The Chamber of Wood Products and Furniture Industry (CWWFI) has adopted a three-pronged strategy to help the furniture industry which relies heavily on imported basic components that are affected by currency fluctuations.
According to CWWFI Chairman Tarek Habashi, the first part of the strategy involves encouraging the local manufacturing of furniture accessories, such as drawer slides and hinges. This will reduce the industry’s reliance on imports.
The second part is to engage in the industrial production of manufactured materials such as MDF and plywood.
The last and most significant step is to draw up a plan to expand Egyptian furniture exports. This strategy aims to boost the local furniture industry and make it more self-sufficient, ultimately advancing the Egyptian economy.
Accordingly, the export aid and industry loan plan launched by the cabinet, which has an 11 per cent interest rate, would reduce financing burdens, boost Egyptian furniture competitiveness in target markets and increase export rates, Habashi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Among the recent efforts to support the manufacturing of raw materials, two upcoming factories producing local MDF wood will open soon, providing a significant boost to the local furniture manufacturing industry. The Nile Wood Factory in Sadat City and the Wood Tech Factory in Al-Beheira will contribute 50 per cent of the input volume for MDF production, Habashi said. This is a crucial element of furniture manufacturing, according to Habashi, since the move is expected to help the industry cope with currency fluctuations and ongoing challenges related to raw material scarcity and a stagnant domestic market.
However, the rise in raw material prices is not what is impacting the industry most, according to Amr Aransa, CWWFI deputy. The cost of raw materials typically represents 40 to 70 per cent of the final product price, Aransa pointed out, adding that, as such, the increase in raw material prices will not result in an equivalent percentage increase in the final product price. Also, Aransa noted that some Egyptian materials have seen a lower price increase than their imported equivalent which are impacted by the depreciation of the pound.
Aransa sees other factors having a negative impact on the industry. For example, he said that despite the availability of local raw materials such as sarso wood, sapwood, kaya, Ficus, thuja, and mango tree wood that can help grow the furniture industry, the lack of an integrated wood production cycle hinders the industry’s growth.
Aransa cited a workshop held on the sidelines of a climate-related conference in which designers were asked to design stools made from local materials, including wood. “While we obtained successful preliminary samples, applying them to the industry was problematic due to the absence of factories that process local raw wood,” he noted. As a result, they were unable to cut, dry and use it in production or the supply chain. Even for raw materials imported and manufactured in Egypt, such as sponges for furniture upholstery, Egypt imports the chemicals used to treat and manufacture them, reducing production profit.
The primary obstacle facing the furniture industry remains the absence of educational institutions that focus on the manufacture and production of furniture, Aransa said. While there are specialisations for teaching product design, until recently, only a few universities offered programmes specifically focused on teaching furniture design. Furthermore, the field of production engineering does not emphasise studying the production of specific materials or products. Also, there are no specialties in marketing furniture or planning a furniture factory, he added. “A consolidated entity is required to facilitate the study of all aspects of furniture production, from management to manufacturing and sales, to benefit the entire sector,” he added.
Several countries have implemented specialised education and training programmes covering all aspects of the furniture sector, from design to manufacturing, production and sales, Aransa said. The programmes are designed to promote the growth and development of their furniture industries. For example, he said Germany has an established furniture academy in Berlin that provides comprehensive education on all these stages of furniture production. Similarly, Greece has developed a wood engineering specialty to strengthen its furniture industry.
Another influential factor in developing the furniture industry is limited research and development, according to Aransa, with only a few companies investing in such efforts through their initiatives. Unfortunately, he added, there are no dedicated research facilities solely for furniture manufacturing. As a result, furniture industry specialists need to be educated and guided.
By comprehending the production cycle, designers can develop designs that minimise raw material usage and simplify the manufacturing process. This will result in faster and more straightforward production without the need for numerous, complicated steps, he said.
Additionally, educating and guiding workers in the furniture industry can help increase sales and decrease the cost of each product. This is particularly true if marketers are trained in how better to sell furniture.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly