As dealers in furniture across the country shift to imported products, especially those from China and Indonesia, one company in Mombasa County, Mvita, has cut a niche for itself with locally made furniture.
Island Furniture Limited churns out hundreds of wood products each month, which director Kibe Ngunje says are in high demand despite huge imports.
During a recent visit to the workshop in Mvita, we find the workforce of about 40 employees busy at work, carving out various pieces of furniture, as well as furniture accessories.
Ngunje says that the shortcoming with imported furniture is that it wears out fast, since the material used is not manufactured with the Kenyan weather in mind.
Unfortunately, he says, many believe that imported products, including furniture, are more superior to that found here.
He also points out that many end up getting duped into buying cheap furniture, marketed as expensive.
“Some customers can’t tell the difference between synthetic, plastic and leather. If you look at some of the furniture in offices or homes in Kenya, you wonder why people buy them at such exorbitant prices,” he says, and adds.
“For instance, while a standard-sized imported office table costs over Sh60,000, we sell ours at Sh45,000, yet it is made from hard wood that is long lasting, unlike the imported table, which is made from flimsy, cheap material,” says Mr Ngunje who has a showroom at the Nyali Centre Mall.
REACHING MORE KENYANS
Onesmus Makuta, the business development manager, explains that the company plans to set up showrooms in several towns across the country with the aim of reaching more Kenyans.
“We have specially dedicated space set ups for furniture based on its use, for instance, we have office, bedroom, children’s bedroom, dining room and living room furniture.”
Ngunje’s focus on local furniture comes at a time when most retailers are importing products from China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Germany.
According to him, Kenyans are willing to buy local furniture, but lack information about available products as well as access to affordable locally made furniture.
A report released by the Industrialisation and Enterprise Ministry in November last year, Furniture Industry in Kenya: Situational Analysis and Strategy, notes that furniture imports are stifling growth of the sector in the country.
According to the report, funded by the World Bank Group, furniture market in Kenya stood at about US$496 million (Sh52 billion) in sales in 2013, with a growth rate of 10 per cent over the past five years, with similar growth expected in the coming years.
“Furniture imports stand at US$66 million (Sh6.9 billion) and constitute 13 percent of the total market. Imports are taking an increasingly large portion of the Kenyan market, growing at a rate of 24 per cent between 2009 and 2013, while exports are growing more slowly at 10 per cent,” says the report, warning that without a significant push for the development of the local industry, an increasing proportion of consumption in these markets will be met by imports.
The report however notes Kenya is well positioned to take advantage of the growing local and regional furniture market.
“Kenya’s furniture industry is well positioned to expand its sales domestically and regionally to capitalise on the growing local and regional markets in East Africa as the country is the strongest regional producer in East Africa,” the report notes.
To improve the viability furniture sector in the country, the report recommends a number of intervention measures, including enhancement of institutional collaboration and support in the industry to foster linkages among stakeholders, as well as establishing a Kenyan centre for excellence as a platform to provide relevant industry training.
According to Mr Ngunje, Kenya’s large workforce in the Jua Kali sector, despite the challenges it faces due to lack of skilled manpower, has the potential to help the sector grow if well harnessed.
Island Furniture is an off-shoot of the mother company, Island Homes Developers Limited which has been in the market for over a decade, and specialises in manufacture of furniture and fittings.