Importing furniture on your own terms

The living room at the Giraffe Ark Game Lodge
The living room at the Giraffe Ark Game Lodge in Nyeri. PHOTO | FILE 

When Annette Edna Mahu, co-owner of the Giraffe Ark Game Lodge embarked on furnishing the establishment, she sourced most of the furniture from Asia and the Middle East. She ended up saving money and got authentic items.

For the interior, she opted for Victorian-styled furniture which she got from Asia.

A number of homeowners nowadays prefer to import furniture, building materials and electronics cheaply from abroad as opposed to buying from local showrooms.

Most argue that one can ship in exquisite household items from abroad cheaply than when buying them locally.

A shop like The Odd Piece in Dubai has spectacular furniture that are designed with royalty in mind. Other shops in Dubai stock seats made of buffalo hide.

Gerald Maina who imported his seats from Dubai says he was looking for quality and unique items for his house.
“I chose to shop in Dubai because they have a variety of furniture pieces that are both unique and long lasting,” he says, adding that the quality of finishing in the furniture is also done professionally.

He says he did not mind paying more for shipping the unique furniture.

“Most of the local furniture companies also get their merchandise from these countries but they will go for more subtle designs and leave the finer, more sophisticated designs. They ship their products in pieces so as to assemble them here so as to save on shipping costs due to reduced container space,” he says.

How to import

Geldine Mbaabu, who moved back from Dubai recently after working there for two years, says she opted to ship in all her household items because it was cheaper.

“Most of the household furniture are good quality and you get them at reasonable prices compared to what we have here in Kenya,” she says, adding that she could have left them all behind and started anew, but the shipping charges and buying price were still lower than what she could have spent locally.

There a number of shipping agencies that bring in goods from US, UK, Dubai and China. Salihiya Cargo and Shipping Agency, one of the air and sea freight companies that provide logistics from Dubai to East Africa, says business is good, especially from those importing bulk items by sea from Dubai to Kenya.

“We ship thousands of cargo items by sea to Kenya, most of which are furniture pieces for clients every month,” says one of the shipping agents from the company who refused to be named.

Although clothes take a big chunk of cargo from Dubai and China, more Kenyans are also buying building materials, personal electronics and furniture.

Flower pots

Stella Awino, who imported her seats, dining table, electronics, utensils, flower pots and curtains from Dubai, says the low prices make it easy for many people to afford quality items.

‘‘You cannot compare the prices to those you get in Kenya. I saved about Sh200,000 on my really good quality leather seats. This is after shipping them with my other household goods. Importing makes it easier to afford nice furniture and electronics that are a preserve of a few rich Kenyans,’’ she says.

She says the best time to buy is when shops like Home Centre and Homes R Us in Dubai have a sale or during the Gitex Technology Week. You can also buy from a flea market. Some of the items may have been used for only weeks or even a few months before they are disposed of by the owner.

‘‘I got six-seater leather seats for my sister after someone disposed them of, weeks after buying, because they did not match his decor. They were about Sh200,000 plus shipping charges. Sometimes you get seats that are really good but maybe have a tiny cigarette burn or almost invisible cat scratch marks. If you’re lucky, you can get seven-seater-all-recliner seats for Sh50,000,” Stella says.

Sea freight usually takes about 40 days from Dubai and is suited for large cargo volumes and it is cheaper that air. If you’re importing, for instance, one big television, use air transport. Additionally, some cargo companies deliver the goods to your doorstep.

Most people opt for agency services because they ensure the cargo is delivered safely.

“Dealing with customs officials and clearing agents at the port can be chaotic for individual shippers so it is easier to use cargo and shipping agencies,” says Geldine.

As the well-travelled Kenyans look elsewhere, local furniture makers argue that due to anti-logging laws, locally-made high-quality hardwood pieces are relatively expensive with a few being made with imported wood.

Their imported furniture also attracts a high tax and additional costs such as rent, pushing up the buying price of items such as seats.