Full of curiosity, almost 100 guests came to the FURNITURE FUTURE FORUM® in Bünde last Thursday, 29 February. Under the title "Networks, made in East Westphalia Lippe! Why we are stronger together", the 14 supplier companies led by initiator Katrin de Louw invited renowned networkers from this region to the FURNITURE TALK.

East Westphalia has joined forces in clever networking at the FURNITURE FUTURE FORUM®

“Networking in East Westphalia is anything but a new phenomenon,” explained FURNITURE TALK co-moderator Sascha Tapken from Home.Made.Storys , who opened the discussion by recalling the Wiedenbrück School: at the end of the 19th century, a cluster of 25 art workshops and studios for the production of church furnishings had formed in Wiedenbrück. Each workshop had its own specialisation. The artists and craftsmen worked as a network of workshops and divided up orders among themselves – at that time, they exported all over the world, as far as China and the USA. A way of working that is unique in German economic history and art history. In the first half of the 20th century, when the markets for sacred furniture gradually collapsed, the expertise of the Wiedenbrück School gave rise to part of the furniture industry in the region.

That is why Michael Laukötter, Managing Director of Möbelmeile, a marketing association of 16 regional furniture brands, could not be missing from the panel. Since 1995, the partner companies have been jointly addressing the trade public in order to attract even more visitors to the showrooms. For two years now, the „Küchenmeile“ has been inviting even broader target groups with the triad: “People – Business – Tradition” – even beyond the traditional furniture trade. “Essentially, we want to communicate the enthusiasm that prevails in our partner companies even more strongly to the outside world, for example with our Open Day, which we have been organising for the region on the Sunday after the official trade fair days for several years now,” said Laukötter.

“The economic structure of East Westphalia is a perfect real-world laboratory for start-ups from the tech sector,” explained Dominik Gross, Managing Director of the Founders Foundation, as the food, mechanical engineering, furniture, automotive supplier and construction industry clusters provide young entrepreneurs with a production landscape in which ideas and solutions for process optimisation are absolutely essential in order to remain competitive on an international level. “In regional networks of large, experienced companies and fast, problem-solving start-ups, we can be very successful in the world,” he believes. Since 2016, the Founders Foundation has succeeded in bringing aspiring tech entrepreneurs together with the “old economy” and writing successful start-up stories – complementing this, the “Hinterland of Things” tech conference has been held in Bielefeld since 2018. He also says: “In times of AI and rapid technological progress, no company will be able to master all areas. This requires cooperation and networks.”

The Founders Foundations and other initiatives that have emerged over the last ten years are possibly the expression of a growing regional self-confidence. After all, rattling is part of the trade and both the interview guests and the audience agreed that the connection between people, business and nature in East Westphalia is unique and that this could be communicated even more clearly to the outside world. Bielefeld has set a good example in this respect: the “This comes from Bielefeld” campaign launched ten years ago has now developed into a firmly established urban business network with more than 200 partners, as Brigitte Meier, authorised signatory of WEGE mbH, the municipal business development agency in Bielefeld, explained. In this network, she also strongly advocates that not only managing directors should network, but also specialists at different hierarchical and thematic levels.

The concentration of purchasing co-operations in the region is also striking: EK Retail, Katag, the furnishing partner ring VME and Garant-Holding, among others, have been supporting SMEs for decades, as Jens Hölper, Managing Director of the GARANT Group, explained. The association group, based in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, now includes 1,800 medium-sized specialist retailers and sanitary specialists. “Shared interests and a common set of values can develop a great deal of strength as an association group. However, this always requires a willingness to compromise. The human factor is always decisive in the SME sector, which is why we also see our association group as a platform on which we bring people together,” says Hölper.

Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Martin Stosch is a multiple networker in his role as a university professor at the TH OWL and initiator of the Lightweight Construction Interest Group (igeL), the Smart Wood Centre OWL and the CircuLignum and MyConcept networks, both of which are dedicated to the circular economy and new material technologies. Prof Stosch likes to be guided in his network thinking by the natural philosopher Merlin Sheldrake, who comes to the clear conclusion that evolution is the result of cooperation and not competition. That’s why he says: “Networking is always good. Because only when I know the problem, I can look for solutions. The more people do this together, the better.”

Prof Dr Claudia Hilker, owner of Hilker Consulting, who has not only built up an enormous reach with almost 25,000 contacts on LinkedIn, but also a great deal of expertise, then took us on the path to digital networking. In her presentation: “Networking as a business booster: tapping into new markets and customers in the furniture industry with LinkedIn”, she gave helpful tips and tricks on how LinkedIn can be used sensibly and successfully at B2B level. She inspired the audience with her passion for digital networking and gave them food for thought: “Only one per cent of one billion LinkedIn users regularly post content. While it’s understandable that many don’t know what to post or whether they want to contribute at all, the opportunity to stand out from this sluggish crowd is still huge.”

The FURNITURE TALK was so well received that there will be a sequel in a year’s time – then as the TRENDFILTER TALK, because this time it was about much more than just furniture. Before that, on 6 June 2024, the TRENDREPORT in the FURNITURE FUTURE FORUM® will focus on furniture design based on biostructure and customer personality, digital potential analyses for companies, confidence-building measures by an ex-secret agent and the latest design trends presented by Katrin de Louw in the annual TRENDREPORT.

Admission is free of charge for furniture and kitchen furniture manufacturers, furniture designers, interior decorators and interior fitters, as well as interior designers. If you are listed in the invitation mailing list you will automatically receive a voucher code for the event. If not, you are welcome to request this at event@trendfilter.net For visitors who do not belong to the target group, the day ticket costs 195 euros per person plus VAT. And here  Registration you can register directly.

The hosts of the FURNITURE FUTURE FORUM are: Conal, Continental, Europlac, Forbo, Furnipart, Hera, Lehmann, Linak, Neelsen, Röhm, Schattdecor, Sonae Arauco, Strate Druck und SWL

Further co-operation partners: Founders Foundation, TH OWL, raumprobe, Tischler Innung Herford und die Verbände der Holz- und Möbelindustrie NRW