Planning to import furniture from manufactures in China? In this article, you will learn how to select the right supplier, how to customize design and materials, manage quality control, shipping and much more as a furniture buyer.
- How to Select the Right Furniture Manufacturer
- Factory Showrooms
- Design & Material Customization Options
- US and EU Furniture Regulations
- Quality Inspections
- Shipping Furniture from China
- Furniture & Housewares Trade Shows
Why you should not buy from a Chinese furniture wholesaler
We often receive inquiries from small businesses in the US, Europe and Australia looking to purchase small volumes from furniture wholesalers in China. The reason many small buyers prefer wholesalers rather than manufacturers is that the former has lower Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) requirements, compared to the latter.
While it’s true that furniture wholesalers in China often have a low MOQ, sometimes starting from 1 unit per model, it’s rarely a viable option for importers in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
Few Chinese furniture wholesalers are able to ensure compliance with applicable fire retardant and substance regulations. In fact, most are primarily, sometimes entirely, geared towards the domestic market in Mainland China.
For natural reasons, such supplier has no profit incentive to ensure compliance with foreign regulations. With this said, I have explained why this article concerns furniture manufacturers, rather than wholesalers.
Furniture suppliers on Alibaba
Alibaba.com is the world’s largest B2B supplier directory. Here, you will find thousands of furniture factories, wholesalers and trading companies.
In my opinion, you should narrow down your supplier selection to those that are proper manufacturers, rather than trading companies or wholesalers. The easiest way to be sure is by flying to China and paying the suppliers a visit. But, you can also use the information provided by Alibaba.com to narrow down your supplier list:
- Registered capital: Minimum RMB 500,000
- Product scope: Should be focused within a certain category
- Company name: Should not include ‘trading’
- Product test reports: REACH, TB 117, Fire safety tests
- Company certificates: ISO 9001, BSCI, Sedex
Some manufacturers also provide factory audit reports on their Alibaba.com profile, which are free to download. These are issued by highly reputable third parties, such as Intertek or Bureau Veritas.
In addition, you should also look out for uploaded product test reports, or other compliance documents – especially if you’re importing outdoor furniture to the United States or Europe.
How to Select the Right Furniture Manufacturer
When sourcing Furniture manufacturers online, there’s a variety of factors to use when assessing potential candidate suppliers.
Manufacturers producing all sorts of furniture under one roof doesn’t exist. As in the case of every industry, furniture manufacturers are always specialized in a certain area – with the following being the most common:
- Office furniture
- Hotel furniture
- Bedroom furniture
- Bathroom furniture
- Living room furniture
- Children’s furniture
- Wooden furniture
- Dining sets
- Outdoor furniture
- Metal furniture
- Plastic furniture
- Wicker furniture
While you may find a supplier specializing in more than one category (e.g. Dining sets and living room furniture), you’ll never find a manufacturer offering the whole spectrum. If you need to cover more than one type of furniture, you shall, therefore, consider sourcing different groups of suppliers, rather than trying to find one that offers everything on your list.
A low registered capital may indicate that the supplier is a small trading company. As there are no real benefits of buying from a trader, you want to avoid that.
A Furniture manufacturer should have at least RMB 1,000,000 in registered capital, which is specified on their business license.
a. Chemicals and heavy metals
Compliance with applicable substance regulations, for example, REACH in the European Union, is mandatory in various markets. Fabrics, and even leather, often contain amounts of restricted substances, such as Glyphosate and Formaldehyde. Phthalates, a highly restricted plasticizer that is potentially cancerogenic, are also found in vinyl, wood varnishes, and lacquers. Even Flame retardants are sources of harmful and often restricted, chemicals (e.g. PBDEs).
Most Chinese furniture manufacturers are unable to show documents proving previous compliance (e.g. a REACH compliance test report). While a substance test report is not indicating that all the supplier’s products are compliant by default, it’s a strong signal that the supplier is at least capable of controlling substances. That can, however, not be said about the vast majority of China’s furniture manufacturers.
Substance control is a complicated issue, as all materials and components are purchased from subcontractors. These subcontractors may, in turn, use restricted substance without the furniture manufacturer’s approval, or knowledge. Thus, it simply takes a bit more than telling a furniture supplier to “only purchase REACH compliant materials”.
A manufacturer that cannot show any proof of previous compliance may therefore not be able to control substances at all.
b. Flammability and fire safety
In the United States, there is no federal furniture flame retardancy regulation that manufacturers and importers must follow. However, California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) has become the de facto standards followed by the majority of furniture manufacturers, and importers, in the US. Further, the CPSC suggested the implementation of a nationwide standard, 16 CFR Part 1634.
