Functional children's furniture made from Nordic wood is becoming a hit in China.
Generally speaking, the older Chinese generation like furniture made of solid mahogany, pear wood or sandalwood, but the younger generation prefers to furnish its homes with lighter, natural wooden furniture. Discerning middle-class families are willing to pay more for high-quality, safe, toxic-free products, especially for their children. Finnish timber has a good reputation among well-informed Chinese consumers.
Finnish spruce to China
UPM Timber's customer, Sampo Kingdom Household Co, Ltd, is a major Chinese furniture manufacturer based in Shenzhen, and for 17 years it has specialised in Finnish spruce furniture for children and teenagers.
The company offers three main styles: Scandinavian, American and "minimalist Chinese". Sampo's typical customers are young married couples aged 25 or above with children aged from two to ten.
Chinese parents typically buy a bed when their child reaches the age of three, so that the child can learn to become more independent. They also buy new children's furniture to celebrate Children's Day in June, on birthdays, and during summer and winter breaks from school and kindergarten.
Safe and natural
When Frank Tang, manager at a fitness centre in Shenzhen, and his wife, Janet Zhang, wanted to buy a desk for their three-year-old son, the young couple found out about Sampo Kingdom through online research and recommendations from their friends.
They brought their son along to the shop and let him choose for himself. "Chinese kids today are quite independent and strong-willed," says Frank with a smile.
The desk is natural wood without any colour coating. The boy is still too young to read but he likes to display his photos and favourite toys on it.
For Frank, safety is the top priority when choosing furniture for his son.
"I want to know what materials it is made of, whether the company is reliable and has had any negative media coverage and whether the manufacturing process causes any environmental pollution."
The couple furnish their home with natural wooden furniture.
"Nordic style is very popular in China, with its simple, minimalist and practical aesthetics, similar to Apple's iPhone," Frank says.
"Safety is our top priority when choosing furniture for our son" - Frank Tang.
The influence of social media
The couple is now eyeing a new bunkbed as their next purchase, as they are considering having a second child.
After China scrapped its one-child policy in 2015, more and more Chinese families are looking to have a second child. All businesses specializing in children's products and services have welcomed the new policy with open arms.
Cheney Chanuang, Brand Director of Sampo Kingdom, believes that the two-child policy will create plenty of market potential for sales of children's furniture in China over the next decade.
Cheney Chanuang, Sampo Kingdom
Currently, Sampo has 800 stores in China, and will expand to over 1,000 stores next year. The company has been active in undertaking corporate social responsibility initiatives to enhance their brand image through word-of-mouth. Recommendations on social media such as online forums and WeChat, especially from key opinion leaders and their friends, have a major influence on purchasing decisions.
UPM Timber's customer Sampo Furniture is one of China's largest furniture manufacturers. Sampo Kingdom offers families comfortable and functional beds as well as a wide choice of other products made of Finnish wood. "China is one of the largest market for UPM Timber, and the furniture industry is our main end-use segment. Children's furniture plays a prominent role in this market", says Mikko Hyvärinen, Director of Sales and Supply Management.
Text: Benjamin Li Chun-hoi
Photos: Tuomas Harjumaaskola