'Australian’s are lazy!’ stated an international colleague recently. It was difficult not to be offended, but he went on to explain why many in the global
furniture and furnishing industry don’t see Australian designers and manufacturers as a real threat in the international marketplace. At the very core
of the issue, he went on to explain, is the fact that Australian businesses don’t take the opportunity to compete in international forums, exhibit
at international events, promote our unique design capabilities, the quality of our products or our capacity to conquer the world of low volume, high
quality manufacturing because we’re really, really good at it. We simply cannot be bothered to venture out of our comfort zone and in fact many believe
that we don’t even have a furniture and furnishing industry in this country. Could he be right?
The AFA’s recent forays into both Asian and European markets with a small select group of courageous Australian designers and makers proved that with the
right business tools, and a cultural understanding of both the marketplace and the aspirational needs of international buyers, Australia really can
stand out, be hugely successful and, YES, even be a threat if we get the model right.
The AFA led campaign of International Pavilions into Shanghai, China and London, UK was designed for two very different purposes. China was hugely successful from a trading
perspective. The demand for Australian products, the lower Australian dollar, the Free Trade Agreement and the training and preparation undertaken
by the collective of exhibitors beforehand all contributed to the success experienced by the group. So much so, that they have all signed up for 2016.
The UK event was more design focussed and allowed the group to mix it with the brightest and best in the world of design. The interest generated by
our clever designers made the Australian Pavilions the talk of the town, with offers pouring in from other nations to host an Australian Pavilion in
other major cities at colossal events. But more importantly, International groups are now looking to Australia as a marketplace because we have demonstrated
that Australians are a clever, cosmopolitan bunch with sophisticated taste looking for good design in all aspects of the Australian way of life.
Some will argue that the influx of international exhibitors at FURNITEX & design 2016 in Brisbane will only open up more opportunities for imported product into Australia, killing off local manufacturing. After having experienced international
shows in two major powerhouse nations of design and manufacture, the threat is negligible. The biggest threats to the Australian furniture and furnishing
industry, is poor design, substandard manufacturing and market share. The AFA’s position is that competition is healthy and whilst our focus remains
on growing Australian businesses, the only market that is growing is the international one, so we had better be amongst it to be successful.
The single biggest advantage for both international events has proven to be the decision to form a group of exhibitors under a national banner. As a national
representative group the level of trust, respect and attention received has sparked an enthusiasm for international trade that has been lacking for
over eighteen years…….yes eighteen years. Of course we are generalising. There are a small number of highly successful Australian companies
doing very well on a global scale, but they almost go unnoticed. The AFA is determined to change this perception both here and abroad. The very first
debrief meeting has already occurred and the excitement is building for the next twelve months of planning. The networks have been activated. The creative
brains are already designing the shows for next year and the international exhibitors are coming to Australia too. Australia the lazy country? We don’t
think so. Australia the latent country maybe. But look out world, because the switch has been flicked on for this nation of innovators and we’re calling
on the furniture and furnishing industry to get on board.