BEIJING - Furniture sales among China's old-line retailers have seen growth slow almost 25 percent, as falling home values spook middle-class buyers.

Sheng Laiyun, spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics of China, growth slowed from 34 percent to 26 percent in furniture sales in all of 2011, a downward trend in furniture retailing that was evident from the first quarter of the year.

In the first quarter of 2011, "the sales of furniture grew up by 24.5 percent, or 13.1 percentage points lower than that in the same period of last year," Laiyun said. By the third quarter, retail sales of furniture and other goods had picked up, but are still below 2010 growth levels in China.

Home prices are declining in China in part, say analysts, because the government has gone on a low-end rental unit building binge, with an expected 36 million low-cost apartments due for completion by 2015.

China furniture retailers complain there are few shoppers, with middle class buyers shying from purchases of higher-end goods. IKEA, meanwhile, gets a boost, with plans for opening 15 more stores, to furnish those low-income rental units. Zhang Shuangxia, a manager at Canaan Furniture Co. in Beijing, told the Wall St. Journal that traffic down by half.

"If they don't buy homes, we don't sell sofas," she said.

Nevertheless, the 29th China International Furniture Fair (CIFF) in Guangzhou, in March 2012,  will feature over 3000 exhibitors with 150,000 visitors expected. But it's market slogan reflects a changing trend in China as it becomes more reliant on domestic consumption: “Being export oriented, while paying attention to the domestic market,” show organizers say.  

At last year's CIFF,  Century Beking Furniture Company, embodies the show's philosophy. It won the gold award for furniture manufacturing technique. Established in 1994, the 600 employee factory has ISO9001 international quality certification and ISO14025 Ⅲenvironment certification. It hired a noted German designer Hillback, to create unique furnishings for its catalog, giving it a competitive edge in domestic sales.

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