Imported Furniture Floors Yuppies

Updated: Oct 20 2002, 05:30am hrs
Imported and designer seem to be the key words when it comes to buying furniture at home. Its hardly surprising, considering that more and more foreign furniture manufacturers and traders have been finding their way into the country of late.

For A Fair Deal
BE careful when you go furniture shopping. Use this guide, as recommended by experts, to keep away from bad deals.
Remember, furniture dealers in every price range are succumbing to the lure of the cheaper goods from overseas. Ask your salesperson if you have any question about the foreign manufacturer.
Always suspect the salespersons statement such as, You better buy the one in the showroom because it takes us a really long time to get new pieces.
Try to avoid buying furniture that has heavy carving on the legs or posts.
Open and close all moving or latching parts to make sure they work. Dont slide one drawer in and assume they all work.
Look for the sticker that bears the barcode and says Made in ....
Take the one you see in the showroom, unless you know the store will stand behind furniture that has to be specially ordered.
Get a reality check. Your expectations of the furnitures quality should match what the manufacturer actually provides. Whether looking at imported or domestic, high or low priced, a bedroom set or a recliner, experts say, consumers have almost no idea what to expect for their money. One easy way to start is to find someone who sells both brands and ask them to compare them for you. Spend time shopping in stores that sell top quality brands, spend enough time to get an idea of what quality feels like. Then spend time hanging around the import lines. Youll know.
When you walk around and note different pieces of furniture, compare their prices. The lower the price, the lower your expectations should be. When you find a place where your expectations meet your price, youve found a good value. Look for:
Good Clarity: Good chemical and top coats applied properly with the right equipment makes a great finish. It allows the wood grain to show through without distortion and provides a protection surface.
Cleanliness: A clean finish is a good indication of a good work environment. Squat down at eye level and let the light hit the tops and sides of the furniture. You shouldnt see specks or dust in the finish. If you notice bubbles, specks, dirt, fibres, hair, the finish is not good and it can get nasty.
Colour: Whether its stain or paint, it takes a lot of time to apply the colour evenly and into all the corners and crevices.
A good finish is even all over and without splotches. Check out the corners in particular.
There could be splotches on the sides as well.
Consistency: Carefully note that everything looks the same as you move from drawer to drawer, bed post to bed post. Different pieces in the same collection match.
Compare the product to other furniture in the same price range. There are no reference points, no way of knowing how much furniture should cost. The only solution is to do a lot of comparison shopping. This is easier to do if you live in an area with a lot of furniture stores. Start with initial just looking browse through the store. Make note of the prices of the furniture you really like. Now get the salesperson to help you find other furniture in the same price range. Walk back and forth between the two looking for differences or similarities in quality. Do the same comparison shopping in other stores, too. Eventually you would begin to see what you can get for the money you want to spend.
Examine the furniture when it arrives at your house. Pull all the drawers out, open and close doors, eye along tops and sides, look for obvious places where the finish or even chunks of wood are missing, and scratches.
Before you call the store and begin complaining and whining ask yourself if the things you see wrong are any different than what the store had on the showroom floor. SB
The ready to assemble format of this furniture, and its sleek and fancy designs find a ready acceptance with the city dwellers, particularly the upwardly mobile young generation.

The result is that showrooms are increasingly stocking imported furniture, giving the Indian manufacturer and the local carpenter a tough fight, both in price and design.

From small utility items such as showracks, desks, bookshelves and storage units for Rs 2,000 upwards to designer king or queen size beds for a few lakh of rupees, imported furniture is available at every price level, depending upon the design and the material used.

So, one gets a lot of variety, starting from light hardwood such as Indonesian rattan, Malaysian rubberwood, Kiwi pine to heavy hardwood such as American mahogany, Italian oak or peach, Spanish rosewood from particle board made furniture to metal furniture.

However, the demand is more for the pieces at the lower end, says T V Bhaskaran, general manager, Mahmayi Office & Home Furniture (P) Ltd, a Chennai-based importer. There is great demand for our cheap sofa sets from Malaysia priced at Rs 20,000, he says.

All is not right with all the imported furniture sold in India, though. Of late, inferior and cheaper imports, particularly from South Asian countries, are finding their way into India.

