Thursday, 5 March 2009

Cebu furniture sector upbeat despite crunch

Willy Rodolfo III
Business Mirror

DESPITE the difficult times, Cebu’s landmark event for its proud export- furniture sector is set to open today with the number of exhibitors and buyers expected to be slightly lower, but with manufacturers exuding the same vigor that has spelled success for the industry for many decades.

With less than a hundred exhibitors, the Cebu Furniture and Furnishings Exhibition (CebuX) 2009 claims to have gathered the oldest and strongest players in the industry—manufacturers who have survived the political and economic storms for more than five decades.

“These are challenging times, yet we see this as an opportunity to solidify Cebu’s position as the design destination of Asia,” show chairman Allan Murillo said.

“While our competition holds back, we are as aggressive as ever to bring our products to the attention of the international market,” he added.

Cebu’s products are hardly hit by the successive setbacks, especially from its biggest market, the United States. Barely surviving the Asian economic crisis, the 9/11 attacks pushed demand down, then this was followed by the foreign-exchange debacles, the subprime-mortgage crisis and now the global economic recession, which pulled a once $300-million Cebu industry to face its toughest challenges yet.

Players, however, say while traditional markets like the United States feel the effects of the economic pinch, Philippine furniture exports are getting more attention elsewhere, including at home, which will be highlighted more than ever this year.

The domestic market, buoyed by the boom in the real-estate and tourism sector, is also keeping the sector alive as more stylish condominiums and luxury hotels turn to world-class Philippine furniture to spruce up their projects.

This year CebuX will bring to its show not only buyers from international furniture retail chains but interior designers, architects, resort and hotel managers, as well as property developers in the country and from abroad, representing the new market furniture manufacturers are tapping starting this year.

“These are trying times but there is still business as long as we focus on our strength in design and manufacturing,” said Eric Casas, president of Cebu Furniture Industries Foundation (CFIF), the organizer of CebuX.

The optimism is not without basis, despite the economic crunch in 2008, sales actually went up a little at the CebuX at $15.4 million, slightly higher than the $15 million in the 2007 show.

The number of buyers who joined last year’s show was also modestly higher at 1,551, compared with 1,483 from the previous year.

And one of the most promising signs is that more buyers from more countries attended the show last year, a record-high at 77 countries represented in the show.

“It is during times like this when the bolder players take the risks and push their limits of design and innovation. It is during times like this when passionate players position themselves for the certain good times ahead,” Murillo said.

With extensive programs like the design and product development program (DPDP) in place, companies joining CebuX have been trained by key players in the industry on design and materials manipulation.

Upcoming designers from academe are also given the chance to release their bold breakthrough creations through the student-internship program, also under the DPDP.

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