India lends distinctive touch to accents
Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, September 21, 2012
This No. 43513 four-door, five-drawer credenza with iron accents is part of Coast To Coast Imports’ Jadu Accents line imported from India.
Johari, president and CEO of Jaipur Home, says the factory in Boranada, India, has grown a bit - it currently ships about 110 containers each month.
The business began as an extension of his father's antique shop, where customers would request copies of unique items they'd once seen there that had been sold and were no longer available. After the pieces were produced, they were carried 360 miles on camel carts north to Delhi, then shipped from the port at Mumbai.
Johari's first business to the United States was as an OEM supplier to several national chains and other manufacturers and a few container customers who traveled to India to source goods. Its first major breakthrough came in 1991, when India began opening to international trade.
It's no secret that since then, accent vendors and big box stores have been cautiously pioneering sourcing networks in India. In 2011, India shipped about $128 million worth of wood and metal furniture to the United States, according to Furniture/Today research estimates.
Many of the country's accent furniture producers are in the central northwest portion of the country, in and around Delhi.
Recently, India's signature reclaimed and washed out natural wood looks have become a sought-after style.
Dan Sumner, vice president of sales and marketing at Butler Specialty, said his company has been sourcing from India for about 18 months.
"What India does for us is just give us looks and styles we cannot get (elsewhere)," Sumner said. "We saw a lot of looks in the marketplace that were voids in our line and knew they were coming out of India. To b
This Guru credenza/television console from Jaipur Home showcases the signature natural washed wood look India is known for producing.
In April the company introduced more than 40 pieces from India and plans to introduce close to that from the country at the upcoming October High Point Market, representing about 25% of the company's introductions, he said.
Indian looks that have done well for Butler include accent pieces made with polished aluminum and bone inlay. The country works well in sheesham and mango woods, Sumner added.
India still does much work by hand, including hand-forging of metals and scraping of wood - which has given its furniture continued rustic appeal, said Anna Ogden, senior buyer at Four Hands.
The country has strengths in solid wood, bone inlay and mercury glass used in door panels that can spice up case goods, she said.
"It's stuff that we love; we know that's our edge. It's the toughest place to do business anywhere in the world and I'm traveling all over Asia monthly," Ogden said. "We know we have to be there."
Jaipur's Johari said furniture and accessories from India are constructed from reclaimed and new timber, found objects, metals and woven fabrics, all of which are used by his factories.
Johari said that what separates India is its proclivity for solid wood, rather than MDF and particleboard. Another major strength is its diverse use of color, he said.
"The reason why people love India furniture in the accent category mostly is because of two things. First the design and second the color," Johari said. "No country has as many color combinations popular as India has. The second is: In India everything is still vintage style. Mostly everything is made of organic natural material."
He said the top selling categories for Jaipur are sideboards, TV consoles and cabinets.
Coast to Coast Imports CEO Andy Stein said the company imports about 120 SKUs from India. The company has been exporting from India for about 12 months and began working with factories there about 18 months ago.
Stein said the three wood species used commonly in India are plantation sheesham, acacia and mango.
"India does rustic looks and industrial looks very well. Everything is solid wood and cast iron. So, very heavy and solid," he said.
Francel Goude, a design and marketing official with Sarreid, said the company has been working in India for more than 30 years developing different handicrafts in varied materials.
Sarreid began focusing on India's furniture about 12 years ago, he said.
This Sedona cabinet is imported from India by Sarreid and is in mango wood with a sienna finish.
Among its strongest sellers from India are solid wood pieces and items with mixed media like iron, tin, stone and leather.
Goude said one wood used often there is referred to as a "walnut," which is selected for furntiure for its unique characteristics.
"It's a wood which has the same color and grain structure as American walnut. Very similar," Goude said.
"We also use a lot of recycled, very old wood in our Found Collection. Here we have several different species of hardwood, which is normally not a defined species. We just hand-select for its beauty and aged characteristics. All is solid wood construction."
Companies stressed that having a strong quality control presence is vital to doing business in India. Sarreid says it has a hands-on approach to quality control, especially with its factory partner.
"We also encourage participation in international organizational standards like (the International Organization for Standardization) family of standards," Goude said.
Butler's Sumner said the company keeps a quality control person in India and is continually checking to make sure its products are done correctly. Especially on items that have reclaimed wood, pieces must be sandblasted to make sure any old paint is removed, he said.
"It's important, especially as you're establishing relationships with new manufacturers, that it's got to be right or we won't take it," Sumner said, adding that the company has refused shipments for not meeting Butler's quality standards.
Stein said Coast to Coast has a 15-person team doing quality control.
"You cannot work in India without your own team there," he said. "Feet on the ground every day in the factory is an absolute necessity to get the correct product and flow.
"It takes a lot of expertise to make India work. I have many customers that have tried product direct from India and have been very disappointed with the results," Stein said.
The design of Global Views’ Tambour table was inspired by folded paper found in origami artwork and is made of solid teak and sheesham wood.
Four Hands maintains an office in India and quality control personnel. Ogden said a blend of sometimes tough travel conditions to move product and the constant follow up to get factories to produce an importer's vision make it a tough place to do business.
Ogden, who has been working with India for about 15 years, said some retailers that have tried to import direct from India without infrastructure in space to follow up on a daily basis end up dropping out of the country, finding it too risky to invest in containers.
While in the past, big box stores or large furniture retailers have been more apt to source from India, that's changing as smaller vendors pioneer sourcing networks.
For Coast to Coast, a big part of the message of its recently introduced Jadu Accents line of dining tables, media pieces, storage cabinets and occasional tables - made in India and warehoused in Memphis, Tenn. - has been giving retailers the ability to order small quantities through the warehouse.
"That is why buying from us takes the headache out of India for our customers. They can rely on a U.S.-based company to get them the product they want and stand behind it," Stein said.
Frederick Rayner, chief operating officer of Global Views, said the company has been importing from India's factories since it was founded in 1996. In 2012 the company had 596 SKUs from India, much of it in teak, mango and sheesham woods.
"We have been working with several factories for such a long time that we have trained many of them to do the looks that Global Views is known for," Rayner said. "We push factories to try different things but we never push them too far, otherwise they will become overwhelmed. Our work with factories has been a gradua
Four Hands’ Magnolia table in a dark oak color shows the attention to detail and elegant turnings offered by India’s factories.
The company has an agent in India who sends inspectors to look at product before shipping and to catch issues before they arise.
"There are many challenges to importing from India. Cultural issues, infrastructure issues, insect problems, weather. The factory working conditions are not modern in the least," Rayner said, adding that the company allows five weeks from factory to warehouse for shipping.
Jaipur's Johari has seen India improve the country's its infrastructure in recent years. He said his factory space now totals about 1.6 million square feet.
He said business has been rebounding in India. After sales slowed following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said the company was on the verge of closing.
Following the advice of its customers, the company opened a showroom in 2004 in High Point and another later in Las Vegas. It also opened a 100,000-squarefoot warehouse in Bentonville, Ark.
Jaipur Home has about 950 SKUs. With recently added square footage, it has a capacity for 200 containers each month, Johari said.
Its sales are divided between the United States and Germany, with the U.S. accounting for about 80%.
While it has been a long journey to become a major manufacturer for the U.S. market, it has been a worthwhile one, Johari said.
"When I put my first showroom in High Point some of my neighbors told me: ‘Who's going to buy this crap?' Today they don't even exist in many, many kilometers close to my showroom," he said.
"Obviously, we feel that our experience, production capacity and knowledge of the ins-and-outs puts us in the best position to service our retail partners and provide them with greatest values."
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