It is at the low- and mid-market price levels, rather than at the premium level, that inferior imports by undergrowth traders sneak in. And buyers, ignorant of how to gauge good quality furniture, often get cheated in raw deals with unscrupulous sellers.

Last year, when Amette Scott came to Delhi from Bangalore on a transfer in her job as a partner with a financial consultancy firm, she had little time to go around to commission a carpenter before moving into her new apartment at Pamposh Enclave. Taking fancy to designer modular furniture, she ended up buying some imported furniture from a Vasant Vihar showroom.

Its been only eight months now and the chairs of the dinning table set have became unstable, says Ms Scott. She was sharing her woes with Bharathi Gopal, whom set met outside Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, where the Fifth Society Interiors Expo was going on recently. And the dealer declined to repair the chairs without charges.

Similarly, Ms Gopals bitter experience pertained to the rubberwood bed she had purchased from a dealer near Tilak Nagar for Rs 28,000. She said, They (the salesmen) told me that the Malaysian rubberwood products are much in vogue these days and I liked the simple design and the light colour polish of the beds displayed in the store. They told me that those (the beds) were the display samples and I would have to place an order if I wanted to buy one. They assured me that it would be of same quality and finish, which would be delivered to me in three weeks. However, the bed was delivered only after five weeks. I was not very sure, whether the bed that we got was of the same quality and finish as the one we saw in the store. After two years, the posts of the bed started bending. One of our friends told us that the wood was unseasoned. How are we supposed to be knowing all that

Agrees Priti Sabharwal, who started her imported furniture business, Overseas Connexions Ltd (OCL), in 1994: Businessmen find big buck in imported furniture business. What fuelled the growth are factors like the hectic buying and refurbishing activity in the housing sector, increased spending by customers and, of course, increased preference, particularly among upwardly mobile young professionals, for light but sleek and stylish-looking furniture. OCL sells furniture imported from 14 different companies from European countries.

Lured by a fantastic market growth rate of 25-30 per cent per annum, more and more companies and traders started jumping on the bandwagon to grab their market share. OCLs annual revenue also rose from Rs 54 lakh to Rs 7 crore within a span of eight years.

The increased consumer demand and reduced import tariff (which is still as high as 65 per cent) barriers also attracted a number of reputed international brands such as Mondragon of Spain, Saporiti of Italy, Hurtado of Spain, Flexa of Denmark, Moll of Germany, among others, who made an entry in India either through exclusive marketing joint ventures or manufacturing joint ventures.

The domestic furniture market has also seen a consolidation in the organised sector with the coming up of one-stop-shopping chains for home building solutions. These include Arcus in Gurgaon, KSS Home Pro in Bangalore and speciality furniture chains such as Usha Shriram Furniture Industries, OCL, Pace Furniture, Indoors, Renaissance Home, etc.

And, of course, undergrowth dealers were not far behind. They found it highly profitable to import cheaper and inferior quality products and sell them at a high price in the absence of customers knowledge about how to gauge the quality of wood, etc.

When it comes to imported furniture, what matters the most is the brand name of the seller and the goodwill of quality associated with it, explains Mukesh Kalra, vice president, Usha Shriram Furniture Industries Pvt Ltd.

However, there are three things that a customer can look into. Firstly, imported furniture is completely knocked down furniture and it comes in packings. Secondly, the look, appeal and design of the product is different. It is in design and finish of the furniture where imported furniture differs significantly from domestic manufactures. Thirdly, the quality of wood is important. The wood should be well seasoned. And it is here where laymen find themselves helpless. They believe in what the seller says.

Usha Shriram Furniture Industries, however, sells mostly domestically manufactured furniture. Only 20-25 per cent of our entire furniture range is imported from Italy, China, Malaysia and some European countries, says Mr Kalra.

According to Nitin Bhayana, director, Interiors Espania, which sells Spain-based Mondragons furniture: Were into selling of premium imported furniture and we are selling only veneered products unlike others who are mainly into non-veneered furniture business.

However, adds Mr Bhayana, the market is now increasingly getting cheaper imports from East Asian countries, which are at times inferior in quality.

