Italian office furniture group Fantoni has a 180-year presence in the Italian as well as international market. Dr Paolo Fantoni, a top executive at the company, spoke to Kathimerini about the modern challenges of the globalized furniture market and the future of his group. «Workplaces are not just spaces where people work, but must motivate and inspire the people who spend a significant part of their lives in them. As a result, modern enterprises that produce office furniture have to answer to that need,» said Fantoni. The group has now evolved into a set of companies that also supply equipment and architectural solutions, creating modern business spaces. «The Fantoni group grows annually at a rate of 15 percent, with a turnover of 300 million euros per year. Only 18 percent of this concerns furniture sales, while the rest is about the production and trade in panels of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and other kinds of materials with architectural applications that make the difference today in inspired workplaces,» Fantoni stressed. He added that its comparative advantages include the vertical character of the group, which produces virtually all the material it uses, gaining an edge over its competitors. It is also able to provide integrated solutions which lead to workplaces that motivate employees and increase their productivity. «Traditionally Italy has been a market with key importance for the Fantoni group, as it accounts for 50 percent of our annual turnover. Yet I would call markets with high potential those of Japan, North America, Russia and the Arab peninsula. The international market is showing a rather stable trend, which I would consider positive, since, after September 11, 2001 the market, particularly in Europe, underwent a deep crisis,» he noted. Fantoni brands the Greek market a rising one. His group is present here exclusively through the Greek listed firm Varangis, after it bought out Fantoni Hellas in 2005. In answer to those who consider the emerging markets of China and India as the next dynamic stops for the Italian group, Fantoni points out that conditions are not ready yet for the group’s entry, underlining that competition remains limited in those countries at price levels, so the group’s products are not competitive at this stage. Still, the group is now penetrating the Indian market, but with some reservations due to the unfavorable customs procedures. Cutting edge It is clear, however, that despite the stability of the international office furniture market the Fantoni group is making a steady rise, mainly thanks to being different in quality and prices. «In furniture, changes are directly related to the progress of technology over the last 30 years. Today we are introducing a new dimension that marks a very important shift from the past. We do not speak of simple workplaces anymore, but of furniture, spaces and architectural solutions assisting people at work, and as being an incentive and inspiration at the same time. Therefore, the people who come to us are looking for the incorporation of the most advanced technology in the solutions we propose,» explained Fantoni. The provision of integrated solutions that inspire and motivate employees requires a well-organized production base. Given that flexibility is the key word today – as far as production is concerned – the Italian group has invested in production units at the very heart of Europe. «Our production is mostly made in the so-called ‘silicon valley’ of furniture, in Northern Italy, between Venice and Trieste, which renders us particularly flexible. We also have a production unit in Slovenia, a market we entered five years ago for the production of MDF, while just a couple of months ago we acquired a company in Serbia,» he said. For the Fantoni group, the relatively high labor costs are offset by the production of high-added-value furniture, which in a way shields the company from cheap competitors. Paolo Fantoni believes that the furniture market is gradually moving from the production of commodities to the production of services and environment: «The mentality of low cost does not concern us, so the China challenge does not interest us, as we are focusing on fully incorporated services. There certainly is growing competition and increasing pressures, but I would not say they come from China; it is too far away to become a threat. I consider Turkey a more clear-cut competitor to the European furniture market, mainly due to its proximity and, of course, size,» he argued. Consequently, the Italian group considers architects as the those who express the philosophy of its products, which is also obvious in the group’s advertising campaigns. After all, as Paolo Fantoni noted, Italian design now travels to other countries, too, with Italian designers working in other markets as well, depriving the Italian industry of this advantage.