According to Mr Samantha Wickramaarachchi – what a magnificent name - the
Furniture Specialist at the Sri Lankan Export Development Board, the furniture
market in Sri Lanka is worth about $105 million.
Article to be published in World Furniture, June 2012SRI LANKA – ITS EXPO AND ITS FURNITUREby John Sacks, JSA Consultancy Services , London.According to Mr Samantha Wickramaarachchi – what a magnificent name - theFurniture Specialist at the Sri Lankan Export Development Board, the furnituremarket in Sri Lanka is worth about $105 million. Local production, after exports of$20 million, contributes about $55 million; the rest is imported. There are no largelocal manufacturers; in fact no furniture manufacturer employs more than 100people and there are only about 25 which employ more than 50. By way of contrast,there are more than 600 businesses with fewer than 25 employees.The market is dominated by two companies, H. Don Carolis and A.T. Cooray whichhave a combined share of 35% of the market. Most of the larger companies have avery broad product spread making bedroom, living room, kitchen and upholsteredfurniture, and some office furniture as well. As with many developing markets,manufacturing merges into distribution, and most of the larger companies retail theirown products through their showrooms in Colombo and other larger cities.HALF OF THE MARKET IS IMPORTEDThe materials used are mostly solid timber and particle board, cane and rattan. Thetimbers are generally not the standard show wood varieties but rather thosegenerally available locally, such as Rubberwood. The supply of other varieties suchas Teak, Satinwood and Jackwood is tightly controlled by the State owned TimberCorporation and they are only available either by licence or as recycled “old wood” -usually comes from old housing stock. The high levels of imports – almost half of themarket – is a function not of a lack of manpower or skills but rather of a shortage ofsupply of timber. How ironical for a land covered with millions of acres of lushtropical forests. A substantial proportion of the timber which is released onto themarket is used for tool handles, flooring and gift boxes, which compounds theproblem for furniture manufacturers.Apart from the largest companies, manufacturing is very “low tech” but what islacking in modern flowline production is more than made up with fine hand craftingand highly skilled carving. Little of the natural colour and grain pattern of the timberis generally seen however because of the use of very dark stains and paint finishes.
EVENT PROFILEIn March this year, the writer visited Expo Sri Lanka 2012 as a guest of the SriLankan Export Development Board. Until the end of the civil war in 2009, thesecurity situation meant that this was the first time for 13 years that the country hadstaged an international exhibition. BMICH exhibition & Conference Centre, Colombo, Sri LankaThe event clearly won great official support with over 500 Government Ministers,overseas ambassadors and High Commissioners, VIPs, “Special Guests” and lowlyjournalists attending the swelteringly hot opening ceremony performed by thecountry’s President on Day 1. A similar ceremony was carried out by the PrimeMinister on Day 2.The show was held in ten halls in the exhibition complex on the outskirts of Colomboover four days at the end of March, with the first three being trade and officialvisitors only. Although the stands were small, considerable effort had gone into thecompanies’ presentation of their products and services which concentrated on thecountry’s main exports – fashion, gems, software, tea and spices. There were fivecompanies showing furniture of which three concentrated on children’s furniture.
Roshan Beruwalage of Sujeewa Antiques (the name is misleading) showed somewell crafted black painted Jackwood living and dining room pieces which had beenmade from “old wood”. The company employs 50 people in their factory inAmbalangoda, 100 km south of Colombo and they export to the UK, Germany andthe USA. Interestingly, they took down their website some time ago because theyfound their competitors were using it to facilitate the copying of their products. Sujeewa AntiquesThe Department of Integrated Design of the University of Moratuwa used their standto show off their interesting use of rattan which grows abundantly in Sri Lanka.Working with a team of ten craftsmen from Radawaduna Village, they had createdsome attractive items of occasional furniture which the villagers have started toproduce.
There were also three companies showing colourful items of children’s furnitureincluding chairs, tables and bunk beds.Children’s furniture from Simplex and Art & Crafts InternationalDYNAMIC ECONOMIC GROWTH EXPECTEDThe show was well attended, at least by local buyers, and the attendees seemedinterested and professional. Sri Lanka has a high standard of living compared withother Southern Asian countries and the pace of development and construction isvery rapid. Wherever one travels on the island, roads, houses, bridges andcommercial construction is very much in evidence and with political and economicstability, demand for well designed and good quality furniture seems set to rise forthe foreseeable future. With import duty on furniture of more than 60%, localmanufacturers with their skills and control of the retail distribution are well placed totake full advantage of this growth. Whether these same manufacturers will also beable to exploit overseas markets remains to be seen.Away from furniture, Sri Lanka is clearly a country which is poised for dynamiceconomic growth. The ending of hostilities and a stable government has started torelease pent up entrepreneurship which is seen in the thousand if micro businessesyou see everywhere. Inward investment is being encouraged, and with a claimedannual growth of 8%, annual inflation of 4% - 5% and a young and hard workingpopulation, the country could become a serious target for the inflow of internationalfunds.