Furniture Buyers In China Want Better Quality Than US Buyers: WTF? (What the Furniture?)

Anybody with friends or family in the retail or manufacturing sectors knows too well that a veritable ton of manufacturing jobs were lost to Asia over the last 20 years as companies sought cheaper, lower skilled labor. But the newest twist in the Chines overseas push in furniture is actually ironic. In the end, American consumers come out looking like nitwits.Ashley Furniture, a 69 year-old family owned company is known in the US for their entry level, lower end furniture catering largely to retailers like Sears and Kmart as well as having some retail outlets of their own. Like so many US furniture operations, Ashley also moved their furniture production to China 20 years ago to reduce labor costs. However, today, the furniture giant is opening something else in China and it’s not more manufacturing facilities: Its 2nd retail store.With a growing Chinese middle class, Ashley sees opportunity in the furniture hills. But here’s the kicker: For the Chinese customer, Ashley has developed a better quality, higher grade line, one they’ve named the King’s Wear label. There are clear differences between the Chinese consumer and the US consumer, some of which has driven Ashely to their up-scaling move. Here are some facts according to Ashley top brass:The Chinese customer wants to know more about a company’s history before making a purchase. A 69 year old family run story is probably a good story to tell.
The Chinese are even more susceptible to Social Media before making a purchase. Translated, they are more likely to be affected by constant drip messaging.
The Chinese are more likely to stay in the city once they’ve urbanized and left their rural roots. As a result, people are far less mobile in China than those living in the US.
A consumer with less mobility – meaning – one less likely to relocate – is far more interested in quality and lasting product and is therefore more willing to pay a higher price at purchase time.The result? Ashley is still manufacturing their product largely in China. Though as a side note, they’ve moved much of their fabric cutting and sewing to Vietnam, which has become “the new China” given the lower cost labor available the for the moment. In any case, Ashely continues to manufacture in China and Asia, however for the Chinese consume, they have created a new, higher end, higher quality line that appeals to the Chinese middle class buyer. The Chinese middle class buyer today wants quality. (They also want things smaller given the smaller sizes of their urban dwellings – but that’s another story). Ashley is making their better quality product for sale OVERSEAS and manufacturing overseas to sell their lower end mediocrity in the US market where we lap it up like hungry kittens. Is Ashley at fault? Absolutely not. We are. The Chinese consumer has different requirements and Ashely is responding to those market needs. Slap it on a bun, add some cheese whiz, and we American’s are fat and happy.Here are the burning questions: Where are you on this? Have you ever purchased Ashley furniture here in the US – and if so – what did you think of it? And importantly, what matters more to you – lowest price or the best quality performance (and look) you can afford? Will American consumers ever start to demand more of our retailers and our manufacturers – and if so – will the resources deliver?