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Aesthetics and Quality Prioritised in Booming China Furniture Market

With mainland furniture manufacturers struggling to compete internationally, they have refocused on the buoyant domestic market, where they are keen to woo a new generation of consumers with craftsmanship and European designs.

Photo: Innovative design with a European accent: Prerequisites for success in the mainland furniture market.
Innovative design with a European accent: Prerequisites for success in the mainland furniture market.
Photo: Innovative design with a European accent: Prerequisites for success in the mainland furniture market.
Innovative design with a European accent: Prerequisites for success in the mainland furniture market.

Furniture products of every kind were on display at the recent Guangzhou edition of the China International Furniture Fair (CIFF). This year, though, it was all about innovative product design, with many exhibitors embracing proprietary aesthetics and bespoke features as a way of cutting through the clutter in a sector that is currently a little over-subscribed and somewhat "me too".

Clearly adopting this particular philosophy was Shi Er Shi Man, a Shanghai-based manufacturer that favoured furniture in a distinctly Chinese style. Indeed, one of its stand's centrepieces was a floor lamp in the shape of a man out fishing, a conceit that paid homage to a classic poem. To achieve the look, the lamp shade was shaped like fisherman's straw hat, while the curves of the accompanying stand formed his fishing rod. The shade itself was made of aluminium alloy, while the base and holder were fashioned in low-carbon steel.

The company was also looking to showcase its Twilight Cabinet range, a line imbued throughout with classic oriental aesthetics. At pains to highlight the rigorous manufacturing process required to create furniture that is both aesthetically pleasing and practical, a sales representative on the company's stand said: "The ceramic veneer used on the surface of the cabinet has to be fired at an extremely high temperature to ensure it's scratch and dirt resistant, while also being easy to clean. Partitions of varying shapes and sizes are then used within to optimise storage, while ensuring the finished high-quality cabinets retain a unique visual appeal."

Majoring on functionality as well as aesthetics was Hong Kong's Euro & Asia Group Tomorrow Sofa Co, which had on offer a reclining sofa with a unique space-saving feature. While conventional reclining sofas have to be positioned well away from walls or other obstacles in order to give ample space when reclined, thus taking up rather more of a room than is ideal, no such allowance needs to be made for the company's latest couch. This is achieved by allowing the unit to slide forward rather than back when reclined, an innovation said to make it ideal for compact city apartments where space is at a premium.

As well as being space-conscious, the younger generation of furniture purchasers is also known to favour imported styles, with the contemporary European look particularly popular. Looking to capitalise on this particular trend was Baicheng Furniture, a Huizhou-based manufacturer hoping that Italian design know-how had added the requisite touch of class to the Demora brand of furniture it was representing at the event.

Outlining the company's strategy, Sales Representative Xie Jinfu said: "Consumers born in the 1980s and 1990s are now the primary buyers of furniture. Typically, this demographic likes uniquely designed furniture, and this is where Demora comes in. It's a brand that prioritises aesthetics and works with many leading Italian designers.

Photo: Baicheng Furniture: Touch and feel essential for sustained sales.
Baicheng Furniture: Touch and feel essential for sustained sales.
Photo: Baicheng Furniture: Touch and feel essential for sustained sales.
Baicheng Furniture: Touch and feel essential for sustained sales.

"Our partnership with Demora is something of a departure for us. Prior to this, we've largely worked on a OEM basis for a number of international manufacturers. We've always been known for own attention to design, however, something that has long made our furniture popular with young consumers."

Turning to the issue of sales and distribution, Xie maintained that, despite the growing significance of e-commerce within the furniture sector, most of Baicheng's output was still purchased offline. Explaining this preference, he said: "To this day, we still mainly sell through brick-and-mortar specialty stores and have networks in place in most of the first- and second-tier cities. We find that consumers who really care about design want to touch and feel big-ticket items before they commit to a purchase."

Domestic Sales Boom

The growing emphasis on innovative design aside, perhaps the most pronounced trend at this year's event was the mass refocusing on the domestic market, even by furniture manufacturers that had solely serviced the export sector in the past. One clear upshot of this was increased competition in the mainland market, with more manufacturers than ever jostling for the attention of consumers.

Acknowledging this, Xie said: "For the past 20 years, we have primarily produced OEM items for export. Now, though, rising design fees and increased labour costs have made our products less competitive on a global basis. Thankfully, though, we are now seeing huge opportunities opening up in the domestic market.

"Mainland furniture consumers, though, are becoming far more demanding in terms of the design and quality of the furniture they are willing to purchase, while also being ready to pay more for quality products. We have seized the initiative by launching a proprietary brand and believe our experience of producing quality products will ensure we do well."

Equally optimistic about its prospects in the domestic market was 37 Degree Smart Home, a Guangzhou-based business looking to take a lead in the smart furniture sector. Outlining its aspirations within the local market, Marketing Manager Ma Min'er said: "Our furniture sells very well overseas, particularly in the Americas and in Europe, and that has long been our focus.

"Now, though, the mainland furniture market is really taking off, with smart furniture proving particularly popular. As a result, we have high hopes of making a real impact here. We now have 100 distributors in place across the country, with our sales network extending to all the key first- and second-tier cities. Overall, we're confident that we're well-placed to capitalise on the growing demand for smart furniture across China."

Photo: Bespoke boudoir: Designed for duvet days.
Bespoke boudoir: Designed for duvet days.
Photo: Bespoke boudoir: Designed for duvet days.
Bespoke boudoir: Designed for duvet days.
Photo: Industry scourge: Pirate designs.
Industry scourge: Pirate designs.
Photo: Industry scourge: Pirate designs.
Industry scourge: Pirate designs.

The 2019 China International Furniture Fair (CIFF) (Guangzhou) was held at the China Import and Export Fair Complex in Guangzhou on 18-21 March (first phase) and 28-31 March (second phase) and attracted 4,344 exhibitors.

Xiao Ming, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Related article: "Mainland Furniture Gets Smarter as Target Buyers Get Notably Younger"

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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