Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Sales reduced to a crawl

Eddy Soetriyono, Contributor, Jakarta

Quiet and listless. That's the general prognosis of the current furniture industry in Indonesia as shown by the low sales during several major exhibitions in Jakarta over the past few months.

The same bleak atmosphere has enveloped one of the city's elite furniture centers, the Jakarta Design Center. It has repeatedly placed large "special sale" banners promising huge 30 percent to 70 percent discounts, but they are still unable to draw enough customers.

Although the center has never been packed with customers like other malls, the current number of shoppers has dropped even further than the precrisis period of 1997.

"Today we are no longer limping, but worse, we are crawling," said one of the staff members at the Decorous shop.

One look in newspapers, and you will see advertisements for major clearance sales placed on the pages by both local producers and importers in an effort to lure buyers. Several exclusive Italian furniture products from Da Vinci, for example, have been put up for sale at an enormous 70 percent discount.

The lengthy economy crisis has continued to have repercussions on various businesses, including the furniture sector.

"It's more than quiet, it's almost lifeless," muttered Junaedhi Anggabrata, the owner of PT Kesathi Andara, a local furniture manufacturer.

Before 1997, his firm regularly received orders from various hotels and restaurants in Jakarta and Bali. However, demand drastically dropped after the monetary crisis hit.

Another manufacturer badly hit by the prolonged crisis was PT Profil Kencana.

In the good days, it was one of the major suppliers for star- rated hotels in big cities across the country. Their products furnished the Grand Hyatt, Borobudur, Aryaduta, Le Meridien and Shangri-La in Jakarta; Preanger, Hyatt and Chedi in Bandung; Westin and Shangri-La in Surabaya; and Nikko and Bali Intercontinental in Bali.

But the monetary crisis has made the construction of new hotels a rarity. Existing hotels have even extended their interior "rejuvenation" cycle, from the normal renovation period of every five years to 10 years or more.

Amid the unfavorable situation, some companies have somehow managed to survive by focusing on new and specific markets, including catering to the tastes of foreign buyers.

Junaedhi, for instance, has frequently exhibited his chairs -- mostly of teakwood and mahogany -- in several countries overseas.

The result has been amazing with an overwhelming list of foreign orders. In addition, the rupiah's value at that time had extremely depreciated. Junaedhi told of how they were on the verge of not being able to fill all the shipment orders.

Currently, about 70 percent of his firm's products are for export, while the remaining are destined for the domestic market, which is almost entirely designed for residences of high-ranking officials, Junaedhi explained.

Indonesia, according to many, is home to two types of furniture manufacturers.

The first concentrates on mass production of a limited number of models, while the second specializes in small quantities -- a maximum of two to three pieces -- of certain models. Helped by the designers, the latter type of manufacturer accepts orders for tailor-made furniture to match the customers' requirements and taste.

Prices certainly vary depending on items ordered. A large size teakwood bed sports a price tag of at least Rp 10 million, while a living room set costs Rp 12 million.

Junaedhi said an owner of a luxury residence needs a budget of between Rp 100 million and Rp 200 million for its furniture alone.

While some local producers are focusing their business on exports, manufacturers from several countries, like Italy, China and the United States, are going the opposite route.

In major cities like Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung, one can see well-to-do Indonesians purchasing imported brands, both in classical and modern designs, at local distributor outlets.

Besides being frequently put on display at first-class exhibitions here, these imported products are easy to find at major shopping centers in Jakarta, such as Plaza Senayan and Ratu Plaza.

The price? A classic modern Barcelona chair from the States created by the late Bauhaus architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), carries a price tag of US$1,320. That's already with a 40 percent discount.

A replica of a pair of leather chairs with chrome-plated steel bars created by Le Corbusier (1887-1965), a world renowned designer, made by Cassina, Italy, costs $6,000. A single piece goes for $3,750. At the time this article was written, the outlet at the Jakarta Design Center was offering a 25 percent discount.

Similar models manufactured in America were put on offer at $2,050 (for a pair) and $1,250 for one piece.

Solichin Gunawan, the president director of Atelier Interior, said the difference in price was understandable, because Italy is widely acknowledged for its superior quality, which is probably due to the country's long history and rich tradition in the furniture industry.

"Their craftsmen are not only good at imitating, but at the same time they are able to improve any defects," said Solichin.

Other famous Italian brands, such as B&B and Matteograssi, are already on the market here. Their prices are on the high side, charging about Rp 7 million for one chair. A leather dining chair costs about Rp 19 million, so for the total set of six or eight chairs one would have to spend over Rp 100 million.

For those who love furniture with transparent glass features, creations from Viam are available at Rp 40 million for the table and Rp 50 million for the chairs. The decorative aspect of these chairs -- which are able to withstand up to 200 kilograms of pressure -- comes out stronger.

But one observer, who wishes to remain anonymous, warned consumers to be cautious and not be easily dazzled by an imported label.

He said that a well-known importer of Italian products often brought in items that were difficult to sell in its country of origin. But with a clever promotion, these "underground" pieces sold like hot cakes at exorbitant prices in Jakarta.

But what about the furniture created by our own designers?

"Design hasn't developed very well in our country. Maybe it's because we actually don't have the tradition of really sitting on a chair," Solichin said.

He said that the country's craftsmen were only good at duplicating. He referred to local producers in Jepara, Central Java, which is home to skilled craftsmen.

When astute foreign businessmen came with samples of their own designs to be produced by craftsmen in Jepara, the products were superior in both touch and style.

But now, after the foreigners' departure, the locals are back to their former craft, and are unable to come up with new designs.

Moreover, local products are notorious for offering illogical prices to customers seeking classical furniture.

Solichin recalled an experience he had during the first year of the monetary crisis, when he needed a replica of a Louis XIV chair. A local manufacturer set the price at Rp 3.5 million, while an importer from Milan, Italy, quoted only Rp 900,000.