In the European Union, there are various compulsory fire safety requirements applicable to upholstered furniture, bedding and seats. Certain regulations also apply to specific applications (e.g. for use in trains and ships).
Keep in mind that it’s always the importer’s responsibility to ensure compliance with all applicable standards, including those regulating substances. This responsibility cannot be shifted to a foreign manufacturer. Importing non-compliant items is illegal, and may, in a best-case scenario, result in fines and a forced recall. In case someone is injured, or if their property is damaged, the importer may be forced to pay millions of dollars (or Euros) in damages.
Compliance with all applicable directives and safety standards must be verified before the cargo is shipped. Returning items to a manufacturer on the other side of the planet is not an option.
However, there are plenty of quality inspection firms, and product testing companies, based in Mainland China and Hong Kong, that can help you verify compliance before it’s too late.
Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ)
The MOQ requirement is the minimum number of units a supplier is willing to sell. The MOQ in the furniture industry varies greatly depending on the factory and the product. For example, a bed manufacturer may only set a MOQ of 5 units, while a company making beach chairs may set it at 1000 pcs.
Further, there are two types of MOQs in the furniture industry:
- MOQ based on the number of units (e.g. 500 pcs)
- MOQ based on container volumes (e.g. 1 x FCL 20” container)
Factories are often willing to offer a lower MOQ if you’re willing to use their standard materials (e.g. wood type).
- Sofa sets: 1 to 5 sets
- Bed: 1 to 5 pcs
- Foldable chairs: 500 pcs
- Dining tables: 20 – 50 pcs
Quality Management System
A Quality Management System, such as ISO 9001, is implemented to track and prevent quality issues. Why does this matter? Because it only applies to manufacturers, not traders.
When buying furniture from Chinese suppliers, why is it important to first filter suppliers? Because the majority of Furniture manufacturers are not geared towards developed markets, offering the quality options and stability you need to compete.
It rarely makes sense to buy furniture samples from factories in China. You’ll save both time and money by flying directly to China and visit factory showrooms.
a. Are they specialized in your product category? If you’re buying rattan furniture, the supplier should primarily manufacture exactly that.
b. Are they manufacturing for other customers? It’s a good sign if they have regular orders from other importers.
c. What kind of customers do they have?
d. How do they manage defective units? Are they willing to show you where they store defective units?
e. How do they pack the products?
f. Is the warehouse full? Do you recognize any brands printed on the export cartons in their warehouse?
a. Ask for a product specification or datasheet, with dimensions, bill of materials and material specification, for the furniture samples that you find in the showroom.
b Can they offer other materials?
c. Do they have design drawings?
d. Can you customize the design? If yes, what design drawing formats do they prefer?
e. Will design customization result in additional tooling costs?
f. What is the MOQ?
g. What is the unit price?
a. What is their production time?
b. Do they have any product test reports?
c. Do they implement any quality management system? (i.e., ISO 9001:2015)
d. Do they have an export license?
e. Which bank account will you pay to? (ask for complete details)
g. Which payment terms do they offer?
h. Do they accept pre-shipment quality inspections?
Design & Material Customization Options
You can either create a new furniture design from the ground up or base your product on designs available in their online catalog or showroom. That said, you must create a complete product specification regardless of whether the design is an original custom design or a factory design.
Further, furniture manufacturers expect their customers to provide complementary specifications even when selecting designs from their showroom or catalog. This is because the same product can be made using different materials, coatings and hardware parts – and the manufacturer simply expects that the buyers know what they want.
- Design drawings or images
- Logos, engravings and print files
Bill of Materials
- Wood type (i.e., German beech wood)
- Fabric specifications (i.e., PU coated polyester, 550 gsm)
- Hardware parts (i.e., 316L Stainless steel and ANSI number)
- Foam (i.e., High-density fire-retardant foam rubber)
Furniture Specification Example: Rattan Chair
Use this template to better understand what you must include in your product specification:
a. Dimensions: W60*D70*H86CM
b. Frame: Aluminum
– Tube dimensions: 35 x 35 x 1.3 mm
– Powder coating: Yes (Anti-corrosion)
c. Rattan: PE, 5 mm in diameter
– Color: Black
– Type: S5518
– UV resistance: Yes (Up to 5000 h)
d. Max load: 140 kgs
e. Cushion: Yes
– Thickness: 50 mm
– Material: 200 gsm polyester
Most suppliers in this industry are not that organized. They tend to lack standardized product documentation, and may not even know which materials and components their showroom samples are made of. As such, you need to identify all relevant product specifications and request the supplier to confirm each.
