4 Greatest Asian Exporting Countries for (Wooden) Furniture Manufacture

Asia, especially the eastern part, has grown to be a popular source for furniture export. There has been a drive eastwards to find relative low costs of capital-intensive furniture manufacture, especially in China. On the other hand, prices of handicraft are quite low in countries like Indonesia. Rising prices of handmade furniture products in the West due to higher labor costs have given wholesalers enough incentive to import this type of furniture from places offering high skilled labor for low labor costs. Today, many Asian countries possess a competitive advantage in terms of production costs, which transpires in increased export ratios. In 2018, half of the world’s furniture exports came from Asia. 

The figure below shows Asia in red with the biggest share in export. Not only China, but also Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysian furniture manufacturers play a big role.

{see an interactive image of the world’s furniture share here}

 

Choosing the right country to find or outsource furniture can be a tough process. This guide will cover some of the best Asian countries in terms of furniture manufacturing. There will be a general overview of each country, ranked by their total furniture export. In the guide we will cover the relevant comparative topics shown below.

 

Wooden Furniture Export Manufacture

 

Wooden Furniture manufacturer Vietnam Asia

Although only over 28% of export (oecd.world, 2018) of furniture related products consist of wooden furniture, we will mainly focus on this type of furniture. Markedly, the biggest furniture exporters in Asia appear to have a revealed comparative advantage when it comes to wooden furniture. Hence, furniture importers, that are choosing between Asian furniture export countries, are likely interested in wooden furniture. However, if the covered countries specialize in any other type of furniture, this will be mentioned in the guide as well. On a side note, country data mentioned in this guide generally comes from 2018 records, unless stated otherwise.

 

For the sake of clarity, the nomenclature of the harmonized system codes regarding furniture is stated below. For a more specific level click the links.

 

 
 
 
 

China Furniture Manufacture

 

In 2018, around 38% of the world furniture trade (HS94) was sourced from China. Barely importing furniture to meet its own furniture demand, China provides furniture to its own population of over 1.4 billion beside being the largest furniture exporter worldwide. 

For almost any product type, China dominates the market in terms of export. Notably, China makes up for over 40% of world’s metal furniture exports. By and large, this is facilitated by the immense number of capital-intensive furniture factories with standardized machinery in this country. More specifically, China accounts for over 60% of world export for seats with metal framing. Actually, China seems to be highly popular for seats in general, producing nearly half of upholstered wooden seats and more than 60% of upholstered metal seats. In general, virtually any type of furniture you’re looking for you can find in China. 

 

 

While China’s export numbers are impressive as totals and ranges, they do recently seem to stagnate and decline as a growth percentage regarding many importing countries. Recent tradewars might be one of the root causes of this matter, as the export percentage to the United States declines the most. Furthermore, companies inclined to diversify their import portfolios to more countries might be another factor.

 

Furniture Export Destinations of China as a Growth Rate Percentage, 2019
Furniture Export Destinations of China as a Growth Rate Percentage, 2019

Labour skills & capital intensity

 

It goes without saying that China, as a new world power, has grown an incredibly large and versatile labour force. Over the last decades China’s GDP has been rising rapidly and has already passed the USA, if GDP is adjusted on a purchasing power parity basis.

 

Estimated Share of Global GDP of USA China GBR and Russia based on PPP
Estimated Share of Global GDP based on PPP

Exactly the competitive advantages that China offered to US-based and other international companies as an outsource haven, have led to this immense growth. Now that China has become a world power, costs for the same labour skills output from a decade ago have risen accordingly. As a result, China had to invest in more capital-intensive industries to maintain a competitive advantage. 

As for furniture in general, China has a revealed comparative advantage of 2.79, as calculated from its trade flows. We can conclude from the last section, that this advantage is maintained by slowly moving away from manual skilled labour to more machine-made furniture. So if you’re looking for machine-made furniture with high quality standards, China is certainly the go-to country. 

 

Wood types and wood access

A negative side-effect of China’s rapid growth has been deforestation. Even though there are reforestation programs for several wood types, China currently imports around half of the world’s timber export. Since China seeks mostly raw logs in its relentless pursuit of timber, exporting countries do not necessarily reap the benefits. 

