CIFF Shanghai Opens Under Cloud of Tariffs and Talk of Trade Wars

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The China International Furniture Fair got off to a solid start Sunday, despite the pesky tariffs and talk about a trade war with the U.S. Neither the 1,500 exhibitors nor the buyers gathered at the massive Shanghai Hongqiao National Exhibition & Convention Center think the ongoing war of words and tit-for-tat tariffs are good for anyone, especially in the office furniture industry.

In the U.S. and here in China, the industry is intimately tied with Chinese suppliers and manufacturers connected to many of their counterparts across the Pacific. The tariffs are hurting both sides.

“Please be our voice,” said Angelia, the sales manager for Hangzhou Aoto Intelligent Equipment, a height-adjustable table component manufacturer. “Ask Donald Trump to stop this. We simply want to do business.”

This was echoed across the trade fair though it did not dampen enthusiasm at the event, which continues for the next several days in Shanghai. This version of CIFF is the slightly smaller sister show of CIFF Guangzhou, which takes place in the spring. CIFF Shanghai is different in that it includes a blend of office and residential furniture, which makes it more interesting, especially since the line between home and office is blending.

Long Sheng Office Furniture is one of the companies taking advantage of the shift in furniture tastes. The company specializes in home office furniture sold under the LS and Lonshine brands. It sells its smartly designed, ready to assemble desks in the U.S. mainly through Sam's Club. “Home office is a growing category,” said Mike Bai, sales manager. He added Long Sheng has been selling home office furniture since 1996 and sends out 120 to 130 shipping containers of furniture each month. “We not only sell in the U.S., but also in Europe, South America and the Middle East to about 150 customers from our 50,000-square-meter plant in Foshan.”

No U.S. manufacturers tout a “Made in China” label on their office furniture products, but almost all of them have products and components that are made here. Many Chinese manufacturers serve multiple office furniture makers, usually quietly and with little fanfare. For example, Uzuo, a Foshan-based seating manufacturer claims it makes products for Kimball, Raynor and Varidesk. Omni, a sit-stand desk maker, claims it works with HAT, AIS and Office Star.

China was once known for creating office furniture knockoffs, and there are still a few to be found at CIFF, mostly from the second-tier office furniture makers in the country that rely solely on price and don't care about design. To be fair, they are becoming more and more rare at the show. Replacing them are companies who take pride in their original designs — some homegrown and some from overseas designers.

The designs are getting exponentially better each CIFF, with many companies coming up with new products every six months. Much of this office furniture is good enough to be sold into North American offices.