UK wood finishing machinery makers are having to continue to adapt to increasingly competitive market conditions – the result of the country’s furniture and other wood-using sectors importing more components and semi-finished products from abroad.

Wood finish manufacturers, too, are having to front up to challenging conditions: “We’re actually doing quite well,” said one company. “But some of our bigger competitors are having a torrid time.”

And a spraying equipment manufacturer said: “There are still companies investing out there and doing OK but the market is very much tighter. It seems every fortnight we hear of another furniture company going to the wall, and we are continuing to experience a decrease in business on the furniture side, affecting both the pine and reproduction sectors.”

He added that the value of spraying quipment has been decreasing for two to three years. His company’s response has been to bring out “new products to compensate”.


A number of specialist wood finish producers in the UK, including industry leaders like Becker and Morrell, have introduced cost-cutting exercises to become more competitive.

At the same time, firms like Sonneborn & Rieck, in the south-east of England, which also provides finishing products such as powder or plastic coatings to other industry sectors, say they’re riding the storm in the wood finish market quite well.

Strength of sterling

A headache for both the finish and finishing machinery suppliers is the enduring strength of sterling which is adding to the temptation for big furniture makers to farm out production to lower-labour cost countries, like China and Vietnam. One contact estimates that Hygena’s decision to shut down a couple of major production lines and switch to this type of outsourcing has “taken 4% out of the UK wood finish market”, with inevitable effects on demand for application equipment. Another key furniture player to follow this route is West Midlands-based kitchen door manufacturer Bernstein.

&#8220A headache for both the finish and finishing machinery suppliers is the enduring strength of sterling which is adding to the temptation for big furniture makers to farm out production to lower-labour cost countries”

But other mid-sized furniture makers considering outsourcing abroad ought to take note of a salutary tale from one wood finish manufacturer: “I’ve seen it before,” he said. “In the past, when sterling has weakened against foreign currencies, all of a sudden the inconvenience of shipping in from abroad becomes far greater than any potential cost savings a company can make. These things go in cycles.

“Some years ago we got very involved with a number of companies which were bringing finished doors in from Italy but wanted to produce them in the UK because their business had become very inconvenient. Containers had to be fully-loaded, so minimum batch orders had to be uncomfortably high to make shipping worthwhile and the Italian manufacturers were inflexible over door sizes and colours. The attractiveness of doing business like that suddenly diminished and we were brought in because we were able to match a lot of these colours up relatively easily here in the UK.”

Construction demand

But while trends in the furniture sector are posing challenges, the UK construction industry is reported to be providing some healthy business for the finishing sector. “We are benefiting from innovation taking place within the UK building market place,” said a contact. “Building practice is changing here, and there are more factory-finished products going onto sites and more companies moving to part-finished MDF components etc, which is creating additional business for us.

“It started with the internal door industry – builders saw the benefit of flush, pre-

finished doors – and that has moved on to moulded doors, windows, skirting and architrave. There are wooden door kits coming in now so that builders can put a complete, primed frame in and hang a door in it that is already finished. Builders are adapting to the concept of finished components because anything that can cut construction time down is appealing.”

Local government specifiers are among those leading the return to wooden windows, claimed another contact, because “when a lock breaks on a PVCu window, they can’t repair it; things like that sound silly but are having an effect on the market”.

New opportunities

The formula for success in today’s wood finishing market is having an eye for new opportunities in markets that are not yet widely serviced, according to one contact. “It is about recognising these new opportunities when they crop up and getting in there at ground level. If you are one of the first in a market place it will always carry you forward for a while.”