28 May 2024, 12:44
By Furniture News Jun 12, 2015

MIFF flourishes despite flaws

Organised by UBM Malaysia, the Malaysian International Furniture Fair (MIFF) took place from 3rd-7th March across Kuala Lumpur’s PWTC and MECC venues. Each year, MIFF signals the start of the furniture buying season in Asia – yet a few drawbacks makes Paul Farley feel that the event is not currently reaching its full potential …

I’ll get the bad news out of the way. This year’s MIFF seemed a little quieter than usual. Perhaps this was due to a significant surge in numbers at last year’s event: in 2013, UBM reported 18,397 visitors, 6054 of them international, from 140 countries; in 2014, it recorded 19,472 visitors, 6171 of them international, from 141 countries; while this year’s edition saw numbers drop back to around 18,000, from just 130 countries and regions.

According to the organiser, although buyer traffic to MIFF 2015 was relatively steady from North America, the Middle East, Australasia, Latin America and South, Southeast and East Asia, there was a significant decrease in the number of visitors from Europe and Africa – in particular, and with good reason, from Russia, Ukraine and the West African states.

On the ground, the difference in footfall from Europe wasn’t huge, but it was noticeable – but somewhat predictable. For international visitors looking to chain show visits together, MIFF’s timing is becoming increasingly problematic. Last year, the IFFS exhibition in neighbouring Singapore was rescheduled to run closer to the Chinese events taking place later in March, and visitors to MIFF have found themselves somewhat adrift since – the next logical destination event commencing some days later.

Despite MIFF’s 500-plus strong exhibitor roster featuring roughly 10% new exhibitors, another criticism levelled at this year’s show by UK visitors was a lack of variety in the product on show. Perhaps the huge building expansions to the MECC venue – scheduled for completion prior to the 2017 edition – will give the event the breathing space it requires.

Despite these complaints, MIFF continues to deliver when it comes to business. The recent edition recorded its second-highest sales total to date – US$865m, down from an estimated $892m at last year’s 20th anniversary edition. It’s a strong performance – perhaps the slightly lower footfall points towards a greater concentration of big spenders alongside the number of first-time buyers, which, according to UBM Malaysia, made up a third of this year’s visitors.

Above all, MIFF is a transactional fair, bereft of some of the bells and whistles adorning the region’s more design-led affairs, but forging its own way alongside the country’s healthy furniture manufacturing industry. Now 21 years old, MIFF remains a leading international event, renowned for its hospitality as much as the global appeal of its exhibitors’ product.

Admittedly, there is some repetition, but each year a handful of new manufacturing and material trends swim into view amidst the show’s rubberwood and metalworked furniture mainstays.
Exploration of this year’s event reveals a growing number of upholstery and upholstered bed suppliers, and whilst the contemporary edges of the new product could use some sharpening, it does lend the show diversity.

“Despite its – perhaps temporary – disadvantages, in general terms, MIFF is becoming a stronger entity with each edition”

PCG Soon Lee, a bed and bedroom furniture manufacturer from southern Malaysia, specialises in applying fabrics, finishes and foils to its models. Everything from melamine and glass to acrylics and PU is applied tastefully and confidently to eye-catching designs. The company’s principals are the first to admit that their offering is not the cheapest around, but an ability to offer a point of difference makes companies like this all the more attractive to visiting buyers.

Creative bedroom furniture is also on display on Elk Furniture’s stand, the company’s bed frames rich with striking angles and rich textures. Meanwhile, SJY Furniture returns with a wealth of interesting indoor and outdoor concepts, including glass-topped rattan dining and occasional tables featuring central recesses full of gravel and pebbles, evoking a warm, coastal feel.

And it isn’t just the Malaysian exhibitors which stand out. I speak to Jordi Ibanez, area manager for Barcelona-based chair manufacturer Resol, about his decision to exhibit at MIFF again this year.

“This show is more international than you’d think,” says Jordi. “Visitors see lots of mid-priced product repetition at this show, so if you’re able to offer something with a new twist, you have a great advantage.”
Resol offers a range of plastic chairs for both domestic and commercial use, to which it is able to apply colours, patterns and logos.

“We see a surprising number of commercial buyers – interior designers, architects, etc, – here, alongside the retail buyers,” he adds. “We do lots of business worldwide, but at MIFF we’ve already closed business with markets as diverse as Nigeria, Australia and Korea.”

Despite its – perhaps temporary – disadvantages, in general terms MIFF is becoming a stronger entity with each edition. Karen Goi, MIFF’s general manager, comments: “It was really encouraging to see the high diversity and quality of international buyers despite the challenging global economic climate. Clearly, MIFF has again demonstrated its resilience and relevance as an effective global furniture platform, and the top industry event in Southeast Asia.”

It may remain for Malaysia to iron out its deficiencies when it comes to original design – MIFF’s fast-maturing Furniture Design Competition being one exception to the industry’s often-apathetic approach – as well as the aforementioned issues, but, for the majority of its many participants, MIFF delivers, year after year, proving an effective model for healthy business.

This article was published in the May issue of Furniture News magazine.

© 2013 - 2024 Gearing Media Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved.