Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Struggling hard to survive at expos

I. Christianto, Contributor, Jakarta

Most people want to find their dream home complete with all the amenities they have always wanted, including furniture. That's why the furniture sector always has good prospects, despite various challenges from domestic and international crises.

Check various places favored for exhibitions like the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC), Kemayoran, shopping malls and other locations. They have a full list of events, including frequent furniture expos held by different event organizers.

Homes can be charming, but need to be revitalized every now and then to maintain their beauty - furniture significantly contributes to this revitalization and is a proven solution for most homeowners. Therefore, there is always a market for furniture, according to Dwi Karsono of PT Debindo Multi Adhiswasti, a private events organizer.

He said many people preferred to visit furniture expos rather than coming to showrooms. "That's why many furniture makers join expos to introduce their latest products and models," he said.

Joining exhibitions has become common practice for most local furniture retailers, wholesalers and even producers seeking new buyers either from home or overseas.

According to him, selling through an exhibition has become a more effective way of finding new customers nowadays due to the availability of more exhibition sites that meet international standards.

"As most exhibitions are held during weekends, many people have much more time to spend at the expo," he added.

Debindo, set up in 1987, has organized furniture expos in Jakarta every year since its establishment. The company mostly organizes exhibitions for the real estate and furniture industries. But in 1993, it focused most of its activities on furniture exhibitions.

"We hold furniture exhibitions three times a year," Dwi said. "The only challenge we face is that we can't have the same fixed schedules every year as the JCC is the only popular and appropriate venue in Jakarta for holding exhibitions," he added.

At least three major furniture exhibitions will be held at the JCC before the end of this year. Another nine similar events will be held at the same building next year.

Furniture models displayed at the expos mostly include antique, classical, contemporary, modern and futuristic styles. Furniture can also be categorized by its raw materials including wood, rattan, bamboo, plastic and iron.

Some furniture retailers and producers display particular furniture products during the expo. With the wide range of products and models displayed, buyers have many choices to suit their taste and preference.

"A homeowner sometimes wants to combine different styles of furniture, just to make the home more interesting or colorful. Say the living room has modern style furniture, and a country- style touch for the dining room and so on," Dwi said.

The buyers' selections are quite varied and therefore it is difficult to determine what styles of furniture are likely to be most popular. But people from the high income bracket usually prefer to buy furniture items that conform to the latest fashions.

"Most buyers tend to choose mass-produced items," he said in a reference to common furniture products, which are produced by factories in large volumes.

In addition to Jakarta, Debindo also holds similar events in Bandung and Surabaya, three times annually in each city. In Jakarta, each event attracts around 100 participants.

Dwi said that at the end of this month, Debindo would open a furniture expo at the JCC, the third and possibly the last to be held by the company this year.

There are usually some 80,000 visitors who attend the event in Jakarta. Average sales may reach between Rp 30 billion and Rp 60 billion (about $6.3 million) at each expo.

The majority of expo participants display locally-made products, and they mostly use the exhibition as a venue to meet prospective buyers from overseas.

"By joining the expo, local producers can reach foreign buyers. So in this sense, the exhibition has an important role in promoting the country's furniture exports," Dwi said.

The Indonesian Furniture Club is confident the country's furniture exports will reach US$1.8 billion this year from $1.6 billion in 2000, despite a low growth of between 2 percent and 3 percent in the first half of the year.

Chairman of the club Yos S. Theosabrata said furniture exports would continue to grow as long as the government could provide stability, and keep the volatile rupiah more stable against foreign currencies.

Without political stability, it would be difficult to increase exports from last year's level, he said, adding that the political uncertainty in recent months had been a major blow to the country's exports. The instability has also had an impact on production and shipment activities.

Many buyers had postponed their orders for Indonesian furniture because they feared they would not receive them. European nations including the Netherlands, Germany, Britain and Belgium, are Indonesia's major markets for furniture. The other important markets for Indonesian furniture exports are the U.S., Japan and Singapore.

The slump in the furniture market in the U.S, one of the main buyers of Indonesia's exports, could also affect the Indonesian furniture industry, he said.

According to media reports, the manufacturers' association in the U.S. has projected that wholesale shipments of residential furniture will fall 6.7 percent to $23.862 billion this year from $25.579 billion in 2000. It forecasts shipments will rise to $24.727 billion next year -- leaving them still below their 1999 level of $24.972 billion.