WHICHEVER market they plan to penetrate, local furniture makers are stepping up on innovation and product design to remain relevant in the market, especially with the rise of Pinterest, and other social media platforms.

Moreover, tapping the domestic market, which was once considered a band-aid solution because of the ailing global economy, is now seen by furniture export players as a permanent cure while they continue to look for other potential markets.

“The times have changed really, it is no longer the same as before. The buying pattern has also changed,” said Cebu Furniture Industries Foundation Inc., (CFIF) vice president for marketing Christina Maria Gaston, comparing today’s market with that of the glorious days of export furniture in the past.

“Those who have survived the global crisis were those who found markets where they are relevant,” said Gaston, whose family owns the Hacienda Crafts Company in Manapla, Negros Occidental.

The birth of social media, she said, has ruled in favor of the sector.

Gaston said the use of networking sites such as Instagram and Pinterest have raised awareness of the market, especially among Filipinos buyers, on acquiring design-centric, value for money and high quality export furniture and accessories.

She also noted that the presence of these sites has compelled the sector to be open to more project-based orders, which demand exclusivity and uniqueness.

Earlier, Frederic Bougeard, Maison & Objet international development director, noted that the country’s creative industry has been a bit late in terms of tapping the growing project market.

Bougeard said while competition remains tough on the retail side, the sector should also look at other areas that present opportunities for growth such as being reliable sourcing partners of designer products and services in Asia.

Gaston added that the rising real estate industry (office buildings, condominiums and hotels) in the Philippines has also been one of the active growth drivers of the furniture sector these days.

She noted that the booming property sector has become a new market for them, which is projected to last longer, as more investments are directed toward the Philippines.

Gaston said Cebu still plays a critical role in sustaining the growth and competitive edge of the industry, capitalizing on its strength for mature design capability, craftsmanship and production capacity.

“The shift that players are adapting is to say goodbye to high volume or mass production, and cater to the custom-made demand, smaller-batches, limited designs, and designer pieces,” she said.

Gaston added that while the country can’t compete well with the price-points with that of China it can take the lead in producing customized orders.

At present, the sector is also actively helping communities or suppliers to improve their produce through the help of government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry and to make them known in the market.

Some players are also part of the organization called HoliCow or Holistic Coalition of the Willing, a group of Visayan designers, manufacturers and artisans who pledged to commit to sustainability, traceability, fair trade and crafting Filipino identity through design.

Last week, some 21 home furnishing companies and accessory brands joined the two-day exhibit called “Himô: A Space + Making Fair,” organized by 32 Sanson by Rockwell and HoliCow to showcase the best of designer products in Cebu and the Visayas.