For Americans, European furniture might mean a sleek Italian sofa or a sculptural Danish chair. Far fewer would think of Poland. Yet the Central European country is poised to become the continent’s furniture powerhouse. According to one estimate, every second sofa in Europe is made in Poland. With growing confidence, Polish furniture producers are eyeing more distant markets, including the U.S. Their timing couldn’t be better: With President Trump’s trade war, China has become a less viable option for many U.S. furniture companies who will continue to face 25% tariffs, in spite of a tentative U.S.–China trade deal reached last week. Polish exporters are eager to step in.
Polish Furniture Industry Profile
Is Poland Europe’s New Furniture-Making Powerhouse?
With continued uncertainty hovering over U.S.–China trade relations, manufacturers are searching for alternatives—and Poland is poised to step in
This is not the first time Poland has seized such opportunities. In the 1960s, for example, IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad opted to shift manufacturing from Sweden to Poland, after Swedish furniture dealers tried to shut him out of the industry. Almost 60 years later, Poland is the largest producer of IKEA furniture, employing some 10,000 people across 16 plants, which manufacture popular items from HEMNES bedroom furniture to LACK coffee tables. Yet today, Polish manufacturing is not limited to flat-pack and has come to include work with more high-end companies such as office brands Lammhults and Bene, as well as Danish companies Hay and Fritz Hansen. The latter company’s iconic Egg lounge chair, designed by Arne Jacobsen, is made entirely in Poland.
Poland is already the world’s third-largest exporter of furniture, after China and Germany, with nearly 90% of its furniture production sent abroad. For now, a relatively small percentage of those goods are going to the U.S., which was the sixth-largest destination for Polish furniture last year, but the market share has been growing. Since 2010, it has almost doubled from 200.7 million euros ($223 million) to 384 euros ($427 million) in 2018, according to B+R Studio, which analyzes the Polish furniture market.
This uptick can be attributed in part to Poland’s hunger to reach new markets. “If we want ‘made in Poland’ furniture to be high-margin, it must be a recognizable brand all over the world,” said Jadwiga Emilewicz, the country’s former minister for entrepreneurship and technology, earlier this year. Indeed, the Polish consulate in New York has hosted events to promote the country’s furniture industry and Polish brands are a growing presence at U.S. trade shows including High Point Market.
Historically, distance and large customs duties made the American market difficult to penetrate, says Milena Dorozińska, an analyst at B+R Studio. But now, thanks to the U.S.’s recent trade war with China, she says that “Polish furniture manufacturers intend to take advantage of the situation.”
Some American companies have already caught on, drawn by the quality workmanship and competitive prices compared to Western Europe. One such company is Skyline, a family-owned and operated wholesaler based outside Chicago.“Tariffs were not the initial reason we began to source product, but they did accelerate our efforts to move our existing production from China,” says Meganne Wecker, the company’s president and CCO. By helping Polish partners implement innovative techniques, the company plans to enhance their supply chain for e-commerce, she adds.
In Poland, people in the furniture business have noticed this shift. “There is growing trust in Polish producers. Americans increasingly realize that a lot of furniture from Germany with the label ‘Made in Europe’ comes from Poland,” says Jarek Zajac, head of MIP Furniture, a company that connects Polish furniture manufacturers with customers in the U.S., often for big projects like hotels or condo buildings.
Still, there are a few hurdles for U.S. companies wanting to partner with Polish firms. One roadblock Skyline has encountered is synching up Polish and U.S. furniture testing standards. “Each retailer has different testing protocols they require for their product, and there are only a few labs which are versed in these protocols and will guarantee this type of testing,” Wecker says.
Polish producers face their own challenges, especially a labor shortage despite an influx of workers from neighboring Ukraine. But if Polish companies can maintain their advantage, based not only on price, but also on skill and quality, the country could become the next furniture manufacturing hub for the U.S. where most of the country is, in Zajac’s words, “undiscovered territory.”