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Monday, March 3, 2008

Making local furniture fashionable

Players must avoid pitfalls and market products effectively

THE furniture industry is not all that different from the fashion industry, based on what SJI Industries Sdn Bhd managing director Benny Poh said.

Furniture makers have to work a few seasons in advance like the fashion houses. And they also have to predict what will become the next big trend.

Benny Poh

“Furniture is no longer just a piece of wood. It has now become like fashion,” Poh told StarBiz. “Thus you have to be competitive and avoid pitfalls by selling at lower prices.”

According to him, players should offer higher value-added products rather than compete on pricing.

In addition, he said, they should learn how to market their products effectively.

SJI has been participating at the Malaysian International Furniture Fair (MIFF) over the past few years and had managed to receive a positive response.

Poh said that MIFF had been doing a good job bringing buyers to the exhibition every year.

“We cannot be going around the world to look for buyers, and MIFF has been bringing them to our doorstep every year,” he said.

MIFF Sdn Bhd chairman Datuk Tan Chin Huat urged local furniture makers to be trendsetters and penetrate the medium to high-end markets to keep up with the rapid changes in the industry.

Datuk Tan Chin Huat

“Buyers are now looking at what other extra things that we can offer to enable them to explore their business opportunities,” he said.

“Of course, there will be competition. That is why we need to find a niche for ourselves. Gone are the days where we only compete in terms of pricing. Local furniture manufacturers should not see China as a threat but as an opportunity for them,” he added.

He said local players should capitalise on their manufacturing skills and ability to deliver on time to attract more business in the international market.

Yap Fui Fook, operations manager of Samling Housing Products Sdn Bhd which will also participate at this year's MIFF, said the group was currently moving up the value chain to offer more design-oriented furniture.

“We are moving up the value chain to improve on our profit margins. We will also sell more of our products to Britain and Germany,” Yap said, adding that green consumerism was gaining popularity in Europe.

He said the group had been participating in international furniture fairs to secure more direct linkages with smaller distributors and retailers.

Meanwhile, Ascent Furniture Sdn Bhd managing director Eric Au said companies should always be prepared to weather conditions such as higher raw material costs and exchange rates.

“Malaysia definitely has its advantages, such as resources. We will stand to gain if we put in the right design and market them effectively,” he said.

He also said that MIFF was one of the most cost-effective and results-oriented tools to promote Malaysian furniture.Malaysia's total trade in furniture for the first 10 months of last year was RM9.13bil. In 2006, the full-year figure rose 7.4% to RM9.4bil. Malaysia ranked as the ninth largest exporter of furniture in the world in 2006.

MIFF 2008, organised by MIFF Sdn Bhd, will be held for five days starting today at both the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp Exhibition and Convention Centre and the Putra World Trade Centre.

Tan said about 500 exhibitors from Malaysia and other countries had confirmed participation and visitors from over 130 countries had pre-registered their attendance.

MIFF 2007 attracted 7,266 international buyers from 135 countries and a total of 19,518 visitors, generating US$667mil in sales.

“The number of participants and visitors to MIFF has been encouraging every year. In fact, the number is always increasing. Due to overwhelming response, we have to constantly expand in scale and size.

“This year, the fair will occupy a total of 80,000 sq m of exhibition space compared to 12,000 sq m in 1995, when we first started,” said Tan.

He said the bigger space and the increase in number of participants indicated that MIFF had turned into a world-class show.

By The Star - StarBiz (by Leong Hung Yee)

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