Africa is home to many residential areas, business establishments, and educational establishments. It is often said that Africa is a gem hidden under tough terrains. Furniture makers and retailers have a great business opportunity here since all types of furniture in huge demand on the continent. This may range from the lounge to home furniture to office furniture and so on. If you are wondering how to start a furniture-making business, you are in the right place.
If you’re a passionate artisan who loves making custom furniture and if you’re eager to start your own business, we will guide you through the way.
We will show you where to set your priorities and how you should go about the whole process step by step so that your furniture business venture becomes a profitable one.
Do your research
Probably you have been into woodworking or custom cabinetmaking for years.
Perhaps fine furniture and custom cabinets are your specialties.
But remember, when you decide to step into the furniture industry, you are an entrepreneur.
The first thing a businessman does is they do their research well.
Think about the type of furniture you will be creating e.g. cabinetry, office furniture, or home furnishings; or the type of material you will be needed, such as upholstery, wood, bamboo, or metal.
Find your target market and evaluate the demand for the type of furniture you are planning to sell.
See what your competitors are offering and what they are not.
You can fill in the gap if there is any; i.e., if your competitors are not supplying any particular type that is in hind demand in your target business region.
Pick a location
Africa’s huge pool of population and rapid urbanization demand for increased future consumption.
Several countries like Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa already have a huge potential for manufacturing their furniture for the local market and export.
On the other hand, there are possible candidates like Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, and Kenya whose furniture production is expanding every passing year.
Also think about whether you are going to offer your products to residential consumers or commercial establishments
Or if you will cover the local market or a broader one that will spread to several countries in the continent.
When searching for a suitable business location, you also need to consider the local laws and regulations that may have an impact on your business activities.
Establish a brick and mortar store or go online?
You can either rent a store where you can set up your workshop or develop an e-commerce store where you will display your bespoke furniture items and sell it to your customers.
You can even decide to go both ways if you deem that possible based on the size of your investment and your business plan.
For a physical store, choose the store location carefully.
For residential areas, locate a place that is easily visible and accessible to strollers.
Furniture items are usually bulky and there should be enough space both inside the store and in front of the store so you can easily transport your orders.
Also, do not pick a store that seems to be the most affordable, but make your choice based on the easy display of your furniture.
So, what about an e-commerce store.
That’s a different game.
You will still need a workshop to manufacture your custom furniture but you will not have to worry about the decoration and the place since you will be displaying your offers online.
You will have to contact a web developer plus SEO experts to do the job for you.
This also involves a lot of work and you will have to spend a good deal of money to make things right for your furniture business venture.
Get your permits and licenses
In this step, you need to structure your furniture business e.g. if it is going to be a corporation, sole proprietorship, and partnership.
The structure you pick will have a direct impact on your income taxes because you will have to file your taxes based on the structure.
Once you have chosen your business structure, you need to register the company and prepare all of the paperwork so that your company runs smoothly.
Make a solid business plan
You should spend some time here instead of hurrying it all up because this will be your roadmap to success.
However, this may be challenging for you because as a woodworker, you may consider yourself an artist but not a businessman.
You may think your focus on your furniture business may hamper the quality of your products.
But there is no other way around except focusing on your vision, marketing strategy, funding sources, and organizing and handling all of your resources.
Ask yourself questions like when do you start your operation?
How many days you will need to establish your firm, start your manufacturing process, finish the production, and display the output to your customers?
Is there any marketing plan that could help increase the sales amount?
Keep the following factors in mind when you are making your business plan –
- Focus on your USP (Unique Selling Point). Ask yourself this question – since there are so many furniture suppliers in the area, why would your customers buy from you? If you can find a good answer to this question. You can be sure that other people will be interested to buy their furniture products from you and it won’t take you too long to stand from the crowd.
- Create a business name and a motto that will attract the attention of your target customers. A logo is also necessary that you can easily create with the help of a graphic designer.
- You can create a brochure that explains the type of furniture you will be manufacturing. It will be best if you explain how you go about the whole process because your customers will be interested in the story. And they will get more convinced to buy from you. You can describe how you design your furniture, where you get your raw materials from, how you process those materials, what tools you use, and how you make a finished product that not only looks amazing but also lasts for years.
Financing your startup
This is a vital point because so many startups fail just in a few years after their establishment because they cannot handle everything the right way and keep pace with the ever-changing market.
The industry is so competitive because this is a huge industry where every family and every organization (whatever the type) needs different types of furniture items.
So, how much money will you need for setting up a furniture business.
And how much will you have to spend to keep it running once your store puts its first step in the industry?
How many months and years do you think you will need to see the face of profit?
What if you do not see the generation of real profit from your furniture business let us say for the first 2 or 3 or even 5 years?
Will you give it all up in case you are not able to get a better return from your investment for the first 3 years or so?
Well, finance to a business is like blood to the human body without which we cannot live.
We recommend that you make a 5-year long funding plan for your furniture business.
