Stakeholders believe the growth of this industry has primarily been driven by the country’s flourishing corporate sector in the last 20 years
The country's furniture industry has seen a rapid growth in recent decades, with over 25 lakh workers currently employed in this sector.
The industry employs the second largest number of workers after ready-made garments, which account for the country's highest export earnings.
Stakeholders believe the growth of this industry has primarily been driven by the country's flourishing corporate sector in the last 20 years. The industry now enjoys an annual growth of 18-20 percent.
More than a hundred medium and large furniture factories have come up in the country over the last 50 years. Companies like Hatil, Otobi, Akhtar, Athena's, Legacy, and Brothers have been instrumental in introducing a versatility of style and design, adding elegance and aesthetic appeal to their products.
After meeting domestic demand, Bangladeshi furniture is exported to foreign markets.
Selim H Rahman, chairman of Bangladesh Furniture Industries Owners Association, told The Business Standard that the industry has reached a position where it is able to meet the various demands of customers.
He said Bangladeshi furniture has also made a name abroad due to its novelty and diversity.
"The furniture industry is set to become a key export earning item," said Selim, who is also the chairman of Hatil.
Many different varieties of furniture, in addition to those used at home and in offices, are made in the country. Based on the materials used, they are known as solid wood furniture, processed wood furniture, metal furniture, cane furniture and rattan furniture.
Of these, solid wood furniture has had a great deal of diversity.
Furniture prices vary from Tk1,000 to Tk25 lakh. Athena's sells a dining table priced at Tk25.5 lakh.
The country's furniture industry is huge, with yearly revenues exceeding Tk10,000 crore.
Even though the industry has over 80,000 entrepreneurs, the market is still dominated by unbranded furniture that accounts for 65 percent of all the products sold. Hatil holds the majority share of the remaining 35 percent.
Hatil, which started as a small furniture store back in 1969, now enjoys more than 10 percent of the total market share.The company's annual turnover is around Tk1,000 crore.
It manufactures a diverse range of home and office furniture, including wooden, melamine laminated chipboards, medium density fibre boards, cane and metal furniture.
The company sells its products at more than 70 showrooms and through over 300 dealership outlets across the country.
In terms of market share of branded furniture, Akhtar holds the second position. It started business in 1976 but has seen the highest expansion in the last decade.
Akhtar has 35 showrooms and more than 100 dealers across the country. Last year, Delta Furnishers, a concern of Akhtar Group, opened eight showrooms in Dhaka.
KM Akhtaruzzaman, chairman of Akhtar Group, told The Business Standard that the expansion of the middle class had contributed to the growth of good quality branded furniture.
Otobi, once the market leader in the sector, has lost its position in recent years. The firm was founded by Nitun Kundu, a renowned artist and sculptor, in 1975.
At present, it has 18 retail centres and 288 exclusive dealer points. It enjoys five percent of the market share and sells all types of furniture.
Navana and Nadia entered the furniture market after 2000 but have already become quite popular, with a five percent market share each.
Navana has 44 showrooms while Nadia has 33. Both companies also have a large number of dealer outlets.
Athena's uses teak in all its products, which is why they are the most expensive in the market. Partex Furniture is doing good business in the market of hospital furniture, selling medium-priced items.
Sushil Chandra Ghosh, head of business of Partex Furniture, told The Business Standard the company's target is to hold a leading position in the growing hospital furniture market.
Good prospects abroad
Even though 93 percent of the manufactured furniture is sold in the local market, there is a big potential for export, which has seen an annual average growth of more than 20 percent.
At present, Bangladeshi furniture is shipped to the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, the Middle East and European countries. Indian and other South Asian countries are also among the export destinations.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, export of furniture has seen a 267 percent rise in the last decade, jumping from Tk180 crore to Tk665 crore in fiscal year 2018-19.
Entrepreneurs say furniture could become an industry as expansive as readymade garments if there was adequate availability of raw materials and subsidy from the government.
Raw materials import remains a challenge
Akhtar Group Chairman Akhtaruzzaman, who is president of Bangladesh Furniture Exporters Association, told The Business Standard that Bangladeshi furniture was unrivalled when it came to diversity and quality.
He said export potential for the industry would grow further if manufacturers were able to depend less on imported raw materials.
Even though low labour costs and excellent woodworking skills have been the main catalysts of the industry's tremendous growth, companies still extensively depend on the import of raw materials.
At present, manufacturers import more than 60 percent of raw materials due to the lack of enough forest resources in the country.Timber, coating materials for wood, hardware and accessories and world-class fabrics are among the raw materials imported from the US and different European countries.
Furniture becomes more expensive because of this dependence on imported raw materials.
Selim H Rahman said beechwood comes from Germany, oakwood from North America and lacquer from Italy. Lacquer is a wood finish used to achieve shiny effects.
"Besides, fabrics come from China and Indonesia while machines and tools are imported from many different countries," he added.
A menace to environment?
It has been claimed that furniture manufacturers are responsible for deforestation, putting the environment at risk.
They, however, denied this, saying they only use imported wood for their products.
Selim told The Business Standard all the big and medium companies in the country rely on wood imported from abroad.
"Wood that is used to make furniture needs to have Forest Stewardship Council certification. This is also applicable to Bangladesh," he explained.
There is an official ban on cutting down of trees due to inadequacy of forest lands in the country. At least 25 percent of the country's total area should be covered by forests but in reality, in Bangladesh, it is significantly less than that.
In order to protect biodiversity, chopping of trees in reserved forestlands was prohibited in 1990, and it will remain in force until 2022.That is why furniture makers are unable to use wood from the reserved forests.
At present, the country has 1.40 crore hectares of land. Of these, 12 lakh hectares are protected forestlands.