Wolfgang Steib

The furniture manufacturing sector is brimming with hope for fruitful times in the New Year. Kitchen furnishings sector, which trends an inevitable popularity with changing concepts of the modern day living area, shows an optimistic picture too. Ahead of the EuroCucina, a major biennial show for the kitchen sector, to be held in Italy held from April 17-22 at the Milan Fairgrounds in Rho, Wolfgang Steib, Member of the Management Board, Hettich, elucidates on trends and scope of the industry while briefing about his company’s current stance in the sector.

woodandpaneleurope Please update us on prevalent design trends in the kitchen industry and your forecast for the upcoming season.
  Wolfgang Steib: In terms of design, the whole of the world – apart from the US – looks to Italy, where, every two years, EuroCucina points the way. We’re assuming the experiment focus will largely be on vertical lines, i.e. high drawer fronts. Extra-wide front panels will also continue to set the tone.

In material terms, far greater use is expected to be made of glass and stone, coupled with a used-look and surfaces that give the impression of being very natural. Alongside handle-free fronts, highly characteristic handles will underscore kitchen styling towards one of the major four trends of New Modern (unadorned and sleek), Deluxe (opulent with shiny effects), Organic (natural and with dynamic lines) or Folk (retro style).

With Italy still going through difficult economic times, this year’s EuroCucina will focus more on sellable kitchens rather than pure show objects. High expectations on design are set to grow, also in relation to fittings in the kitchen.

 
woodandpaneleurope How receptive are consumers towards experimentation in terms of design and technology in Europe, Asia and the Middle East?
  Wolfgang Steib: In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, design is the predominant factor that sells kitchens from the high-end segment. Implementing design trends in the various countries to a large extent depends on the way the kitchen furniture industry’s structured. Whereas Germany, say, is dominated by large industrial manufacturers that set huge store by producing efficiently and often only implement design trends within specific confines dictated by production processes, smaller manufacturers in other countries will most likely be more willing to experiment. In the Middle East, high-end kitchens are often imported from Germany or Italy whereas in the large Asian countries German and Italian manufacturers are increasingly finding themselves competing with local, very much design-minded manufacturers. When it comes to accepting new technologies, Japan stands out in particular where the subject of electrification, e.g. in the form of move-down wall units, ranks first. Having said this, though, there is a new kitchen-buyer category with an affinity for technology emerging world-wide.
 
woodandpaneleurope How distinct is consumer preference in these markets?
  Wolfgang Steib: Apart from the US, we see fewer differences between the various countries than we do between the various segments. The demands range from simply providing basic functions at the low end, giving added value with emotional appeal from features, such as soft-closing drawers and hinges or visual highlight detailing, in the mid-segment to exacting expectations on function and design at premium level. The main reasons why our InnoTech drawer system is so successful internationally is because alongside quality – which is important to consumers from all segments – it’s based on a platform concept that makes it possible to accommodate the demands of different target groups in all sorts of ways on the functional side (drawers on partial-extension runners, drawers on full-extension runners, soft-closing function, push to open) while also varying looks (e.g. side elements in glass). This way, kitchen manufacturers can reach the greatest possible consumer group with a single drawer system while minimising inventory and production costs and still provide a high level of quality.
 
woodandpaneleurope Please elaborate on current technology developments for the kitchen sector from the company.
  Wolfgang Steib: Generally speaking, purely functional aspects are being accompanied more and more by the added value of emotional appeal which we’re taking account of with new products – in particular the ArciTech drawer system and Sensys hinge.
Our new ArciTech drawer system was launched in May 2011 and, with its unique running action and unequalled stability, meets the exacting demands placed on furniture in the premium segment. ArciTech was developed to help kitchen manufacturers get ready to cope with tomorrow’s challenges under the aspect of cost-effectiveness and profitability because its broad product line-up based on a single platform is made for the future. Proving hugely successful, ArciTech was also presented at the Indiawood show in Bangalore.


The Sensys hinge generation from Hettich combines a consistent design thread with a feel of luxurious convenience that appeals to the emotions. In particular, this includes automatically soft-closing furniture doors from an unusually wide opening angle of 35 degrees. Furniture doors that reliably close in response to a nudge as well as the evenly gentle closing cycle satisfy the most exacting of demands. On top of the invisibly integrated soft-closing Silent System, Sensys leaves no margin of doubt either with its elegant design: hinge and mounting plate unite to give a look of harmony. A stylish cover cap hides the hinge cup. The release button for removal can’t be seen from the front. The Sensys hinge generation was winner of the “red dot design award 2008″ and “iF product design award 2009″.
 
woodandpaneleurope What technological advances can we expect to see from the company in future?
  Wolfgang Steib: We’re in the process of launching our activities for marketing the new ArciTech drawer system we’ve invested over € 80 million in and which sets new standards in running action, stability and design flexibility on the basis of just one platform.

The development process, of course, is continuing behind closed doors. Over recent years, we’ve once again expanded our development department on a significant scale while also installing an innovation management activity that looks at what kitchen-furniture manufacturers and consumers will be demanding tomorrow. As part of a network of key players from other industries, we develop solutions that may sound like pipedreams today but, in just a few years from now, are set to become reality.

 
woodandpaneleurope How is the industry faring in the markets of Europe, Asia and the Middle East?
  Wolfgang Steib: Very well on the whole – but with some markets slow, like Spain and Italy, we can’t compensate for general economic sluggishness despite managing to secure a bigger slice of the cake. India’s going very well, and is turning into one of the key markets. Hettich is investing heavily in India, both in terms of service and brand building.
 
woodandpaneleurope Which aspect requires further development for the growth of the sector?
  Wolfgang Steib: Marketing- most kitchen sales are still based on rational decisions, it’s emotions that sell fashion, cars or even multimedia technology. Sales-wise, this is where the kitchen industry is losing out, both in terms of the value a kitchen represents as well as the frequency it’s renewed in. This is where a different approach to marketing and multimedia or other emotional features in the kitchen can help to win back turnover from other segments.
 
woodandpaneleurope What are your expectations from the industry in 2012?
  Wolfgang Steib: Predictions are always hard to make, and even harder than normal at the moment. Many indicators point down. Lenders and institutes say the economy’s going to take a further slump, and there’s even talk of recession. By contrast, though, other indicators more relevant to our industry take a positive stance. Planning permissions in Germany are up by some 20 per cent. The financial crisis has also made material assets more attractive. This mainly goes for bricks and mortar followed by furniture. So, all told, a very mixed picture. We are assuming that the market will continue to develop more or less as it has done up to now. Aside from this, though, it’s our innovations that make our mood so buoyant. We’re confident that products like “ArciTech” can make a lot happen on the market.
 
 

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