Thailand's government has taken note of China's growing domination in the world market and has determined it must highlight the strengths of Thailand's furniture industry to remain competitive. As a result the quality and design of Thai furniture products were the focus at the Thailand International Furniture Fair 2002, held in Bangkok, Thailand, March 6-10.

The quality of the furniture appeared solid, the design was often innovative with modern and contemporary styling and a wide variety of materials was exhibited. TIFF 2002 showcased the latest trends and designs of home, outdoor and office furniture related products. More than 200 manufacturers and exporters from Thailand were represented in 21,000 square meters of exhibition space.

Looking to the future

"Currently, the furniture industry is one of the leading export industries of Thailand," says H.E. Dr. Adisai Bodharamik, the Minister of Commerce.

"This year, it is expected that the total value of the Thai furniture export will be around US$990 million, which represents a 10 percent increase over the previous year."

The primary export markets for Thailand are Japan, the United States and Europe, especially the United Kingdom.

A number of government representatives spoke about the quality of the products offered and the uniqueness of Thai design and how they felt that this was the best way to fight the growth of Chinese exports.

"We can't beat them on price," said one official.

So the government is working to help manufacturers improve on their design and their ability to showcase their work. The intent is to create furniture products that will incorporate the best of Western design with the uniqueness of Thai culture.

At the "Design in Thailand Exhibition" 22 seating and table items were exhibited. More than 40 young furniture designers from various universities and furniture export companies participated in the Department of Export's Thai Furniture Designers Development Project Workshop. The workshop was organized to enhance the skills of young or new designers in both technology and design to benefit the future of the furniture export industry.

Creating a hub

Thailand Furniture Mart, newly opened on Jan. 23, 2002, is another way the government is attempting to bolster and support the industry. The Mart consists of 11,780 square meters and includes 74 exhibition rooms for 72 companies, a central service area that includes the office of the Department of Export Promotion, Ministry of Commerce, seminar rooms, a snack and drink zone and a parking area that can accommodate up to 300 vehicles.

The government hopes that the setup of the mart will improve the competitiveness of local furniture manufacturers and exporters and allow buyers to meet both in one convenient location. It will also provide services from product display and business negotiation to furniture and design conferences and seminar information.

The manufacturing process

The wide variety of manufacturing plants in Thailand is probably no different than in the United States, with the possible exception of OSHA requirements. FDM magazine visited two factories that couldn't be more dissimilar, both in their production methods and in the final product.

The Classic Chairs Co. Ltd. uses older, more antiquated equipment with material stacked to the ceiling in a cramped facility that is much larger than it first appears. From the outside it would be hard to distinguish it from many small Thai businesses lining the street. Inside is a large space that veers off in myriad directions and a hive of activities. Classic Chairs relies heavily on skilled craftsmen to produce chairs and furniture that are classic in design and materials used. Some of the chairs being worked on during the plant tour were being prepared for shipment to a large hotel in London.

S.B. Furniture, on the other hand, is a large, modern plant, similar to many large plants in the United States. The plant is 250,000 square feet and production lines are fully equipped with a number of CNC machines such as a Selco CNC beam saw, two Biesse Rover point-to-point machines, Homag edgebanders and membrane wrapping machines. The company has won the Prime Minister's Export of the Year Award for 2000 and 2001 and was the first company in Thailand to win the ISO 9002 Award.

S.B. Furniture uses market research both domestically and internationally in its design considerations. Products manufactured by the company are panel furniture and are sold through synergy franchising. It exports primarily to the Middle East, Turkey, Italy, Japan, Lebanon and Egypt. 

Forging ahead

Throughout the tour it was obvious that Thailand's government has taken an aggressive approach to the changing export market. Strong efforts are being made to bring its manufacturers into the new millennium and to strengthen its relationships with other countries. Thailand's stable political and economic environment, along with its strong support of the furniture industry, could be decisive in its bid for continued success and growth in the export market.

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