It is hard to overstate the scale of the China International Furniture Fair to the uninitiated. It is massive by every measure. Yet CIFF lacks some of the cachet of the world’s other major office furniture gatherings. It’s not posh like iSalone in Milan. It is not trendsetting like Orgatec in Cologne. And it doesn’t gather the industry like NeoCon in Chicago.
So how does CIFF, which opens today, measure its success? Perhaps it should be best measured by volume. The sales of furniture made by companies like Sunon, Chang Jiang, Victory, Headway, New Qumun, Jobcare, Merryfair, Kuo Ching, UE, Bosen, Sidiz, Hongsheng, New Century, Ruihua and Hangzhou Zhongtai would dwarf the combined sales of everyone who showed in Milan, whether you appreciate the products these Asian companies bring to the market or not.
The snooty furniture design magazines and blogs won’t be fawning over designs in Shanghai, but if you work in an office, visit a hotel or decorate your house, there is a much better chance you will find your butt resting in a chair shown at CIFF, which means the show is worth following.
This is the second year CIFF will be located in Shanghai for its fall edition. The spring version of the show remains in Guangzhou. The fall edition of CIFF moved to Shanghai for several reasons. The city is a major business hub, far more international than the industrial feel of Guangzhou. It is also more centrally located in the country, opening the fair to a larger group of exhibitors and attendees.
Last year was the first time CIFF was held at the new National Exhibition and Convention Center (NECC), and the show had a few hiccups organizers promise were ironed out over the past year.
The spectacular exhibition center was so new last year hall organizers hadn’t smoothed out all the problems associated with running such a vast building. Traffic was snarled and amenities in and around the hall were either incomplete or not fully operational. Attendees and exhibitors complained there were few good hotels near the exhibition center, forcing a long commute from other parts of the city to the event. Food halls weren’t finished, which made it difficult to find something to eat.
Like many projects in China, the National Exhibition & Convention Center needed time to grow into itself. Over the course of the last year, that seems to have happened. Food, accommodations and transportation during CIFF will be comprehensively upgraded, according to show organizers.
Since last year, the Commercial Centre surrounding the center has been built out. The five-star Intercontinental Hotel opened in July. And a corridor that connects the east side of NECC and the Hongqiao business district was completed in June, linking the exhibition center to 14 starred hotels. CIFF also will offer free shuttle buses to connect NECC with transportation junctions like Hongqiao Airport, Hongqiao High-speed Railway Station and Pudong Airport, and is arranging more shuttles that travel between car parks and exhibition halls.
It is a major production for a major show. And it is safe to say there is no larger furniture show in the world. The NECC covers 4.3 million square feet of show space. To put that in context, the cavernous AT&T Stadium in Dallas is a paltry 2.3 million square feet. The exhibition center is an architectural marvel. Shaped like a flower with the petals making up the halls on several levels, the show hopes to attract more than 100,000 visitors.
The show runs Wednesday through Saturday with several of the 13 massive halls filled with office furniture. The rest of the show will be filled with everything else that has to do with furniture. There are halls for “modern” furniture, classical furniture, home decor and textiles, outdoor and leisure furniture and all the massive machines and equipment needed to make it. In short, it is a one-stop shop for the furniture industry.
The show is expected to gather about 2,000 top brands from Asia and abroad. National Pavilions from countries include Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand and Korea. Though it is not a show that is known for attracting North American visitors, both KI and Herman Miller exhibited in Shanghai last year. The show is organized by the China Foreign Trade Centre (Group), Guangdong Furniture Association and Guangzhou Furniture Association, and hosted by the China Foreign Trade Guangzhou Exhibition General Corp.
It’s hard to say how the sagging economy in China might affect CIFF. Last year, when Asia’s economy seemed like it was in worse shape, the Chinese shrugged off questions about its slowing fortunes. Slowdown is a relative term, of course. China’s economy expanded 6.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, down from 6.8 percent during the same period last year. In 2015, the country’s economy grew 6.9 percent, its slowest pace in 25 years, but still red hot by most world standards.
To combat the slowdown, China’s furniture industry is touting its ability to customize, which seems odd given its geographic location and difficulties in getting product quickly to the West. “Customized products in CIFF will better satisfy personalized and diversified market demand, showing uniqueness and personality,” according to the show organizers. “From interior to outdoor life, from whole room furniture to overall soft furnishings, from home to office and hotel furniture, from production equipment to raw materials, customized furniture can be seen everywhere in CIFF, offering a new interpretation of customization.”