Furniture in digital age: Opportunities & Challenges

On the occasion of the recent Interzum exhibition in Cologne Germany, the world’s leading furniture components and accessories fair, Mr. Dominik Fruth, General Director of Häfele Vietnam, talks about the latest industry trends and Häfele’s digital strategy in becoming an innovative partner to the furniture and construction industry.

Could you please share with us Häfele’s latest global developments from the recent Interzum exhibition in Cologne?

The Interzum exhibition takes place every 2 years and as you can imagine it is always a great and exciting event for all of us to interact with our customers and partners while showcasing our latest developments and innovations at our 1400m 2 booth that makes us one of the largest exhibitors at this event.

This year our innovation was particularly driven by the topic digitalization. For the first time in history, Häfele received the Interzum award for software that was developed and programed by ourselves. The software is embedded on a Bluetooth Mesh Chip which enables our electrical products like Loox lightings, movable TV lifts, etc. to communicate with each other and be able to connect them through our new Connect Hub with other digital products available in the market.

As you can imagine this has been a very exciting development for us being a traditional furniture hardware company now playing a bigger role in adding smart components to furniture and homes. Especially for Asia we see here a great potential and ongoing trend of home automation where Häfele will play a bigger role in the future.

Do you also see the digitalization trend in Vietnamese homes?

Yes absolutely. Especially in Vietnam people are very open and experimental for such new technologies as the population is fairly young and very tech-savvy.

Many Vietnamese homeowners already prefer to buy electronic locks for their main entrance door instead of a traditional key. This gives them the freedom of not carrying around bundles of keys and the ability to control access to their home more securely by changing pin codes regularly.

Over the years we have continuously developed such digital electronic lock solutions for residential projects as well as hospitality. Our latest lock can also be remotely controlled by an app issuing digital keys to visitors.

With our new Häfele Connect Hub that we presented at the Interzum, we can also integrate and control our Häfele locks and other products like lights and switches, home appliances, and curtain controls by an app or even by any voice-controlled assistant. This is a very exciting development and fits perfectly with our global strategy in pursuing the megatrend of digitalization.

Besides digitalization, what other market trends do you see in Asia?

For many years we at Häfele have been talking about the Urbanization trend. This trend is very visible in Megacities like Singapore and Hong Kong where shoebox apartments and high property prices force people to utilize their scarce living space in a smart functional way.

We are also starting to witness these trends slowly landfalling in Vietnam. The property prices have increased significantly over the last few years and spacious houses or apartments are becoming a luxury that not everybody can afford.

For Häfele, as a solution provider, these recent developments in Vietnam are both challenging and yet exciting. In recent years, we have worked with many architects and designers to develop new ideas and fittings to create living spaces that are functional and smart, yet comfortable to live in. At Vietbuild HCMC, we have displayed some of these solutions and have also received great positive feedback from our partners and friends.

Where do you see the challenges for Vietnamese furniture producers considering these trends?

The Vietnamese furniture market is still very vibrant and developing fast. On one side, we see a great surge in the Vietnamese furniture export market, especially exports to the USA. On another side, there is a continuous growth in the domestic market for residential as well as hospitality projects.

The long-term challenge that most producers have already understood is the continuous increase in labor cost and access to qualified labor. This forces local manufacturers to invest more into automation as well as digitalization in production. Here know how and training is a key factor which is still not widely available to all.

How does Häfele address these challenges together with its customers in Vietnam?

Suffice to say, the challenges for the furniture industry are immense. On one side, customers’ demand for smart, functional furniture that is custom-made to fit their home, but also affordable with short lead-times is a great challenge for every carpenter and especially for a larger furniture manufacturer.

Here digitalization can actually add a lot of value. Over the last few years, we have invested heavily in digitalizing all our furniture fittings into digital CAD/ CAM format that can be used to read our data into their production software. That way we can help our traditional carpenters to upgrade their production to a digital factory.

In order to train and to educate how this is done, we have recently opened a Competence Center for Digital Production in Binh Duong where we train carpenters from the region to upgrade their factory to be industry 4.0-ready. We work here also hand in hand with the German company Homag, an expert and leader in woodworking machinery industry. Together we offer training and workshops on how to address the digital production challenges of the future.

That sounds very exciting to become a digital partner of Häfele. Are there any other benefits?

The great part about the digital production is the guaranteed quality. Wherever you are in the world, the production file acts in a way like a print file. That ensures that as long as the ingredients like wood and hardware are the same, the file commands the machine to drill with the same drilling patterns and accuracy regardless of where the machine is located – best, of course, is the closet to the customer. That saves not only time but also transportation cost, while making it much more environmental-friendly.

For that purpose we have developed configurator software which allows our B2B customers to order not only hardware but also furniture components like cut-to-size boards, aluminum frames, and wooden carcasses, etc. online. The configurator then generates a production file that is forwarded to one of our many production partners in the area closest to our customer.

So far together with our customers we have developed a wide range a furniture solutions that are smart, functional and yet affordable. All produced in a short period of time for our B2B customers.

Can I become such a partner of Häfele?

Traditionally the customers that buy these furniture components are smaller carpenters, designers, architects and contractors. They usually do not have their own production lines and are dependent on manufacturing partners.

Via our online configurator they can design, plan and order any cut-to-size components or cabinets for their clients, be it for kitchen, bedroom or bathroom. The products are then produced by our network of production partners and delivered to them to be installed.

In order to create more market awareness for this service, we created the brand “Meister”, as many of these smaller design firms do not have strong marketing power.

The brand Meister actually refers to the Meisterstueck or “master piece” every German carpenter has to produce before becoming a certified master carpenter. For Häfele, Meister is an inspirational brand for lifestyle and smart furniture solutions. And, it is especially meant for our kitchen/furniture studio partners, because it provides necessary supports for them to sell their products to consumers with greater efficiency.

Meister would work to draw consumers’ interest via social media and online platforms, and then send them to its partners so the latter can work directly with them on measuring, designing, and installation. From a variety of furniture components provided by Meister, its partners can choose which ones fit best to their customer’s need and we have it produced. Meister also provides training about products, services, and sales strategies so its partners can serve their customers better.

Although Meister communicates directly with end-users, the communication, like I said, is meant to inspire and drive end-users to its partners. Meister’s products are, in fact, furniture components requiring technical background to order and install and thus being for professionals only.

These partners are listed at www.meister.vn, where you can find a lot of information about Meister and its solutions.

What else can we expect from Häfele in the near future?

Early this year, the Häfele Group acquired the company Nimbus, a German pioneer in the field of LED lighting with many innovative in-house developments, including wireless and a clever combination of light and room acoustics. This allows Häfele, a leading brand for lighting solutions, to explore much more possibilities in integrating our products with others to offer a holistic lighting solution for furniture and rooms. At Interzum 2019, we introduced the fifth generation of Häfele Loox LED lighting product range. It maintains the essence of the previous generations – easy, linear, and logical, while offering possibilities for digital networking.

We see it our mission to light up every Vietnamese home furniture with our Loox Lights in the coming future.