 

Business communication & Quality standards

If possible, try to get as close to the production source as possible. There might be reasons why this is not possible. For instance, there might be a communication issue and you might need a translator. Often, sourcing agents act as translators between suppliers and buyers. You might need them in order to communicate effectively.

Other times, suppliers hide the real supply chain of their sources and components, which means it is hard for you to control it. 

Many international buyers cannot fully grasp the size of China and its possibly complex supply chains. While any type of furniture can be found, there are many problems you can face in this country. The picture below displays how supplier problems in China often play out.

 

Frequent Problems with China Furniture Manufacturers

 

Certainly, quality standards in China can be top class, but you need to weed out the bad suppliers that cause headaches. One solution can be found in the ‘exhibition and key furniture locations’ section below.

 

Exhibitions & key furniture locations

China offers two major furniture exhibitions or furniture fairs. The China International Furniture Fair (CIFF) occurs twice a year in March, the Shanghai exhibition, and September in Canton (Guangzhou). The sheer size of this fair and its global interest do not only attract furniture makers from China, but also manufacturers from other countries seeking to expand their businesses. The fair can be seen as Asia’s furniture sourcing center.

The other major exhibition is the China Import and Export Fair. Held twice a year in Guangzhou, this fair is more popular amongst the bigger chain stores, with suppliers chasing cost leadership and economies of scale. In general, they offer a small range of mediocre products for minimal prices and high minimum order quantities.

Shunde, a district in Foshan city, is famous as the furniture wholesale city of China. Containing thousands of furniture manufacturers and furniture malls, this city can be visited all year round.

 

Currency

 

Vietnam Furniture Manufacture

 

Vietnam is Asia’s second biggest furniture exporter, providing the 6th biggest share of furniture export manufacture in the world. There are around 1500 export manufacturers in Vietnam, which traditionally focuses on outdoor furniture. However, this has changed in recent years for the new kid around the block. With a rapidly developing economy, Vietnamese furniture factories as well as the increasing number of FDI, have allocated significant resources to capital for heavy machinery. In 2018, Vietnam showed an incredible growth of 12% regarding HS94 furniture export, and as a result accounts for 3.72% of the world furniture trade.

 

Wood types and access

The recent growth of furniture production has caused a shortage of timber. Due to a domestic logging ban and neighbouring countries’ reluctance to export raw products, the country is pressured to import expensive timber from overseas. China on the other hand, provides Vietnam most of its processed timber, like veneer.

Where does Vietnam import Rough Wood from for furniture manufacturer Vietnam
Where does Vietnam import Rough Wood from? (2018)

As supply and demand gaps are often filled illegally, this wood access issue is not only challenging Vietnam’s competitiveness and productivity, but also its ability to source legal wood. 

 

Business communication & Quality standards

Just as for any country, it is difficult to make valid statements that persist in every furniture company in Vietnam concerning business communication. Possible communication failures do make some people apprehensive about approaching Vietnamese furniture manufacturers. If this is the case for you, doing business with an FDI company usually makes the job a lot easier. Polished experience and internationally infused competence ensure products that adhere to high quality standards. Nonetheless, in any case, make sure to ask for the company’s certificates, to find out whether their furniture complies with safety standards etc. Here is a list of renowned furniture manufacturers and factories in Vietnam.

In general, the Vietnamese do not like flattering, but prefer genuine and straightforward approaches. This applies as well for business communication. Here is more information about how to conduct business in Vietnam successfully. 

 

Exhibitions & key furniture locations

There are several furniture trade shows in Vietnam. The yearly Vietnam International Furniture & Home Accessories Expo (VIFA Exp) and Vietnam Wood are the most prominent. If you’re interested you can find more information about Vietnamese trade shows here.

 

Currency

 

Indonesia Furniture Manufacture 

 

Indonesia has been present on the top of the international furniture stage for over 20 years. The range of its product types varies widely. However, the vast majority of products are made from wood, although Indonesia produces relatively less wooden kitchen furniture and wooden office furniture. The intensity and way of manufacturing differs per island and region.

 

Labour skills & capital intensity

For instance in Jakarta, where minimum wages are higher than in other parts of Indonesia, you can find more machine-intensive furniture manufacturers. You can find the most competitive pricing in areas where the furniture industry is the major industry. Firstly, because these furniture centers conglomerate high-skilled labourers. Secondly, the Indonesian government assists local dominant industries with favorable tax and income climates. 

