Abdul Kader started his career as an assistant carpenter with Tk150 in daily wages about 30 years ago. In time, he grew in skills and became known for his attractive designs.
With his personal customer base in the local area and some savings at hand, the young man started a furniture factory in Chhagalnaiya of Feni, on a Tk5 lakh investment back in 1997. Kader has not had to look back since then.
Currently, he sells furniture worth Tk6-7 lakh every month on average.
Another entrepreneur, Al Amin, who started his factory in 1998, sees a turnover of Tk14-15 lakh per month. "It's my pride and joy that I can provide jobs for 25 workers," he told The Business Standard (TBS), adding that he also became very wealthy on his earnings from the factory.
Kader and Al Amin are just two of some 200 entrepreneurs at the furniture hub close to Chhagalnaiya Bus Stand, who are now producing furniture worth Tk150 crore annually, according to the SME Foundation. The majority of them were once carpenters or furniture workers there.
According to a Foundation study, the furniture business in the hub started in 1965 and became popular with the passage of time. Now furniture produced there is being supplied to different districts of the country, after catering to local demand.
The hub, having more than 3,000 workers, makes a wide range of furniture items, including beds, tables, chairs, sofa sets, almirahs, showcases, cloth stands, and dressing tables. They are being made with traditional technology and equipment. Modern high-tech machinery or technologies are yet to reach there.
Senior carpenters train juniors, making them skilled over time, and the chain has been continuing there for long.
Talking to The Business Standard, many factory owners said they have their own shops or showrooms, while many run their factories taking orders from retail traders. Customers can also order furniture directly.
The factories get their timber and wood locally from government auctions and several other countries as well, like Nepal, India, Malaysia, and even from countries in Africa.
"There was atime when only local people from Chhagalnaiya were our customers, but now people from the entire Feni district and other parts of the country come here. This is only because of the good quality of our products at affordable prices," Shahidullah, a factory owner, told TBS.
"We make furniture with traditional technology, yet our products are widely popular," said Al Amin.
However they said they were now facing a worker shortage as many of the craftsmen migrated to the Middle East and other countries hoping for higher earnings.
"People from Feni love to go abroad. So, keeping them here for long is a challenge. With the pandemic easing, the trend of going abroad has grown rapidly, which is why we now face a labour shortage," factory owner Kamal Uddin said.
And those currently entering the industry will take 4-5 years to be skilled, he added.
Rafiqul Islam has been working in the hub as a furniture worker for 8 years. He told TBS that he could earn Tk500-600 with regular work and Tk1,000-1,200 working overtime at night under pressure.
"Those who go abroad earn more."
To overcome the crisis and grow further, the entrepreneurs there urge the government to provide training to create skilled manpower, ensure loans on easy terms, and facilitate the purchase of high-tech machinery.
Contacted, SME Foundation Managing Director Md Mufizur Rahman said, they plan to arrange a variety of training for workers there.
"We will also recommend that banks provide low-interest and easy-term loans to entrepreneurs there," he added.