#Designgoeson: Angelo Meroni, President of Lema, made in Italy and exports

#Designgoeson: Designdiffusion.com talks with Angelo Meroni, President of Lema, about the future of made in Italy furniture after the Covid-19 health emergency

One month has passed since the shutdown of production activities. What is your situation?

Angelo Meroni: “Lema is a company working in both the contract and residential sectors: for this reason, some aspects can be worrying, and others a little less perhaps. The retail sector could actually have some problem, of different kinds. First of all, stores are closed, and each passing day is one more day of closure, with no customers, and therefore with no orders. That said, it is not so obvious that, even if the shops opened, customers would come in and buy. With this situation, the future of furniture stores represents a big question mark indeed. Also because the question is not limited to the opening of shops; one must also consider people’s sentiment. Will they go back to buying furniture right away? After two months of confinement?

Such a long closure of stores is an unexpected event, which opens up not very comforting scenarios. Missed takings in a store mean missed takings for a manufacturer, and so on, with the domino effect generating the perfect storm. For this reason, I think that the retail sector is much more at risk than the contract sector. Contract works in a completely different way; it relies on projects. A project can be delayed by six months and those who work in this field are quite used to postponements. As long as the project is realized, there may not be serious consequences. During these weeks, we have continued to work with large architectural firms and developers who have never stopped working. The retail sector, on the other hand, is a question mark, despite the fact that, according to data from January and February, 2020 was going really well.

Isn’t China helping you in this moment?

China is recovering and fortunately we could ship the furniture for our Beijing flagship store just before the shutdown, so they are completing the fit out. We had planned to open it in this period. Luckily enough, we are receiving some orders from China, so it is a partially positive note. I say ‘partially’ because China is confirming that the recovery after reopening will be very slow.

Read also the other interviews with leading figures from the design world:

How will this crisis affect exports of made in Italy products?

The impact on Italian exports will be doubtlessly heavy, and not only on the furniture industry. First of all, this crisis will heavily affect tourism because, at least for this year, there will be no tourists from abroad. By default, missed trips will affect fashion, in terms of missed sales to tourists – Italians but especially foreigners. Finally, the furniture industry, which is also experiencing some credibility and trust issues; the prolonged closure is starting to raise doubts in customers and clients and it is necessary to return to work immediately. Otherwise, the risk of losing market share will be real. It is true that the Italian furniture industry has an excellent reputation worldwide but trust is maintained if commitments are fulfilled. At the moment, we should be able to get out of it, with a lot of effort, but we will have to work really hard to hold market share.

A year without the Salone del Mobile: how serious will its consequences be?

The absence of the Salone del Mobile di Milano will cause serious economic consequences, mainly for all the satellite activities. For exhibiting companies, it will be a problem but, all in all, from a strictly commercial point of view, it may not be so serious. What we will really miss will be the social side, the cultural exchange, the international public. All these elements are not replaceable, the Salone del Mobile cannot be replaced. However, we can take advantage of this year of compulsory stop to consider whether the annual frequency of the Salone is still so necessary.

Will this situation affect either product or interior design?

Personally, I do not think there will be big changes, either in the demand for high-quality made in Italy products or in exports in general. Local products may be preferred for a while but I do not think there will be big changes in international trade. However, there may be a lower propensity to spend on furniture, at least for a while.

But if we are talking about changes to projects, dictated by the new social distancing regulations, we can already say that not even in China has anyone asked us to make changes. However, in China they have different habits: for example, they are already used to wearing masks and are much more reserved in their gestures. In Italy or France, where tables in bars or bistros are usually very close, something might change in our way of designing interiors. But it will depend much on the evolution of Covid-19. Maybe I am too optimistic but I think that, as soon as a treatment is found, everything will go back to the way it was.

In the meantime, the issue of sanitation will probably arise in hotels, and our Lema Air Cleaning System will become very popular. Lema Air Cleaning System is a patented device that can be applied to all our wardrobes and sanitizes clothes, shoes, accessories. It reduces odors up to 90% and eliminates bacteria, viruses, so it may become very popular. Of course, I hope so.

Read also the other interviews with leading figures from the design world:

Related Articles


Agape: 50 years of excellence

“In realtà, volevamo fare dell’altro” (“Actually, we wanted to do something else”) is the title of the exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of Agape, a company founded on the banks of the Mincio River in 1973.

Read more »