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Made to Measure

Custom-made pieces were the talk of the 37th China International Furniture Fair (Guangzhou), held in March, with many exhibitors focusing on their bespoke services. In an exhibition covering the themes of home furniture, décor, textiles, and outdoor living, fresh modern designs were popular, especially with younger consumers. Designs for smarter and more environmentally friendly living were a strong emerging trend, as was increasing focus on product quality, while some furniture professionals bemoaned the decline in bricks-and-mortar retail in favour of online sales.

Customisation No Longer Optional

Home décor in the spotlight
Home décor in the spotlight
Designs for comfortable living
Designs for comfortable living

Bespoke furniture was popular with customers of all ages at this year's fair, with many consumers – mainly those with more generous budgets – turning away from off-the-shelf mass-produced pieces. Customer demand for greater individuality also compelled exhibitors to increase the variety of their exhibits to cater to diverse tastes.

Guangdong furniture-maker Landbond presented six major series of products and services at the fair, including Landbond Corten, the company's made-to-order service. The company's Corten products include a European-styled series, panel closets, wall-mounted closets, sliding door wardrobes, aluminium alloy closets, hinged door wardrobes, partition door series, and bookcases.

Bespoke children's furniture
Bespoke children's furniture

"Our bespoke service is not just about the customisation of panel furniture, we design homes and living spaces as well,” said Landbond Vice President Li Hongyao. “We use panel products to create space, fitted furniture to create a tasteful surrounding, and soft fittings and decorations to create a comfortable mood. We take a holistic approach."

Landbond debuted its VRHome pre-sale viewing system at the show. Using virtual reality technology, this system allows consumers to have a virtual experience of the company's 100-plus 3D furnishing designs, with viewers experiencing room designs from within using virtual reality headsets. With more than 1,000 modular products in its database, Landbond can provide customers with highly personalised furnishing designs.

Kinwai from Jiangmen also saw strong demand for custom furniture. "Our company has been making panel furniture for more than 20 years,” said the company’s Marketing Director Liu Haitao. “Furniture stores are attracting fewer and fewer visitors these days, and rent and operating costs are high. The panel furniture sold online offers both variety and value for money. Customisation is our way out.”

According to Mr Liu, home furnishing products have difficulty attracting customers if they don't offer customisation service, prompting Kinwai to launch a full house customisation service last year. Although customised panel products only accounted for 10 per cent of its product mix last year, the company plans to raise the proportion to 40 per cent in 2016.

Capturing the Younger Market

Minimalist dining room design
Minimalist dining room design
Panel shelving: Popular in 2016
Panel shelving: Popular in 2016

China has experienced one of the greatest housing market booms in recent years. As people of the post-1980s and 1990s generations become home buyers, home furnishing designs catering to their tastes are dominant. Many exhibitors reported that they are now shifting to more youthful, stylish and minimalist designs to capitalise on this market trend.

Guangzhou Kinetic Home Furnishings Co Ltd, part of Hong Kong's Kangsheng Group, manufactures stylish modern furniture. The company started off producing metal and glass products with a distinctive design. Kinetic's casual series mainly targets young consumers with its smart and lightweight appearance.

According to Chen Yazhuo, the company's Marketing Manager, Kinetic pays great attention to product design because it mainly produces ready-made furniture. Stylish products are popular, not just with younger customers, as Chinese buyers generally seek more individuality. Kinetic has penetrated all first- and second-tier cities and is venturing into third- and fourth-tier cities. It now has nearly 500 stores across the country and achieved a turnover growth rate of close to 20 per cent in 2015.

Landbond also sees the potential of young consumers. Li Hongyao said that the company targets young people with products at affordable price points. The Landbond exhibit at the fair devoted plenty of space to youthful, stylish and minimalist style furniture.

The need to appeal to a wide variety of tastes is shown by the breadth of styles and furniture series that Landbond offers. The company promoted the Jianzhong (minimalist Chinese), Jianou (minimalist European) and Jianyue (minimalist modern) styles at the Landbond Design Show in Shanghai in September 2015. The Qing Shi Shang (simple and stylish) series, launched both online and offline last year, has quickly won young people over with its modular flexibility, according to the company. At this year's fair, Landbond added four modular custom cabinets and new functional products with more storage for maximising space in small apartments to its list of exhibits.

Landbond's Yi Pin You (Top Teak) series mainly includes modern Chinese-style furniture, stylish western furniture and its Zen series furniture. Its Xin Dong Fang (New Orient) series incorporates the lifestyle and habits of Asian people to produce simple and refreshing designs. The Xun Jue Shi Jia (Noble House) series makes use of metal to create a modern look, while the Eglogue series draws inspiration from European Impressionist paintings, with consumers able to mix and match from the seven colours of the rainbow to personalise their designs.

The New Battleground

Panel furniture courtesy of Kinwai
Panel furniture courtesy of Kinwai

While there’s a focus on attractive home products, quality is important for discerning consumers. Exhibitors at the show reported that visitors asked about raw materials, life span and quality of the products on offer.

Liu Haitao from Kinwai said the company uses barcodes on every panel that goes into its custom furniture. This means that every step of the production process, from cutting to drilling to installation, can be traced to ensure quality, enabling the company to discover the source of any problems more quickly, should they occur.

Kinwai also uses advanced wood-graining techniques to produce surfaces that can resist abrasion, heat, shock, cigarette burns, fire, bacteria, fumigation and static charge. It uses eco-friendly paints that meet EU and Japanese environmental standards to ensure a healthy and pollution-free living environment.

Kinetic also attaches great importance to product quality. Chen Yazhuo said that Kinetic uses North American walnut wood, which has a long growth cycle and good quality. The use of good timber ensures quality and helps to sustain the company's reputation.

Kinetic uses eco-friendly foams instead of traditional foam rubber for its sofas. Bamboo charcoal foam and soy foam can absorb odours and purify the air, while some believe that the far-infrared radiation of these materials may be able to revitalise aging cells and improve blood circulation.

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Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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