M Sattar Timber House, a furniture maker in Chattogram's Bolirhaat area, increases its volume of production targeting the Eid season every year. The company with 25 employees usually sells furniture worth Tk50-60 lakh during Ramadan.
But the novel coronavirus crisis this year has halted their business, along with that of more than 2,000 furniture-selling companies in Bolirhaat, which is one of the largest furniture markets in the country.
M Abdur Sattar, owner of the M Sattar Timber House, told The Business Standard, "We expand our business every year targeting the Eid. We start making furniture two to three months before Ramadan. We did the same this year, but halted everything due to the shutdown. All the furniture is lying around unsold."
According to the Bangladesh Furniture Industry Owners Association Chattogram (BFIOAC), there are around 4,000 furniture companies in Bolirhaat, Agrabad, Aman Bazar and some other areas in the city.
Around 3 lakh people are involved in this industry, which has been totally shut for the last one and a half months. The association says that the furniture makers in Chattogram have lost around Tk150 crore during this period.
The furniture industry in Bolirhaat sprawls over two kilometers along the Karnaphuli River. Furniture manufacturers there have been involved in this industry for generations. Their products have earned a reputation for their aesthetics and the good quality of wood that is used, which has been procured from the Chattogram Hill Tracts. Along with the demand for Bolihaat furniture in Chattogram, there is also a huge demand for it in Cox's Bazar, Cumilla, Feni, Lakshmipur, Noakhali and some other districts.
Jasim Uddin, president of the Bolirhaat Furniture Businessmen's Association, said, "The Eid celebration usually brings a surge in the furniture business, just like it does for the garments and other industries. But that is not happening this year."
"The furniture industry has been going through a crisis for a long time now. Wood furniture producers were struggling because of the availability old cheap furniture from ships. The coronavirus has augmented this pressure by bringing loans of lakhs of taka on the businessmen. Many businessmen have contacted us and expressed concern over the loans," he added.
Maksudur Rahman, general secretary of the BFIOAC, said, "Many businessmen borrow money to add extra capital to increase business during Ramadan. They repay these loans by selling the furniture. They made similar investments this year too."
"During the last one and a half months the furniture makers in Chattogram have lost Tk150 crore, and there is no alternative but to give them some incentive. Without that, many businessmen will not be able to overcome their losses," said Maksudur.
"Every year many people buy extra furniture to decorate their homes, even if these are not absolutely necessary for them. But the lockdown has weakened people's financial condition. It seems unlikely that people will come to buy furniture unless they really need it. So the sluggish phase in this sector will not be over soon. The losses will not reduce even if the shutdown is lifted before Eid," he added.
Babul Chandra Nath, director of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industry Corporation (BSCIC) Chattogram, said they have contacted many businessmen involved in the furniture sector in Chattogram.
"The government has announced that it will give incentives to small and medium enterprises. We are calculating the losses faced by the companies in the BSCIC Industrial Estate," said Babul.
He further said that, "We have also asked the companies outside the estate to make an estimate of their losses through their associations. We will submit the amount of losses to the government when the business owners send it to us."