Indonesia is the go-to-place for unique furniture. Although most manufacturers do follow the trends set in the yearly Milan furniture fair, oftentimes furniture from Indonesia differentiates itself. Especially hand-made furniture manufacturers tend to assimilate new and old designs into unique furniture, shaped by local materials and craftsmanship. 

 

Wood types and access

It does not come as a surprise that Indonesia is the biggest exporter of seats of materials like cane, osier and bamboo. Interwoven into cultural traditions and religious practices, Indonesians know how to utilize these types of materials. 

Wood is easy to find as Indonesia is home to an incredible amount of forests. However, illegal deforestation is a large issue. For this reason, as furniture importer from Indonesia, it is both ethically and regulatorily right to research the sourced wood. Several certificates like SVLK  help unravel the wooden supply chains. So make sure to check the certificates required by your import country with your supplier. 

In spite of its enormous domestic supply, Indonesia is not completely self-sufficient in terms of timber. The rough wood it does import, comes for 85% from Malaysia, which has significant room for timber plantations due to past deforestation.

 

Business communication & Quality standards

English proficiency is slightly lower in Indonesia than in China and Vietnam. This is partly due to the fact that Bahasa Indonesia is most Indonesian’s second language. With some exceptions in the Jakarta region, the peoples of Indonesia speak first and foremost their island language. So usually, English ends up to be their third language to learn.

If you choose to start working with a non-english speaking supplier, it is recommendable to use a local furniture agent that specializes in helping you communicate and control the quality of your order.

 

Furniture manufacturer Malaysia

The low number of English speakers also has an upside. When contacting a manufacturer, oftentimes you speak to higher educated people that are well positioned in a managing role or directly in contact with the management.

As for quality, there can be different standards for the domestic and Asian market. So make sure to find an international supplier that is transparent, communicates easily and is used to your standards.

 

Read here why and how to change a furniture supplier. It might provide you with the right tools before approaching a new furniture supplier. And here’s an Indonesia-specific guide on how to buy furniture. There you can find more information on quality standards and where to find furniture.

 

Exhibitions & Key Furniture Locations

The yearly held IFEX is the flagship event for Indonesia’s furniture industry. This exhibition in Jakarta is filled with suppliers from around Indonesia. In 2019, a total of 500 exhibitors displayed their furniture collections to more than 120,000 visitors

If you cannot make it to this event, it is recommendable to visit Jepara, the furniture city of Indonesia. While there are more places with furniture factories in Indonesia, the number of furniture suppliers in Jepara is incomparable to other places. The variety of offered furniture is also incredible. You can find both outdoor and indoor furniture in Jepara, from classic to post-modern, from low-end to high-end. There are several hotels and homestays to choose during your stay. La famille residence is one of the most popular places for international businessmen and both short-term and long-term visitors.

Pijar Sukma has been one of the biggest furniture exporters around for 20 years. This furniture manufacturer in Jepara, Indonesia traditionally offers French classic furniture. However, besides shabby chic, vintage and French country style, this furniture manufacturer also creates modern adaptations of the French style.

 

Currency

Malaysia Furniture Manufacturer 

 

Malaysia is the smaller country of this list with a population of around 32 million. However, in terms of GDP per capita it ranks the highest on the list with $29,000. The economic development has left Malaysia with a lower competitive advantage in terms of low-cost manufacturing. Many Malaysian manufacturers have changed their course to add value to furniture through design and branding. Now, many furniture brands from Malaysia exist. By the same token, they have changed their manufacturing style from labor-intensive to capital-intensive in order to compete. This has shown to be a right decision of Malaysian furniture factories. As of now, Malaysia produces a large share of the pie with wooden office, kitchen and bedroom furniture. It’s also relatively competitive with upholstery seats.

 

Wood types and access

As a net positive exporter of rough wood, Malaysia exports its lion’s share to India. Demanded timber not native to Malaysia is mainly imported from Australia, Belgium and Suriname. Naturally, due to its high availability of timber, wooden furniture is the more popular type to produce. You can find many solid wood furniture manufacturers in Malaysia.

