and what they are looking for.”, stated Richard. 

Customisation of furniture is all about helping you create a truly personal home that matches your style, budget and the way you live. But a focus on customization takes you off-track from mass-production as well? Richard disagreed, “Not really, one of the things is mass production that has enabled our business to jump up massively over the last eight months. Our sofa and headboard factory facility is off the limit so if I want free-stock or ready-made stock for somebody who is looking to buy furniture in two or three days as well as somebody who needs it in two or three days. At the moment I am putting more of my resources into customisation but I also want to have ready-made furniture available for those seeking it or need it quick” . In the next 12 months, they are expanding at different malls in Dubai too. “Al Ain is another market in Abu Dhabi where we need more stores. The next step would be to open a store in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. We would start with a website and if deliveries are strong then we’d move to opening stores”, concluded Richard.

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