By Syed M. Aslam
Dec 29 - Jan 04, 2003



SAIFUDDIN is a craftsman and takes pride to call "working with glass" his ancestral professional. Born and raised in Lahore he came to Karachi in 1979 to continue working in his chosen profession "glass framing, photo framing as well as its use in buildings." In 1983, he proceeded to Saudi Arabia and stayed there for next seven years remaining associated with his ancestral profession. On his return to Karachi in 1990, he diversified his professional portfolio and opened a bakery and confectionery shop which he was forced to close after a spree of robberies numbering eight in total. In 1994, he proceeded to the USA and stayed there until last year to start household furniture manufacturing unit and a retail outlet.

PAGE: Why have you decided to move back to Pakistan from the US last year?

SAIFUDDIN: I lived and worked in New York City from 1994 until late last year. After 9/11 the things change for worse for the Muslims in particular and Pakistanis in general. There had never been so much public anger against them in the past. That prompted me to come back. Just how bad was the situation is evident from the way we were treated while boarding the aircraft that would fly us back home. Other four Pakistanis, including two women, and me were made to go through a number of screenings at the airport, were segregated from the rest of the travelers. We were made to take off our shoes and our baggage was searched thoroughly unlike the other travelers. I would never go to the US again.

PAGE: What's the market of household furniture like?

Saifuddin: I feel that the demand of household furniture is growing at a more rapid pace than any other furniture. This is due primary to growing use of personal computers in particular and television set in general. Kitchen cabinets are the top-selling item of all the household furniture items followed by computer trolley, which has emerged as the second top-selling item. Television trolley is also a hot item. This is true not only locally but trends indicate that the demand for the two are also on the rise elsewhere. There seems to be a great demand for the television trolleys in Saudi Arabia where I exported 80 trolleys in the recent months. Rising demand for furniture, particularly household, in the Gulf countries offers Pakistan a vast potential for exports, which remains untapped still. In addition, there has been a growing demand for wall-fixed computer box in the developing countries, which is obvious from rising retail sales of it by the expatriates living in such developed countries as Canada. In short, the demand for household furniture is not only growing within the country but elsewhere to offer great potential within the country as well as outside.

PAGE: What are the prices of wood, the basic raw material of furniture manufacture, like in Pakistan?



SAIFUDDIN: I primarily use "dayar" wood and "chipboard", both of which are readily available in the market at reasonable prices which have remained stable during the last one year. "Dayar" is a local wood while the good quality chipboard is produced locally as well as it is imported into the country. At present good quality locally produced chipboard is available for Rs 900-1,000 per 4-8 foot sheet while the imported counterpart is only a bit more expensive at around Rs 1,200 per 4-8 foot sheet. "Dayar" wood, on the other hand is almost five-times more expensive and that explains the growing use of chipboard in furniture manufacture here. The quality of locally produced chipboard is good though the quality of imported chipboard is much better. However, local chipboard is being extensively used in furniture manufacture because it offers much better profit margins.

PAGE: Are you satisfied with the local craftsmanship?

SAIFUDDIN: Yes, but not about productivity. I exported around 80 TV trolleys to Saudi Arabia but was forced to discontinue exports because I was unable to keep commitments due mainly to lack of productivity on the part of the craftsman. The major detriment to productivity is the laid back attitude of the craftsman and workers who work only when they need the money oblivious to commitments made to foreign buyers as well as locally such as the rush fueled by the two main marriage seasons the first after Eid-ul-Fitr, such as the at present, and the other after Eid-ul-Azha about 35 days away.

PAGE: A wide range of Chinese products is increasingly finding its way to the retail shelves across the country. How the scenarios with furniture like?

SAIFUDDIN: Yes a number of Chinese furniture items, both wood and plastic, have found its way into the local markets. I myself put many of them on display at my outlet and also sold some of them. Though the prices of China-made wood furniture were lower than the local counterparts, the quality was not as good. The Chinese furniture is finding its way into the local markets increasingly and I feel that it would be able to penetrate it ultimately. Wooden wall panels are also increasingly finding its way from China and though the quality of locally produced counterparts is much better, the imports are much cheaper. In a price driven market like Pakistan the increasing flow of Chinese furniture, both wood and plastic, as well as wall tiles would ultimately drive local furniture and related industries out of business in not too distant a future.