 

Furniture Manufacturer Malaysia

 

Business communication & Quality standards

Malaysia also has the highest rank in english proficiency. Historically connected to Singapore, it had the opportunity to watch its sister country develop and learned many lessons. With Singapore’s population density and real estate prices soaring, the big sister tiger has been investing in Malaysia’s neighbouring land. Just as Singapore’s first language is English, the melting pot of people in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur also primarily speak English. While its bahasa Melayu is also heavily influenced by its former colonizer Britain. Consequently, as an importer of furniture and a master of the English language, you should have no problems with business communication in Malaysia.

Malaysia ranks as the highest power distance countries in the world. This means that power is distributed incredibly unequally. On the one hand, the institutions endorse this. On the other hand, the subjects expect and accept it. 

 

Power Distance of Countries affect the business structure of furniture manufacturers in Malaysia

 

Malaysian businesses are structured accordingly, which means that routine decisions might be made by the higher level management. So if you want to efficiently speak with a Malaysian furniture factory, make sure you’re talking with the right person. You can also expect that the top-level management is occupied with the fulfillment of quality standards. 

 

Exhibitions & Key Furniture Locations

Malaysia hosts its furniture fair annually. The Malaysian International Furniture Fair is held in Kuala Lumpur in its largest trade and exhibition center. Furniture manufacturers and factories are present from all over Malaysia. Furthermore, as Malaysians like their malls, there are many malls to shop around and explore furniture.

 

Currency

 

Recommendations

This guide is meant to give you a general overview of the top Asian furniture countries, so you can abstractly compare them. 

 

Import tariffs

A last comparison includes tariffs. As taxes and tariffs are subject to change, they are not thoroughly covered in this guide. However, they might be an important factor when choosing a country to import furniture from. 

Here you can find the import tariffs of Wooden bedroom furniture from Indonesia for specific countries. You can also view the tariffs for other types of furniture by choosing their HS codes. 

Tariffs often affect traditionally favoured export countries. They can vary from one country to another, and it might change often. Also consider the growth and general outlook of the country you might import from to determine the right one. If you need highly detailed information on specific countries and product categories you can find them here.

 

Choosing between suppliers within a country

No matter which country you pick, there are good suppliers and disappointing ones to choose from. Whether you choose a furniture manufacturer from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia or another country, you need to separate the wheat from the chaff.

As a final part of this guide we give you the tools to dissect them. 

Design ownership

Firstly, be careful with the ownership of the design with the supplier you work with. Oftentimes, this happens in China, but it can be anywhere. Communicate well while providing designs and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Look out for bad reviews of the company you  plan to work with.

Management capabilities

Then small suppliers, even if great artisans, often make production mistakes due to miscommunication. Also, it is not unlikely that they misallocate deposits in order to fulfill orders from other clients. Like this, they not only put themselves at risk, but also cause delay, or worse, failure to finalise the order. Make sure to communicate well with a small supplier and if possible have your people at the site to control your order.

Furniture samples

Also, when choosing a furniture manufacturer to create new designs, take sampling cost and capability into account. Even though there is nothing wrong with your initial design, a more specific technical drawing from your supplier can instigate quality flaws. In order to avoid this, either include technical information with your sample or make sure the manufacturer has the design capability. Regularly, proper furniture manufacturers give modificational feedback for your original designs in order to guarantee quality and use of certain materials.

Material and Product 

Of course, the use of materials also affects your decision-making. You can distinguish between suppliers by the innumerous types of materials they use. Especially in Canton, China, furniture manufacturers tend to only specialize in a few products. Your requirements greatly affect the scope of your options. Is it metal furniture you’re after? Is wooden furniture, like teak, mahogany and suar, more your thing? Or are you looking for plastic furniture?

 

Wooden Bedroom Furniture Manufacturer Asia Vietnam Malaysia China

 

Moreover, furniture manufacturers often specialize in either indoor or outdoor furniture. They produce their furniture by hand, or use heavy machinery to maximize their output and minimize cost of workers. Again, know what you, and the customers you represent, want.

Minimum order quantity

Lastly, the minimum order quantity might be a decisive factor when choosing a suitable furniture manufacturer. If you know your market well, you might be confident importing certain furniture in big quantities. However, if you are experimenting on new designs, a low order quantity is a safe bet. Under those circumstances choose a manufacturer where you can pick many different designs to fill your container, or choose a place with a cluster of furniture suppliers. 

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