By Fredrik Grönkvist
About to purchase furniture, or other home products, from suppliers in China? Keep reading, and learn what you must know about finding the right furniture suppliers, relevant trade shows and customization options. We also explain what furniture importers must know about fire retardancy regulations, quality control and shipping.
1. Finding the right Furniture Manufacturer in China
When sourcing Furniture manufacturers online, there’s a variety of factors to use when assessing potential candidate suppliers. Below follows a few examples:
Registered Capital: A low registered capital may indicate that the supplier is a small trading company. As there are no real benefits of buying from a trader, you want to avoid that. A Furniture manufacturer should have at least RMB 1,000,000 in registered capital, which is specified in their business license.
Business Scope: Possibly even more telling than the Registered Capital, the Business scope explains what the company was set out to do. Look for “furniture” and “manufacturing”, or “production”, to assess if the supplier is a true manufacturer. Traders, on the other hand, tend to have business scopes, including a wide range of very different products, and include terms such as “Wholesale”.
Quality Management System: A Quality Management System, for example, ISO 9001, is implemented to track and prevent quality issues. Why does this matter? Because it only applies to manufacturers, not traders.
When buying furniture from Chinese suppliers, why is it important to first filter suppliers? Because the majority of Furniture manufacturers are not geared towards developed markets, offering the quality options and stability you need to compete.
If you don’t feel like browsing supplier listing online, you may want to consider visiting a Home products trade show in Mainland China or Hong Kong. Below follows a summary of relevant, annual, trade fairs in the Furniture and home products industry:
• Home Living & Decor
• Kitchen & Dining
• Home Improvement
• Bathroom Furniture
• Outdoor Furniture
• Office Furniture
• Hotel Furniture
• Living Room Furniture
• Household decoration
• Artificial Flowers
• Hardware & DIY Products
• Bar Accessories
• Health & Personal Care Items
• Bathroom Accessories
• Home Decorations & Handicrafts
• Kitchenware & Gadgets
• Cleaning & Supplies
• Eco-Friendly Products
• Silver Generation Products
• Small Electrical Appliances
• Gardening & Outdoor Accessories
2. Furniture Customisation Options
What differs a retailer, or even wholesaler, from an OEM manufacturer? When you buy a product from a retailer, take Ikea for example, you know that their products are made according to the very same specification sheet. There is no variation in terms of materials, design, dimensions and functions. Yet, many importers of home products, including furniture, make the assumption that this is how OEM manufacturers in China, also operates.
OEM manufacturers operate according to a ‘make to order’ principle. While they may have “catalog products”, these are mere references, at best. What this means for you, is that you must provide the supplier with a spec sheet – even if the product is based on a factory design. There is no uniform Furniture spec sheet template that can be used. However, below follows a few examples of what you must include in your specification sheet:
• Wood Quality (i.e., German Beech Wood)
• Fabric Specifications (i.e., PU Coated Polyester, 550 gsm)
• Metal Parts (i.e., 316L Stainless Steel)
• Foam (i.e., High Density Fire Retardant Foam Rubber)
3. Assess Applicable Furniture Regulations
In many markets, there are mandatory Fire Retardancy Regulations, applicable to various types of furniture. In the United States, there’s no federal framework to which American importers must comply. However, California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) has become ‘de facto’ mandatory, as it is asked for by both retailers and customers.
However, In the European Union, there are mandatory Fire safety standards, to which buyers are forced to comply. Below follows an overview:
• EN 1021-1
• EN 1021-2
• EN 597-1
• EN 597-2
• EN 14533
Keep in mind that you must communicate to the supplier, to which standards your product must be complied with. A few years ago, I remember how we performed a quality inspection on upholstered furniture in Hangzhou. As we started testing the fire retardancy of the cover fabric, it turned out that the goods were in no way going to pass a third party audit.
However, the present sales manager, quickly brushed off any responsibility. Instantly, he underlined that they are indeed capable of ensuring compliance with all European and American substance and fire retardancy standard, but that this customer did not communicate that their product had to be compliant with a certain standard.
Hence, the procurement officers, working in the factory, did not make this specific request to their subcontractor for cover fabrics… and indeed, they didn’t ask either, so the result was a batch of a non-compliant goods. As such, you must first assess which regulations apply to home products in your market, and then communicate this requirement to your manufacturer.
4. Quality Control
To ensure that your supplier is not shipping substandard or damaged goods, which is perfectly possible, you must hire a quality inspector to check up on the goods. There are several companies offering quality control services, already in China. However, you need to communicate what they should look for. Below follows explanations of two of critical checkpoints, when importing furniture from China:
Visual Inspection: Check for potential damages, or usage of incorrect materials and components.
Fire retardancy testing: While most compliance tests can only be carried out in a laboratory, fire retardancy of fabrics can be checked just as well with a lighter and a stopwatch.
5. Shipping & Logistics
Furniture is heavy, and can easily break under the weight of stacked units. Many manufacturers understand this, while others routinely fail to apply common sense when packing furniture. As such, I suggest that you request packing, as following:
• Outer Cartons with plastic wrapping (to prevent mold)
• Pallets (for easy unloading)
As furniture is not only heavy, but also taking up quite a bit of space, most buyers in this segment base their imported volumes on a container basis, rather than a unit bases. Hence, request your supplier to quote a volume based on an FCL 20’’ or 40’’ HQ container, and let them specify the number of units that can be loaded in each.