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Cindy Hodnett

Chinese furniture producers learning to adapt

January 21, 2013

Adaptability. It really shouldn't be a novel idea.

In "Management Challenges for the 21st Century," released in 1999, author Peter Drucker wrote, "Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes - it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm."

Accepting change "as the norm" requires a proactive approach. It requires constant dissatisfaction with the status quo and an ongoing commitment to recreate, improve or modify what's always been - whether successful or not - into something new and different. And as many leaders in the furniture industry are discovering, it's important to embrace this acceptance of change and transform it into adaptability.

A Jan. 18 report in China Daily outlined some of the measures that furniture manufacturers in Shunde, Guangdong province, are taking to reclaim the region's position as a described "champion" of the Chinese furniture industry. According to the article, although several factors contributed to Guangdong's loss of its dominant position, one that is currently being addressed by members of the industry is the perceived shortfall in "quality and design."

"In terms of quantity, China is the world's largest furniture manufacturer, but compared with Italy, our products have much lower added value," said Hu Lingxiao, the deputy manager of Shunde Empire Furniture, one of the largest shopping malls in the district, who was quoted in the China Daily interview. "If we want to catch up with Italy, we need to start with design, including the cultivation of our taste and education of designers, which I think will be a very long process."

Riccardo Ribechi, the business and regional area manager of Poltrona Frau Group in Italy, also offered his thoughts on the design divide in the story.

"Chinese furniture has made a lot of progress over the years, but the gap is still very big," he said, referring to the Chinese furniture companies he saw at the 2012 furniture fair in Cologne, Germany. "The quality in general is good enough; the difference is in design."

In an effort to focus on design, and adapt, the local governments in Shunde and Guangdong are sponsoring furniture design competitions, according to China Daily. Manufacturers are also collaborating with foreign and Chinese designers on new product lines, and new materials are being touted for production.

"Promoting water-based paint is the most important job for 2013," said Qiao Xiaobin, director of Longjiang Economy Promotions Bureau, in China Daily. "But because of technical and cost problems, very few companies have adopted this environmentally friendly paint that will reduce pollution during production and pose less risk to human health."

Although the final results of the efforts in Guangdong are still to be determined, many of the manufacturers have definitely decided to create their own definitions of adaptability. And as a quote attributed to Confucius states, "When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals; adjust the action steps."

Adjust. Act. Adapt.