It is mostly by the words of mouth that people go for buying imported furniture from a particular store. Agrees Priti Sabharwal, whose company sales come mostly from customers cross-references: These undergrowth dealers import cheaper, inferior quality products from the East Asian countries and sell it at a fabulous margin in India. Neither do they give an after sales guarantee nor do they allow for customisation of the product according to the customers specifications. She adds, At OCL, we offer a basic furniture module for most of the products such as beds, wardrobes, etc. With the help of a computer-aided design facility, a customer can specify his particular requirements above the basic design and on the basis of that request we ask our exporters to make the furniture. And this takes about 8-10 weeks time to deliver the product once the order is placed with us.

Pace Furniture, another imported furniture seller, sells its ranges mainly on inventory basis through 20 showrooms and 400 dealers across the country. Set up in 1998 and a Rs 17-crore trading company by now, Pace Furniture is mainly into imports of furniture from East Asian countries and sells a wide range of Malaysian rubberwood furniture. Weve 20 different ranges of beds in the price range of Rs 9,000 to Rs 12,000 and 800 other different products, says proprietor Gautam Anand. We import mid to upper end line of furniture and most of our clientele base comprises middle class people.

OCL has come up with a new range of pure leather sofas, manufactured by Nieri of Italy, which also supplies to the Ferrari car manufacturer. These sofas are priced between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000 per seat. The company is also set to introduce a full range of handcrafted Italian walnut wood furniture. Called Ceppi, these exclusive pieces of chairs will be sold at prices upwards of Rs 15,000 a piece, says Ms Sabharwal. On offer will be other Ceppi products, too.

Pace Furniture has also added a premium range of modular (non-wood and wood) European beds and sofas. The leatherite made, five-six seater sofas come with a price tag of Rs 28,500 (for sofas), while the double-bed wrought iron and rubber wood beds come at a price between Rs 9,000 and Rs 12,000.

The big corporate player, Usha Shriram Furniture Industries, has also launched a range of cabinet bars keeping in mind the evolving corporate lifestyle in Indian homes. Its teak-wood and glass-topped Victorian bars with a counter for bar tender is priced between Rs 55,000 and Rs 1 lakh, while smaller space occupying Oriental bars come at a price upwards of Rs 27,000. At the entry level, there is a Coordinate bar priced at Rs 10,000.

Interestingly, the European furniture manufacturing companies were the first entrants with their premium products, mainly veneered, in India. They were led by the K K Birla joint venture, Gautier, with Groupe Seribo of France. Furniture imports from other Asian countries came in much later.

But barring a few, such as Renaissance Home, Interior Espania, Pinnacle Saporiti, and Gautier, most of the imported furniture dealers sell their products either in their own brand name or without any branding. Most of them also dont give any manufacturing guarantee on the products. The reason: These are imported products!

However, thanks to Gautiers manufacturing facility in Andhra Pradesh, the company gives a one-year warranty against any kind of manufacturing defect in its furniture.

So does Cover Line, a Delhi-based imported furniture store. If it is a manufacturing defect, then the fault is ours, says Vinita Singh, proprietor of Cover Line. An interior designer herself, Ms Singh adds, In that case, we repair the defects without any charges.

Other established dealers, who have been around for more than five/six years, also do it. And after-sales service is one area which a layman should focus on more in the absence of sound knowledge about the wood that goes into the manufacturing of the furniture he is buying, says Suniti Varma, chief executive officer and founder partner of a Delhi-based management counsultancy firm, Infinitum Consulting.

Mr Varma have been trying for the last couple of years to form a national level organisation of Indian furniture manufacturers and traders. It is very unfortunate that there is no such association of furniture manufacturers and traders in India, says Mr Varma.

It has become more important that we should have such an organisation since India is a fast growing (20-25 per cent per annum) furniture market, but it is vastly unorganised and the import of furniture is taking at a fast pace entailing a large number of unscrupulous short-time traders. We have contacted Brussels-based UEA, the federation of European furniture manufacturers association, and it has agreed to extend its membership to India including our manufacturers and traders both. We have also contacted 200 established furniture manufacturers and traders across six major cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Chandigarh. Most of whom have expressed their willingness to join the association backed by UEA. To formalise things, the UEA president will be visiting India for a week beginning November 11. The Indian association will take its formal shape by January next year.