Having just returned from the Shanghai furniture show, here are my impressions of the Ningbo/Shanghai factories:
Woods – (minus)
The southern woods are definitely a poor substitute for the better ones from the North. One easy way to clearly feel the difference is to pick up one of those tall swoop-topped wooden stools that everyone sells. The ones made in Ningbo/Shanghai made from Fir wood were very, very light – about 1/2 as heavy as the ones made of Northern Elm. Right away you feel the difference. I also noticed that the salesmen all know this and will tell you anything they think you want to hear. For example I was repeatedly told items were elm. When I pressed them further for details or (asked which type of Elm) often times it was in fact not elm or a variation (not northern elm, which in Chinese is basically a totally different wood).
Styles/Collections + (plus)
On thing I did notice right away is that the southern factories are much better at putting together coordinated collections. In other words they select/make items that look similar and in similar colors so that its much easier buy. And they will coordinate all of the fittings also. As a result the selection appears much better then in the north. In many ways they follow an “Ikea sort of model.” The selection in the north is in fact wider and they can make anything BUT you must coordinate a look yourself by culling pieces from different locations/factories. This is something we will work more with customers on, in the future. On the flip side though, the southern lacquered look is becoming a bit overdone and after a while it really all looks the same.
Colors + (plus)
The NingBo/Shanghai finishes are indeed different from the north in that they openly display a much wider range of colors combinations. They also use a different type of lacquer which may have something to do with it. One huge noticeable difference is that Ning Bo factories tend to offer a lot of non-Chinese color combinations. Yellows, blues off-whites and greys are all European color combinations. An alter table should be black or maybe even red, but in Ningbo, you can get it in french grey with a colonial finish. This is an option in the north as well but you must specify this rather then be offered it. We will make sure customers know these colors are offered here as well.
Finishes – (minus)
There was a fairly limited range of finishes displayed. This is probably because the southern factories seem to spray most of their lacquers which allows for speediness but also severely limits what you can do as far as technique. I saw a few cracked lacquers here and there but overall nothing special. The range, technique and overall quality of finishes is significantly better in the north. Better technique, better quality and more coats of lacquer.
Quality – (minus)
Overall I was not impressed with quality which was was poor to average. (The best qualities I saw in fact were one foreign run company and the other a Beijing factory). A number of the larger factories were displaying pieces that were already cracking or simply were constructed poorly. They look nice in the environment but when you start to look closely, you can see these factories are set up to produce volume BUT at the cost of quality. The spraying of the lacquers can clearly be seen by the small drips and runs if you look closely. Glass was very thin. Joinery just “so so.” The factories exhibiting here were not craftsmen.