The whole process should start with forecasting your start-up expenditure.
A precise expenditure estimation will also make it easy for you to get loans from your investors and banks.
What’s more, you will also have a clear idea about how much debt you might have to incur and how long you might need to clear your debt.
Start-up expenses do differ from one company to another
But you might find the following factors helpful for starting a furniture design company –
- How much money will you need to register your wood furniture business and get a license? How about the tax files and is there any extra cost that may incur during the registration process?
- If you go for a brick and mortar store, what will be the yearly rent or lease of the store? Will there be any advance payments? How much will you need to decorate both the interior and exterior parts of the store?
- And if you decide to go online, the decoration phase will still be there but you will be thinking about decorating your website now. You have to make a user-friendly website and the content must include an introduction to your company, your team members. The different categories of your custom furniture, the display of every model with all the details, and the current prices and discounts (if any)
- How much will you have to pay for your equipment and raw material suppliers to start manufacturing your very first batch? Should you pay them in advance and in full?
- What about transportation costs? You have to bring in your raw materials from the suppliers and ship the finished product to your consumers. There will also be loading and unloading fees since furniture is heavy items.
- Marketing is the fastest way to get to your target customers and convince them to buy your products. What would be the advertising costs? Should you try social media?
- You have to pay salaries and other benefits for your expenses. There will also be lots of bills destined to your mailing address; for instance, the electricity bill, the gas bill, the water bill, the internet bill, and so on.
Now comes the question –
How to start a furniture-making business online and who will fund your furniture business?
You surely have to invest some from your savings.
But that might not be all.
You may try to collect some of the capital from your relatives, friends, past business associates, and associates.
In that case, you will have to make a business plan to pay back their loans or make them a part of your company by offering a share though this will depend on your furniture business structure.
We are sure that once you have identified all the potential sources of your business expenditure.
You will be surprised by the amount of investment you will have to make because this will surely exceed what you have thought before.
Set up your store
You are a carpenter yourself.
So, we do not need to mention the fact that you will need both hand and power tools for manufacturing fine products.
They could be pricey and you may have to rent some of the most expensive power tools that many furniture makers do.
We will show you what hand and power tools you might need below:
Essential woodworking hand tools
- A low-angle bevel-up jack plane to shape and smooth pieces of wood
- A block plane to plan across the end wood grain
- A small 8-ounce plane hammer for the common finishing works
- A 3-inch long engineer’s square to layout joinery
- A 12-inch long combination square to a 45-degree angle or to ensure a straight edge
- A 6-inch long sliding bevel gauge to do your work with angles
- A mill bastard file for sharpening and shaping
- A card scraper to sand such tricky areas as the curved parts
- Wheel marking gauges to mark the reference marks
- A pocket square to frequent such measurements as the thickness
- A water stone to sharpen your tools
- Bevel edge chisels to chop mortises with your hands
Essential woodworking power tools
As said before, power tools are expensive and you may have to lease some of the machinery.
As a carpenter, hand tools will not be enough for bulk production and regular supply for you.
The following machinery should be in the woodworking arsenal of any professional custom furniture maker.
- A disc sander to sand the timber’s end grain
- A band saw to cut curved or angled shapes
- A drop saw to cut timber
- A thicknesser planer to smooth out rough timber and reduce the thickness
- A table saw to cut large pieces of wood or ready boards
- A scroll saw to cut small and thin wood pieces
- A pedestal drill to drill on big materials accurately
- A finisher to san the faces and the edges of the timber
Essential woodworking upholstery tools
Upholstery is an integral part of woodworking and professional upholstery involves the use of a combination of pneumatic and hand tools.
Here is a list of the essential upholstery equipment that you may have to invest in –
- A framer’s square to cut on fabric straightly
- A utility knife to remove the old fabric
- A 45-inch or a 60-inch ruler
- A magnetic upholstery tack hammer to pick up tacks easily and attach them to the item
- A foam cutter
- A button machine to make buttons
- A pneumatic stapler for upholstery
- T pins and upholsterer pins to hold fabric when hand swing
- A 10-inch long button needle to set buttons
- Upholstery shears to cut fabric
- A rubber mallet to install tack strips
- A webbing stretcher to pull webbing close to a frame
- Curve needles to do your hand sewing
Manufacture your products
There are so many types of furniture for so many purposes that you may make your head spin.
This is the exact reason you need to aim at a certain niche and be the best supplier of your niche.
If you study the local market thoroughly, you will find your option.
You need to look into the latest trends in the industry, new opportunities, the taste of the buyers, and many other factors.
Remember that some buyers only care about the looks and functionalities while some care about the quality and durability.
Many are ready to pay top dollar for high-end custom furniture while others are budget-conscious.
You can target the domestic market or office furnishing or the contract furnishing market.
This may include establishments like hotels, pubs, cinema halls, etc. that are open to the mass.
