21 March 2019
Domestic Furniture Market to the Fore as India's Middle Class Soars
Historically focused on buyers in the US, EU and beyond, rapidly increasing prosperity on the home front has seen many of India's leading furniture manufacturers dramatically rethinking their business models and forward marketing strategies.
While, in past years, exhibitors at Mumbai's @Home World Expo have been primarily interested in exporting Indian-made home furnishings, it is now the domestic market that has become very much their target. This is, of course, largely down to the country's increasing prosperity and rapid economic growth.
With India's population now close to exceeding that of China, the country's GDP is expected to expand by at least 7% a year for the foreseeable future. With its middle-class consumer market booming as a consequence, this has inevitably given a huge boost to the domestic furniture and homeware sector. In total, related sales are expected to top US$2 billion this year – more than double the 2011 figure of $977 million. More significantly still, the sector is expected to grow by 16.2% per annum over the next two years to a value of $3.6 billion by 2020.
Given the traditional focus on exporting, it was perhaps no surprise that much of the furniture on show remained distinctly European in style. According to many of the exhibitors, however, this also reflects the increasingly international tastes of many local consumers.
One such exhibitor, The Furniture Company (which also trades as Antique India Furniture) has been exporting to the US, Australia and Germany since 2007. Based in Jodhpur, its range includes bone-inlay, leather, metal-clad and mother-of-pearl inlay, as well as more traditional wooden furniture.
Outlining the company's operational model, Founder Anil Bhati said: "We actually import furniture from Latin America prior to re-exporting it the EU and the US. While that may not sound entirely logical, it is a practice that has worked well for us for many years.
"Now, though, we are looking to develop more local business, which is why we are here. This is our first time at this show and we are looking to find out whether Indian consumers are interested in our range. So far, the signs are promising."
Another Jodhpur furniture business attending the event was S.K. Arts. Founded in 2011, the company manufactures tables, chairs, stools and storage units in a somewhat quirky, industrial design. Among its more outré items are stools with Eiffel Tower-like supports, tables with penny farthing-styled legs and a bar-style table in the form of a tractor.
Traditionally focusing on exports to the EU, the company had only opted for a relatively small stand at the event. It was, however, receiving significant attention, partly because its novel reception counter had been configured in the style of a venerable Volkswagen camper van.
Explaining the company's positioning within the wider hierarchy of Indian furniture makers, Director Santosh Sharma said: "Although we are definitely influenced by industrial design, we also like to add our own individual touches to every item.
"Our primary purpose in attending this event is to catch up with our existing EU distributors. We've also got some new leads, which is something of a bonus for us."
By comparison with S.K. Arts' somewhat modest presence, the Borosil Glass Works' stand was grand indeed. Founded in 1962 and now one of India's leading glassware manufacturers, the company has particular strengths in laboratory glassware and microwavable kitchenware. Operating out of a 100-acre manufacturing facility in Gujarat, India's westernmost state, the company is said to have both robust domestic sales and a small number of export orders.
Reflecting on the company's reception at the event, Senior Sales Executive Ketki Deshpande said: "It has been a good couple of days. We've had some really productive meetings and got some great new leads.
"At present, we primarily see the domestic market as our focus. We have a nationwide distribution network and that does very well for us. Of course, we would be interested in developing our international sales if the right opportunity came along, but it's not a priority."
By contrast, Avon Appliances, a fellow Gujarat-based business, is largely export-oriented, with its domestically produced ranges of professional cookware and kitchenware largely supplied to the Americas and throughout the EMEA region. Founded in 1984, the company maintains a Mumbai sales office in addition to its Gujarat production facilities.
Possibly on account of his company's export-oriented business model, director Ashwin Vora was ambivalent as to the value of attending the event, saying: "It's our first time at this show but, given the response to date, I am doubtful as to whether we will return next year. It doesn't seem to work for us, probably because it is now mainly geared towards domestic sales."
It was just this focus on the local market, however, that had attracted many of the overseas exhibitors, including China's Dalian Shide Science & Technology Development Company, a specialist in the window and flooring sectors. Clearly optimistic as to his company's prospects within the expanding Indian market, Department Manager Bing Wang said: "We've been coming to this event for five years now, so we're already well-established within the Indian market, with the country now accounting for about 10% of our total sales. While it's still behind the EU and US, it's catching up fast."
Another overseas exhibitor that was notably bullish with regard to the local market was Assa Abloy, the Stockholm-headquartered business that claims to be the world's largest lock manufacturer by sales volume. Given the more prosperous – and hence materialistic nature – of Indian society, the company has high hopes for its latest range of security products, including its next generation fingerprint and keypad locks.
Outlining why the company's presence at the expo was quite so timely, Retail Project Officer Roddam Reddy said: "There are a huge number of new apartments being built all across India right now, so these kinds of security devices are very much in demand."
One local business that was also looking to ride this national construction boom was Mumbai-headquartered Interiors and More. The company specialises in the sale of fresh and artificial flowers, as well as gifts and decorative items, such as vases, plants, candles and fragrances.
Explaining just why the surge in residential developments was good news for the business, Sales Manager Deepak Fatnani said: "We've been going for five years now and our sales are 100% from the domestic market.
"Cities in India are becoming ever more crowded and space is at a premium. Consequently, people are looking for professional advice as to how to make the most of their own living environment. For our part, we help clients plan their gardens and we are also doing a lot of interior design work for a number of high-rise apartments."
The 2018 @Home World Expo took place from the 22-24 November at Mumbai's Bombay Exhibition Centre.
Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Mumbai