Local designers are gaining recognition among Malaysian and international consumers, and the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB) has played a key role behind their progress. A long-time admirer of Malaysian design, the MTIB’s Director General, Dato’ Dr. Jalaluddin Harun has decorated a significant part of his Menara PGRM office with locally designed furniture. These furniture pieces combine Malaysian timber with decorative elements like glass and steel.
Amidst these exquisite surroundings, Creative Home had a chat with him regarding the Wood & Lifestyle Fair, which will be hosted by MTIB between 21 and 23 April 2017 at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).
How did MTIB come to initiate and host the Wood and Lifestyle Fair?
Initially, the thought came to my mind. We realised that Bumiputera entrepreneurs are lacking in resources when it comes to showcasing their products. If you look at furniture brands such as Rozel, Fella Design and Milano, they all have dedicated showrooms. For certain industries like furniture, the customers prefer to view them in showrooms. Sure, some customers have been making purchases via online retail sites, but a majority of them want to view, touch and feel the furniture’s texture and size in person before buying.
As most Bumiputera entrepreneurs in the furniture industry are small, having a showroom is a luxury. They do want to have their own showrooms, but unfortunately, they were unable to. And even though we have other Malaysian-based furniture expos, their exhibition space can be limited and participation fees can also be costly by SME standards (small and medium-sized enterprises). So all of us at MTIB discussed this situation with the SME entrepreneurs and we thought: why not set up our own exhibition? Why not we have our own exhibition at PWTC?
Last year, MTIB started hosting its own exhibition, the Wood & Lifestyle Fair with 33 participants. We also promoted this event on all kinds of media. We have appeared on TV programmes such as Bernama TV and Selamat Pagi Malaysia. For the first Wood & Lifestyle Fair in 2016, we attracted about 2,000 to 3,000 visitors and our exhibitors attained sales of RM6.6 million. That’s not a bad start for an exhibition in its first year. From there, we expanded our current programme. We also have Wood & Lifestyle promotions in Alor Setar, Johor Bahru, Kuantan, Ipoh, Kota Bharu and Kota Kinabalu.
What are the main attractions for this year’s Wood & Lifestyle Fair?
Certain manufacturers are launching their newest collections of furniture at the fair. Some of our Tanggam Design Centre designers are also launching new designs. One of our objectives is to assist more manufacturers in transitioning from being Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) into Original Design Manufacturers (ODM). For example, there’s a furniture importer from overseas – they already have a design for a particular set of table and chairs. And they want our manufacturers to produce 1,000 units of this design. That’s what OEMs do – copying a design and reproducing it. As ODMs, we are creating and manufacturing our own designs. So we want to encourage our manufacturers to become value-added ODMs.
It’s like the car industry: why do people switch cars every three years? It’s because they want vehicles with the latest design and technology. The same goes for the furniture industry. Malaysian consumers are becoming more design-conscious now. That’s how it is with the consumers in urban areas – people don’t mind paying a little more for their satisfaction. So for this Wood & Lifestyle Fair, our main theme is for the enhancement of Bumiputera manufacturers’ furniture design. We plan to take the industry to a new level of design and beauty.
Secondly, we also want to show that Bumiputera SMEs are moving forward in the right direction and progressing. Until 2015, we didn’t have any Bumiputera furniture manufacturers in the medium-scale category of manufacturers (according to SME Corporation Malaysia guidelines). A number of them are categorised as “small”, meaning that their annual revenues are RM15 million and below. But since last year, because of MTIB’s continuous assistance, two companies have managed to break into the “medium” scale.
Are there any other attractions at this fair?
We have been rating the Bumiputera manufacturers according to a star rating system. The highest rating is five stars. There are no manufacturers who have achieved five stars yet, but there have been a few manufacturers who have achieved 4 stars. We will announce this at the fair. Besides that, we have wood carving events. And to bring the people closer together, we also have some Do It Yourself (DIY) workshops and conferences on furniture design during the fair.
What are the criteria that the manufacturers should fulfil in this star rating system?
It’s based on SME Corporation Malaysia’s assessment process. They have seven criteria areas where they look into certain aspects. So based on that evaluation, the manufacturers would then obtain their star ratings. We have been implementing this rating system since 2011.
In your opinion, why aren’t there any manufacturers with five-star ratings at the moment?
One of the criteria that you’d have to meet to attain five stars is that you must have strong R&D. Most small and medium scale entrepreneurs don’t have many resources in terms of R&D development. They may have their furniture designers but that’s not purely R&D. So R&D is very important if manufacturers plan to move forward towards more innovation. And to a certain extent, the manufacturer’s export capabilities matter too (in the star ratings evaluation process).
How will the MTIB and Wood & Lifestyle Fair help these companies to achieve a five star rating?
We help these companies to grow. Once they have developed in size and revenue, they can afford to have R&D departments. To enhance their production capacity, we are assisting them by loaning them high-tech, highly automated, computerised machinery – like the Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines. These machines assist in the cutting and carving of timber. You can even do wood sanding with these machines. That’s how we build up their production capacity and volume.
We also set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for these companies when we loan them machinery. For instance: within one year, the company should be able to manufacture a particular amount of products. We also provide assistance in terms of marketing. In Interior Design (ID), a designer’s reputation for creating great work can spread through word of mouth.
How optimistic are you of achieving your participation and sales target for this year’s Wood and Lifestyle Fair?
For this year’s Wood and Lifestyle Fair, we are targeting about RM8 million in sales. From having 33 participants in the last fair, we have also attracted an increased number of exhibitors for this year’s fair, with 40 manufacturers participating this year.
Also, as this is our second time hosting the fair, we already have about two years of publicity campaigns to promote this, so the public awareness for this fair has increased. But we need to set the bar higher. Our efforts to promote the designs of Bumiputera SMEs and Malaysian designers go beyond this fair. There will be many more MTIB events across the nation.
How have the 33 participants fared since participating in last year’s fair?
Quite a number of them have increased their sales, and many of them are coming back for this year’s fair. They have grown in size, and two of them are now categorised as “medium” size businesses. That shows progress. We hope that with this second fair, the Bumiputera manufacturers can further promote their products.