For manufacturing wooden furniture, your list of items may include cabinet furniture like floor and wall cupboards, bookcases, chests, and other storage needs.
You can also consider freestanding kitchen cabinets, tables, desks, stools, chairs, gardens, and occasional items.
For upholstered furniture, the items may include upholstered sofas, chairs, stools, certain types of bed, 3-piece suites, and so on.
Wondering what materials, you might need?
These may include solid pieces of wood and man-made materials like plywood, chipboard, and MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard).
Veneers could be made from synthetic or natural materials.
And the end product could be polished, painted, lacquered, stained, or oiled.
On the other hand, for upholstered items, you will need plastic, wooden, and metal materials for making frames.
A wide variety of leather and textile products will be required to make coverings.
The manufacturing process of cushions may involve the use of feathers, polyester fiber, or foams.
This factor matters a lot.
You have just stepped into the industry where your competitors may already have a strong presence.
As a furniture business establishment, not only do you want to take over their position but you also want to dominate the market.
Your pricing policy will play a major role here because you cannot ask for a lot more than your competition or a lot less.
The former will result in your customers looking for other more affordable options while the latter will cause a downright loss for you.
So, how do you go about the process?
For starters, the rule of the thumb is to ensure that the difference between the selling price.
And the cost price of your bespoke furniture products is enough to cover your business expenditure.
This will also include your drawings as the owner.
Keep an eye on your competitors and see if your price range doesn’t exceed too much of your competition’s offerings.
Two sectors will cost you a large sum of money every passing month –
- Raw materials
- Employee costs
You need to keep your raw material costs in check so that your production is continued and all of your staff remain busy without any downtime.
Check to see there is no wasteful resource in your business and the number of returns is at a minimum.
Also, consider the fact that you may have to replace your items daily because many of those items will suffer damage during the delivery.
To monitor the overall performance, have a look at the relationship between your raw supplies and your turnover.
Also, consider your employee costs and your turnover.
If your business plan is manufacturing top of the line bespoke furniture items, both your raw materials and your labor costs will be skyrocketing because this is labor-intensive work.
It is also important to mention that no matter whether you sell your products to other traders like retailers or the public, they will expect a discount that you have to take into consideration.
Discounts and special offers
This is a great furniture business policy that attracts customers.
Try one or more of the following methods because they do work –
- Free home delivery
- Big discounts for purchasing in larger quantities
- Rebates or retrospective bonuses on the number of purchases your customers makeover a span of a few months
- Early payment discounts for timely payment of your invoices
Marketing your company
Without promoting your bespoke furniture, all of your previous activities will not generate any significant output.
You need to introduce your brand to your target customers and let them know everything about your furniture business and your products.
With quality products and great pricing, you will be having repeat customers in no time.
We already shed some light on this endeavor before and now we will go to the intricate details.
No matter whether you establish a brick and mortar store or an e-commerce platform or both.
The following tips will surely benefit you aside from the traditional methods of advertisements –
- You can look for affiliation with galleries where your products will be displayed as artwork. Your customers will get familiar with your brand identity and your work by seeing it firsthand. They will also be able to directly make their order from the gallery and you can sell your offerings. However, you may not find this option available in Africa but if you do, do not let this opportunity go away
- Even if you think yourself one of the best furniture makers in the whole continent of Africa. You should still attend woodworking courses to learn more about the cutting edge technologies and new techniques in the industry. Dedicate enough time to come up with new ideas and designs that might attract your customer base
- Attend any seminars or trade fair arranged by the regulatory authorities to keep abreast of the latest happenings in the industry. You can set up a stall in a trade fair to display your work and get more customers
- If you are thinking about investing a lot to make it big and sell a lot, you can contact other retail suppliers and independent outlets and sell your products to them
- A great way is getting in touch with industry specialists like interior designers or architects that could help you market your products, get new buyers both in residential and commercials sectors, and help expand your business.
- Use social media, blogs, and forums, and make the most of the internet to tap into the digital world. Online marketing is an excellent way to find new customers because so many Africans now have access to the internet and the number is growing every day
Summing it all up
Custom furniture making is a creative endeavor that is not everyone’s cup of tea.
If you are into this sector, you are a creative individual – no doubt about that.
But when you think about how to start a furniture-making business and make a significant profit out of it.
You need to take your level of creativity and your problem-solving skills to a whole another level.
Africa is a land of opportunity for the furniture sector because there is an ever-growing need for high-end bespoke furniture items.
To make a strong presence where cutthroat competition is a daily scene, you do need to think outside the box and attract your customers in unique ways.
We believe you will find our guide to starting a furniture-making business in Africa helpful enough to start with the whole process.
You will have to break a lot of sweat, but the profit margin will look much sweeter when compared to your hassle by the end of the day.
Feel free to let us know how it all wants for you.
What’s your answer will be now when people will ask you “are furniture stores profitable?”
We will be eager to hear from you any day at any time.
Good luck with your furniture business!