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The Business of FurnitureMy Perspective on Overcoming Client Barriers

1st December 2017

I remember a long time ago, when Serenity Made was not even a twinkling in my mind’s eye, stumbling across a backstreet furniture shop in a little known Chinese village called Yingde. As I perused the elegant pieces and marveled at the aesthetic oriental designs, I calculated the Australian dollar value and concluded that the same items would sell for at least five times the price in Australia. Immediately I began to wonder at all the costs and overheads that would need to be covered in order to get these items to a consumer’s doorstep in my home country, and guessed that it surely couldn’t be that much. It was a good idea at the time, but like many people with a good business idea, I ignored it thinking more about the hassle that would be required.

Fast forward a couple of years and I find myself looking at the same thought pattern…but from a different angle. Exporting furniture, targeting the Australian market, poses significant problems…but I have already addressed that, developed my systems and implemented the methods. No, the problem is no longer my thought process, but how to change potential clients’ thought processes.

Furniture manufacturer
A Chinese factory worker doing the studding on a dining chair destined for the western market.

To accomplish this, I need to identify the barriers that prevent clients from considering purchasing from a China based company, namely…us.

So, here are a few of those barriers that I constantly need to address.

1)   Fear of the unknown

It is important to realise that, despite China’s great leaps in innovation, opening up to the west, wage and lifestyle improvements and the development of a sophisticated business culture, westerners sometimes hold an element of distrust towards foreign dealings. China has risen quickly and can still be a dangerous business environment for the unaware.

If something goes wrong, how can we get compensation? How can we be sure they intend to honor the agreement? How valid is the contract…where is the contract? How do we know if it is a real company? These are the questions that we get asked regularly or hear horror stories about. And this is a big reason why many target clients would simply prefer to find local dealers.

2)   A complicated process

Working out the process for getting goods into your own country is complicated enough. But getting them out of a non-english speaking country? And with all the required documents? One of the biggest issues I have found since my time in China is being unable to find ways to research things. In Australia it is simple, just Google it. But in China the bulk of the information is in Chinese (and my reading is not so good) and difficult to decipher. So for an individual who has no experience with China trying to make sure fumigation documents are provided, shipping company is booked etc. etc., it is understandably quite daunting.

3)   Communication Gaps

Just walking along any street in China will bring this issue to light. English here is sub-standard…and why shouldn’t it be? In Australia we don’t expect everyone to speak Chinese or every organization to have a fluent Chinese speaker. Nevertheless, in China they try. They will try their best to meet you on your lingual terms, but this is rarely at a fluent level. Confusions occur, things are missed and misunderstandings are common. Understandably, if the first email a client sends to a factory is not replied to correctly, what does that say about business transactions? This is certainly off-putting.

4)   Scope Limitations

The final point I find is the most difficult barrier for me to address with potential clients. The simple attitude of “Importing is not what I do, I’m a designer”. Many of our clients don’t make money on the furniture aspect of their business. They simply pass over our details to their clients with all the products pre-organised with us. The client saves a lot of money, but the designer doesn’t. And, when you consider all the reasons not to purchase from China directly, it’s easier to simply just not do it.

 

These things stand in our way of securing new clients.  And although I can tell them, educate them and even show them, getting people to implement change within their tried and true processes is a difficult task. Breaking down each of these mental barriers is the first step, and drawing a parallel between money saved for clients and client satisfaction certainly helps, but at the end of the day there must be a leap of faith on the part of the customer. I understand that, and I do my best to make the process simple and smooth. If it was easy, I guess there would be no need for me though, right?