Some types of wooden furniture are regulated by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the United States. Here are some of the APHIS requirements American furniture importers should be aware of:
- You should only buy from APHIS approved suppliers
- Heat treatment or fumigation is mandatory
- Pre-import approval required
Fire safety standards
In many markets, there are mandatory Fire Retardancy Regulations, applicable to various types of furniture. In the United States, there’s no federal framework to which American importers must comply. However, California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) has become ‘de facto’ mandatory, as it is asked for by both retailers and customers.
CPSIA is applicable to all children’s products, including furniture for babies and children up to 12 years of age. Here are some requirements you should be aware of:
- ASTM lab testing is mandatory
- CPSIA tracking label required
- Children’s Product Certificate (CPC) required
- Testing lab required
- Registration card required for some products
REACH restricts chemicals and heavy metals in all products, including furniture, sold in the EU. While lab testing is not mandatory, we strongly recommend that you get your furniture cover (e.g. fabrics, PU or PVC) lab tested before importing from China.
Fire safety standards
Most EU member states still have their own national fire safety standards, rather than harmonized EU standards. However, there are corresponding EN standards:
- EN 1021-1
- EN 1021-2
- EN 597-1
- EN 597-2
- EN 14533
Note that the fire safety requirements depend on whether the furniture will be used commercially (e.g. hotels or restaurants) or in a domestic residential environment.
Furniture laboratory testing
Third-party lab testing is the only available method to verify if a certain material is compliant with substance and fire safety standards. Here are some accredited testing companies offering furniture testing services in Mainland China:
- Bureau Veritas
Testing costs depend on the number of materials and colors (e.g. PU cover or PVC), but normally starts at around USD 300.
Given that you can’t return a container filled with defective or damaged furniture, it’s absolutely essential to book a quality inspection before your furniture departs the factory.
Here are some crucial checkpoints to include in your furniture inspection checklist:
- Visual inspection
- Color comparison
- Material comparison
- Water resistance
- Fire resistance
- Packaging materials
Quality inspection companies
Here’s a list of companies offering furniture inspections in Mainland China:
- Sofeast Limited
- Bureau Veritas InSpec
- Pro QC
Most companies charge around USD 300 per inspection.
Shipping Furniture from China
Ocean freight is the only cost-effective transportation option when importing furniture from China. You can either opt for a full container (e.g. FCL 20”) or LCL, meaning that you’ll share container spaces with one or more importers.
Export packaging materials
High-quality packaging materials are essential when shipping furniture. Stacked units can easily crush those at the bottom, and sharp edges and cut through cover fabrics on the long journey on the sea.
Further, furniture must always be loaded on ISPM pallets.
It’s crucial that you provide clear visual and written instructions to your supplier, detailing how they should pack your furniture, and which materials they should use.
Freight insurance is equally essential, as you cannot return damaged pieces to your supplier, or request a refund.
Furniture & Housewares Trade Shows
HKTDC Hong Kong Houseware Fair
HKTDC Hong Kong Houseware Fair is among the most well-recognized and well-received furniture fairs in Hong Kong. In 2017, the fair was attended by more than 29,000 visitors, and around 2,200 brands and businesses displayed their products.
The exhibition will take place in the third week of April in Hong Kong. The admission to the fair is allowed for only 18 years old and above. You also have to pay HK$ 100 which is equivalent to USD 15 to attend the show.
Visiting Hong Kong for short-term business visits does not require a visa so you can attend this event without applying for a visa. Hong Kong allows visa-free entry to 170 countries, which also include North America, Europe, and Australia.
You can explore a wide range of houseware categories in this event that include:
- Art & craft items
- Hardware & DIY projects
- Bathroom products
- Home appliances
- Eco-Friendly products
- Outdoor & gardening accessories
- Storage solutions
- Interior decor & handicrafts
You can also find hundreds of exhibitors from Hong Kong, Mainland China and other countries in the region. The event is organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, and other partners.
The event takes place once a year, mostly in April.
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
International Design and Furniture Fair Hong Kong, also known as IDFFHK, takes place in Hong Kong after every two years. It is expected to take place in August 2019.
The fair focuses more on interior design and hosts many top interior designers, in addition to exhibiting their designed products. The event is mostly attended by architects, property developers, interior designers, hoteliers and other professionals working in the design industry.
In 2017, more than 10,000 professionals visited the fair.
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Global Sources Gifts & Home
The Gifts & Home Exhibition is another major fair in Hong Kong that will take place in April in Hong Kong.
In 2017, more than 18,000 buyers visited the event from 121 countries. The event also organized more than 1,000 booths for different product categories and exhibitors.
