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Furniture, home décor exporters eye more overseas buyers

Exhibitors joined this year’s Manila FAME on its 67th year at the World Trade Center in Pasay City, as seen in this BusinessMirror file photo. The lifestyle and design show is considered one of the premier avenues for showcasing the best of Philippines design, especially in furniture and home décor. However, the two sectors are reporting slower sales and are eyeing more foreign buyers.

EXPORTERS of furniture and home décor are eyeing to expand their market presence abroad, as sales from local trade shows are becoming “not enough” to sustain business.

Philippine Homestyle and Holiday Decor Association Inc. President Romeo P. Balderrama Jr. said sales generated from expos, including the prestigious Manila FAME, are “not enough” to keep operations afloat. That’s why home décor makers are looking overseas for buyers in spite of a bitter history in dealing with foreign customers.

Balderrama said the home décor industry has been enduring a decline in sales tracing back to the closure in 2008 and 2009 of some of its buyers abroad, casualties of the financial crisis that hit the world in that period.

“During those times, what offset [our loss of customers overseas] is the resurgence of the local industry. There were many condominiums being built [at that period] so these somehow offset [that],” Balderrama said in a statement on Friday.

Based on records from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), shipments of Christmas décor from January to August went up 83.61 percent to $65.13 million, from $35.47 million in the same period last year.

As much as home décor makers survive by exports, they still find local trade shows important in securing domestic and foreign buyers, Balderrama said.

As such, the business leader kept an optimistic outlook for the industry on growing overseas and steady local demands.

According to Balderrama, the United States is the largest foreign market for Philippine holiday decor at 86 percent, while European economies account for the remaining 14 percent.

On the other hand, Chamber of Furniture Industries of the Philippines Inc. National President Eduardo G. Zuluaga said furniture makers are seeking new export destinations. He said it is becoming “difficult for industries to export local products, including furniture products, and gifts and houseware, amid changes in market landscape.”

Zuluaga added the domestic market is strong enough to keep the industry going, but said it is just as important to look for foreign buyers and export as much as possible.

“The problem is margins [between production cost and selling price] significantly declined and many in our industry, they just look somewhere else. The local market is very strong so [we] just tap the local market,” Zuluaga explained.

Unlike their home décor counterparts, furniture makers are focusing their export promotion on markets in Asia—not the US nor Europe—due in large to its population.

“We need to look for new markets [and] where are the new markets? The new market is in Asia. Of 7.4 billion people in the world, 5.4 billion of those people are Asian. Why do you persevere in America, Africa, in Europe, [when] 60 percent of the population of the world is in Asia?” Zuluaga argued.

His point about new strategies needed by the furniture industry finds basis in the past year’s record, when woodwork exports declined by more than half. No recovery is in sight this year.

Based on PSA figures, shipments of woodcraft and furniture from January to August dropped 9.16 percent to $417.87 million, from $460.02 million during the same period last year. This was after shipments of these products slumped 57 percent to $662.45 million in 2018, from $1.54 billion in 2017.

As an economic policy of the Duterte administration, trade officials are securing market access for Philippine products in nontraditional destinations, including Russia and India, and are also negotiating trade deals with established ones, such as South Korea and the US.

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