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The return to the city

Urban manufacturing: skilled trades around the corner

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Workshops and small factories are no longer looking for remote locations: They are setting up in urban environments – which benefits their customers, the skilled trades and cities.

A modern workshop between high-rises and residential buildings – this is what urban manufacturing can look like. (Photo: Devin Berko, Unsplash)

Urban manufacturing: a workspace in an industrial building in the middle of the city.

The arguments for urban manufacturing

It makes almost no difference whether we’re after a new cupboard or a bicycle: If we’re planning to buy a new one, many of us reach straight for our smartphones. The new item is ordered in just a couple of clicks and delivered a few days later. So why should we opt for a small-scale local manufacturer instead? The reasons are diverse, but one argument sums them up best: conscious decision-making – less interchangeability and more individual products that are manufactured in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Quality, the environment and design are the prime concerns. A low price and high-speed production are far down on the list of priorities.

The question of who
Buying locally from a company you know personally means that you can trace the product’s production process from start to finish. Who is responsible for the design, where does the wood come from, and what kind of finish has been applied? The local specialist can answer all these questions.

The question of how
There are clear standards governing fair and safe working conditions. Workshops and small-scale production can score more highly than large factories – including European ones – because employees often have a familiar relationship with the senior management and flexible working models.

The question of why
Good quality based on learning a skilled trade and the expert selection of excellent materials – as well as environmental awareness: Local producers can put forward plausible and transparent evidence for all these aspects and use it to convince customers. The product is given a human face, and satisfied buyers will come back and even pay a bit more if they know they are supporting a workshop, the story behind it and its specialist expertise. Special requests such as custom dimensions can be individually catered for in these businesses.

skilled tradesman at work in a workshop.

Urban manufacturing in small-scale production: This is where personal requests can be catered for. (Photo: Maxime Agnelli, Unsplash)

How does small-scale production benefit?

Urban manufacturing has a modern start-up feel about it thanks to the young talents entering the scene. Environmentally aware and design-conscious, they are shaking things up in the sector. The “expert around the corner” fits into the neighbourhood; his workshop or showroom is situated in a central, easily accessible location. What’s more, urban neighbourhoods have a certain level of purchasing power, so small-scale production has good prospects for continued business in the long run. Being active on social media , targeted use of local SEO strategies and cooperations with other small-scale producers provide additional support. And speaking of collaborations: Urban space has the added advantage that several small businesses can share a large space collectively. That doesn’t just mean lower costs. Where production processes have steps in common, the work is shared, giving rise to a creative coexistence that benefits designers and skilled craftspeople.

Technology is on the workshops’ side: Modern machines produce hardly any noise or strong emissions, so production facilities can now be located in the centre of residential areas or between cafés and parks, bringing life and work closer together.

Urban production: a win-win for cities

Many young families may be still moving out of the city and into detached houses on the outskirts or surrounding villages, but urban manufacturing offers skilled workers from the trades and crafts sector new prospects, and this can reinvigorate urban neighbourhoods. And it’s in the city’s economic interests, too. It reduces the number of vacant premises in industrial areas, and having jobs in a central location cuts commuter car traffic. Urban manufacturing also scores high on sustainability: Delivery distances are short, and the infrastructure for procuring materials is already in place. In some cities, what are known as energy cooperations, which might come together to use waste heat, for instance, can reduce the carbon footprint even further. Cities can foster the new local trend by giving it a platform, forming networks to bring young talents together with workshops and small factories, and subsidising particularly sustainable ideas.

A vacant building like this provides a suitable space for urban manufacturing.

Vacant premises are a thing of the past – industrial buildings in the city are increasingly used collaboratively. (Photo: Martin Valliere, Unsplash)

Is urban production something for major companies, too?

What does the trend mean for companies that are too big to set up in urban environments and want to stay relevant to a broad spectrum of customers? Giants such as Amazon, Zalando and German grocery retailer REWE are showing the way forward: Alongside conventionally manufactured products by major suppliers, their online stores also offer local highlights by small workshops. This may not always produce the “around the corner” feeling, but it still allows these companies to respond to the desire for individuality, local connection and quality. The furniture and creative industries are getting on board the new local trend by entering into cooperations with local workshops, for instance. Limited collections that have a special touch thanks to the input of local creatives are just one of many opportunities that urban manufacturing offers major companies.

Want to learn more about the future for the furniture industry and opportunities for new concepts? Then don’t delay: register now for the imm Spring Edition 2023 from 4 to 7 June 2023 – to secure your place as a visitor or an exhibitor .