The exhibition also focuses on small order sourcing, as you can find more than 300 exhibitors who accept small orders, making the event a good option for small-scale online retailers and Amazon sellers.
The exhibition also has a separate Online and Amazon Sellers center with hundreds of booths. Most of the exhibitors are from Hong Kong and Mainland China, but some are also from other countries.
As there are many different product categories and exhibitors, the event targets both, large and small-scale buyers.
You can also explore different product categories that include:
- Home Living & Decor
- Kitchen & Dining
- Home Improvement
- Design Corner
- Creative Design
The exhibition takes place twice every year, mostly in April and October.
The event also takes place in partnership with the Global Sources Mobile Electronics exhibition at the same place and at the same time. So you have an option to visit both at the same time.
Venue: Asia World-Expo, next to Hong Kong International Airport
Furniture China (Shanghai)
The annual China International Furniture Expo will take place in Shanghai in September. The exhibition takes place once every year, mostly in the month of September.
It is also one of the largest furniture expos in the world. More than 150,000 people attended the event in 2017 from 155 different countries.
The event is organized by the China National Furniture Association and attended by hundreds of brands and furniture exporters from Mainland China, Hong Kong, and other countries. In total, more than 3,500 exhibitors are expected to participate in the event.
As there are thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of product booths, you can explore many different product categories that include:
- Contemporary furniture
- Furniture from international brands
- Office furniture
- Outdoor & garden furniture and accessories
- Table & chair
- Children’s furniture
- Chinese classical furniture
- European classical furniture
- Upholstery furniture
Unlike Hong Kong (which is a special administrative region in China), you need a visa to visit Mainland China to attend business events in the country. Even though China allows visa-free entry to the citizens of 13 countries, including Singapore and Japan, but for Europe, North America, and Australia, there are visa requirements.
Admission is limited to 18 years old or older only.
The event takes place at the same time and the same location as FMC (Furniture Manufacturing & Supply) China exhibition. You can attend both events at the same time as both events are co-located.
Venue: Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC), No. 2345 Longyang Road, Pudong New Area, Shanghai
China International Furniture Fair (Guangzhou)
In terms of visitors and exhibitor numbers, China International Furniture Fair is among the largest furniture fairs in the world. More than 170,000 visitors from all around the world visit the event every year, while more than 3,900 exhibitors take part in the exhibition.
The event will take place in Guangzhou in March. It takes place twice a year, every March and October.
The event also takes place in two phases at two different venues within the same city, each phase displays different product categories.
The presence of a large number of furniture manufacturers, exporters, and international brands allows you to explore an unattached range of products at this event. Some of the popular categories at the event include:
- Modern furniture
- Classical furniture
- Home Decor & textile
- Outdoor & Leisure
- Office furniture
- Hotel furniture
- Upholstery & bedding
The exhibition is organized by the China National Furniture Association and China Foreign Trade Center.
Most of the exhibitors are from China and Hong Kong, but you can also find furniture brands from other Asian countries along with North American, European, and Australian companies.
- First Phase: China Import & Export Fair Pazhou Complex, Xin Guangdong Road No.980, Haizhu District, Guangzhou
- Second Phase: Poly World Trade Center Expo, Xin Guangdong Road No.1000, Haizhu District, Guangzhou
Canton Fair Phase 2 (Guangzhou)
Canton Fair is also called China Import and Export Fair. It is a regular event that takes place twice a year in three phases. The second phase is scheduled to take place on April 2019 in Guangzhou.
Each phase consists of several major industries. The second phase also exhibits many different industries that also include furniture.
It is also one of the largest furniture trade exhibitions in the world based on the number of attendees every year. Around 7,000 exhibitors are expected to join the event along with more than 180,000 visitors from all over the world.
The exhibition will take place in China Import and Export Complex, also known as the largest modernized exhibition center in Asia. It is located in Pazhou Island, Guangzhou, China.
You can also explore a wide range of product categories here that include:
- Kitchenware & tableware
- Household items
- General ceramics
- Home decorations
- Home, Office, School, Indoor & Outdoor, Hospital and other types of furniture
You can find exhibitors in the fair from all over the world, but most are Mainland China and Hong Kong-based furniture manufacturers.
Venue: China Import & Export Fair Complex, No. 380, Yuejiang Zhong Road, Guangzhou, China
Do you want to launch your own Furniture brand?
It can be hard to go from a design drawing to finished product. To help you manage the entire process – from creating a specification to sampling and quality control – we created a Starter Package for furniture:
a. Furniture Manufacturer Lists
b. Product Specification Templates
c. Furniture Label Samples
d. Tutorials, Video Walkthroughs and Task Lists that guide you step-by-step through the entire process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.