Five years after a government-sanctioned clean-up dubbed Operation Murambatsvina, which razed their industry to the ground and forced them into a start-up, small-scale furniture makers at Harare’s Glen View New Complex are back in the game.
Most importantly, they have literally reshaped Zimbabwe’s furniture industry.
The complex has the capacity to accommodate 500 or more entrepreneurs and the rent is $40 per workshop.
But there is something missing about the industry, the conspicuous absence of showrooms and shelter to protect products during the rainy season.
The most noteworthy aspect about this thriving semi-formal industry is that survivors of the clean-up operation constitute less than 10% of the current crop of entrepreneurs.
Although the city council built a formal industrial complex in the aftermath of the crackdown, those that ultimately moved into the workshop units were predominantly new entrants who had the capital to start relatively larger and more formal enterprises.
A majority of those that experienced the turmoil of the clampdown in 2005 never bounced back.
From this disadvantaged position, the entrepreneurs have now grown into a vital cog in the wheel of the country’s furniture industry.
Onias Kamuriwo, one of the entrepreneurs at the complex, said Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation and economic meltdown helped the group of petty commodity producers establish a foothold in the local furniture industry.
As the recession aggravated, larger formal furniture companies plunged into a viability crisis, which saw them scaling down operations or closing down and surrendering market share. This opened a huge supply gap in the economy. Ordinarily, such shortages should be covered by imports.
But because the economic crisis also eroded incomes, the demand for low-cost, home-made household and office furniture increased.
With amazing resilience, the small-scale furniture makers stepped into the void and struck lucrative supply and procurement deals with finiture retailers who, for the first time, began to stock products from an industry previously considered a grey market.
At that very point, Kamuriwo asserted, the game changed and reshaped Zimbabwe’s furniture industry.
Interestingly, the recovery of the larger and formal furniture makers through recapitalisation initiatives has not been enough to dislodge the small entrepreneurs.
The secondary industry is now more integrated with the formal economy through supply links that cut across the value chain.
The multi-currency system therefore has levelled the playing field and sparked intense competition.
Ernest Karomo, a couch maker at the complex, said he has supply contracts with some of the country’s biggest furniture retailers.
He also said his order book was currently full and expected to make a killing this festive season.
“Business is booming as a result of the multi-currency system,” said Karomo.
“We have increased sales as people are now able to buy furniture from us unlike when we were using the local currency. We produce according to one’s specifications. We make five sets of couches per week.”
Vincent Mazvuma, a bed-base maker, said he makes at least five bases a day that he sells in Masvingo and Zvishavane.
The wholesale price of the bases range from $60 to $100, depending on size.
“We hope that the city council complex will enlarge and renovate the complex,” Biggie Masti, a sofa upholsterer, said.
“As a growing industry, we need store-rooms and showrooms.
“The area is small. It is worse during the rainy season because there is no shelter.”