Home > Focus On
The kingdom of the chair
Roma - (Adnkronos Multimedia) - It is an unusual case, a restricted territorial region where, in a few decades, a simple, ancient artisan tradition has been transformed into an industrial system. This is what happened in the Manzano area, near Udine in Friuli, where 80% of the chairs made in Italy and about half the entire European chair production is centered. It is a rather small area of about 100 square kilometers that includes the towns of Manzano, San Giovanni al Natisone and Corno di Rosazzo. There are about 1,200 firms with 15,000 employees and annual sales amount to about 2 billion euros, 75 percent of which is in foreign markets.
The chair-making tradition in this area has its roots in the Middle Ages. From the 15th to the 18th centuries, the influence of the Republic of Venice was important, since it attracted carpenters and wood-carvers from Friuli. Back in their hometowns, they copied the types of chairs used in Venice. With the arrival of the Hapsburgs, the workshops, in order to avoid the high duties imposed, concentrated themselves in Manzano, which was part of the Kingdom of Italy. In the beginning of the last century, 1,200,000 chairs left the laboratories in Friuli every year but the real growth of the sector occurred during the 1950s. In 1951, there were 137 establishments with 1,237 employees while ten years later the number of firms had almost doubled.
It was during this period that the Friuli district became aware of the importance of strategic factors such as image and design and it joined forces with interior architects such as Giò Ponti, Carlo De Carli and Vico Magistretti.
The chair district is divided into small and medium firms that are usually vertically integrated and internally distinguished by the production chain, each one specializing in a phase of the process. The division of the productive process into phases translates into a competitive factor linked to the scale economies deriving from the network relationships between specialized firms the district ensures in terms of cost, flexibility and diffusion of expertise.
The characteristics of the district are its strong vocation for exports that demonstrates how the local technical-productive expertise has, on the one hand, a high capacity to adapt to the market, and on the other, a sharing of knowledge that guarantees the development of expertise and the diffusion of innovative processes.
The productive organization of the district is characterized by a vertical work division between specialized firms into distinct phases of the productive process: firms of an artisan dimension produce semi-finished or perform specialized work (wood-turning, bending, smoothing, wood-carving, varnishing, upholstery) on commission from local producers; larger sized artisan firms acquire semi-worked articles, carry out the final phases of the cycle (mounting and finishing) and sell the finished product; small industrial firms carry out almost the entire cycle except for some work by sub-suppliers; medium industrial firms that incorporate the entire productive cycle but decentralize some of the work when the cycle is in expansion and reabsorb it when the tendency is reversed. This internal dynamic of the chair district explains the nature of its competitive advantage, which is founded on an extensive division of the production chain among firms that are highly specialized and on its capacity to regenerate internal expertise by evaluating the integration of the system.
Area: province of Udine
Number of communities: 11
Area: 113 square kilometers
Population: 37.000 inhabitants
Number of firms: 1,200
Total sales: 2 billion euros
Export sales: 75%