China sourcing trip – furniture ghost town in Shanghai

China sourcing trip – furniture ghost town in Shanghai

I’m out in China again for another visit to suppliers and on the look out for more furniture and accessories to include on our next shipment of Chinese antiques. Since we’ve added the China stock section to our website many of the items we ship next time will already be available to view and even reserve online from Shimu, if not already then in the next few weeks. This time around I’m therefore looking out mainly for some specific pieces requested by customers as well as some good quality, unusual smaller items. However, I’m sure there will also be plenty of other pieces of antique furniture that take my eye and end up over in the UK.

My first stop was in Shanghai to spend a few days with Michael, who now runs things day to day at the company we have worked with for nearly ten years to supply our main ‘Classical Chinese’ reproduction furniture. I’ve known Michael for four or five years since he started with the company and it was good to see him again – as well as photos of his baby daughter, who was born shortly after my last visit to China. Michael is always open and enthusiastic and, as one of his roles is to look at selling to the domestic Chinese market, we had plenty of ideas to share.  I’m looking forward to working with him more closely in the future to develop some ideas we have for new products.

We spent some time looking at recent products that Michael has been developing for the domestic market, as well as furniture from other suppliers that they are planning to offer. I liked the style of some of these ranges – all in solid wood (either elm, birch or oak) and well made. It may be that we introduce one or two of these to the Shimu range at some stage in the future.

We visited the workshop on Friday to check on progress for the next container and then had time to visit one of the recently built ‘super malls’ not far away. Still only half open this is a huge area entirely devoted to furniture and home accessories – imagine something on a scale twice the size of the NEC, spanning two sides of a river and filled with furniture showrooms offering every kind of style you could think of. Signs direct you to different types of furniture – ‘Italian, French, Modern, Outdoor, Solid Wood’ – and the campus is so large that multi-seat electric carts are provided to ferry exhausted customers from one area to the next. On a Friday afternoon though, the whole place was pretty much a ghost town. Other than the extremely bored looking sales staff in each of the showrooms, we saw almost nobody else, which makes you wonder at the expense laid out by the companies with a presence here. The answer may lie in the price of some of the furniture – the many famous high end western and Chinese ‘designer’ brands are aimed squarely at Shanghai’s new wealthy classes. One showroom we visited, adorned with large black and white photos of the round faced, bald headed designer on the walls, offered an interesting range – modern in style but with distinctive elements of classic Chinese furniture. The price tag for a single chair that looked to have taken its inspiration from the ‘Southern Official’ style, albeit in carbon fibre – RMB 43000 (around £4300)!

I also caught up with the team who produce our silk wallpaper, screens and panels, whose office is also in Shanghai. We had a look through some recent projects and designs that they have worked on recently, mainly for the Chinese market. It was a good discussion and I’m hoping that we will have many more examples of this unique, beautiful product on our website soon.

With the Shanghai part of my visit complete I arrived in Beijing on Saturday evening. The plan is to head to the main market here on Sunday to source many of the smaller items for our next container – stoneware, ceramics, artwork and the like. The days afterwards are then set aside for visiting a few warehouses for antiques and to discuss other possible reproduction furniture. More on that later.

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