A boy walks past a furniture workshop. PHOTO: REUTERS

Return of Covid-19 spells trouble for furniture industry

After great losses last year, boon for the sector in the coming season stands imperiled by impending third-wave

Aamir Khan March 22, 2021

When the novel coronavirus Covid-19 started to spread in Karachi in February 2020, many industries found themselves facing an economic crisis.

The furniture sector was among them, though for long it had enjoyed the privilege of being one of Karachi’s most well established businesses.

Lamentably, for the sector, the virus appeared in the city during peak-business season, otherwise known as the wedding season.

This is the time of the year when furniture companies and craftsmen make the biggest percentage of their annual sales, after labouring between Rabiul Awal and Eidul Azha to prepare their inventory.

The drastic reduction in the number of weddings that spend lavishly owing to coronavirus restrictions translated into a massive 50 per cent drop in business during the peak period.

“Most furniture factories remained closed from March to August 2020.

Although business started picking pace from September onwards, the losses incurred during the previous months had pushed many afflicted with the furniture business into crippling debt.

“At present 90 per cent of traders in the market owe each other millions of rupees and most transactions are being done on credit,” said Haji Mohammad Rauf Memon, an established furniture-maker in the port city.

After suffering great losses the previous year, Memon and other manufacturers had been banking on the coming wedding season for a revival of their business.

The coronavirus restrictions had been lifted, trade was picking up, weddings were back in style and there seemed light at the end of the dark Covid-19 tunnel.

“All our hopes have been dashed by the impending third coronavirus wave. Such a development will surely sink the sector,” the trader said, clearly perturbed by the possibility of another spell of lockdowns.

According to Memon, the industry has started feeling the initial tremors of the brewing crisis, before it could even recover from last season’s damage.

Factories, that were producing 20 to 25 bedroom sets daily, are making three to five sets today.

“If no lockdowns take place, we have a chance to revive the industry to the pre-Covid level in the coming wedding season. However, if there is another long duration lockdown, over 5,000 furniture factories, some 5,000 shops selling furniture and more than 350,000 people associated with the sector, including artisans and sellers face ruin,” he feared.

Muhammad Salman, a veteran furniture-maker of Karachi, says the city has long been one of the hubs of furniture trade and manufacturing in the country.

Manzoor Colony and Mehmoodabad, he asserts, are the biggest furniture-manufacturing markets in South Asia.

“It is here that 60 per cent of Karachi’s furniture business is centred, followed by Liaquatabad, FC Area, Patel Para, Orangi Town, Musa Colony, Garden, Korangi, Landhi and other areas like Nursery, Aram Bagh, Garden, Clifton and Hyderi,” said Salman.

In recent months, many of the traders associated with the business in Karachi, have started returning to their hometowns.

Smaller factories are being set up in Hyderabad, Sukkur, Mirpurkhas etc which employ local labour. Thus workmen who had moved to Karachi have moved to these cities.

Therefore the sector has shrunk in Karachi while expanding a little elsewhere.

Another impediment which has slowed down the sector’s growth in the mega city, is sky-rocketing inflation which has compounded in the wake of Covid-19.

Munna Bhai, a veteran craftsman, says the price of different types of furniture has gone up by 20 to 40 percent in recent times.

Much of it is because of the unprecedented increase in the prices of raw materials and artisans’ wages.

“Different types of simple deco bedroom sets have increased in price by Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 and the simplest set can cost between Rs70,000 to Rs100,000 today,” he stated.

Naeem Khan, a resident of Karachi, said that although Covid-19 has brought simple weddings back in vogue, furniture remains among the bare necessities.

“Every father wants to gift his daughter the best but rising prices amid the economic impact of Covid-19 has made it difficult for many to even afford the bare minimum,” he complained to The Express Tribune.


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