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Furniture maker narrows scope as demand wanes

Published:Friday | July 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM
A bamboo canopy at Holland Bamboo, St Elizabeth. - File

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

The Original Bamboo Factory Limited has wrapped up operations under its old name and is now trading as Bamboo Jamaica, with a more targeted focus on custom-made furniture.

The 20-year-old operation, run by John Hamilton and located on Caymanas Estate in St Catherine, will unveil its new identity at the close of summer, in September.

"The old structures were not working," said marketing manager and design consultant Jens Thielker, seemingly referring to the old business model.

Hamilton said business has been depressed.

"It's dead right now," he told the Financial Gleaner on Wednesday.

"We had the busiest Christmas on record and then January as well. In the second quarter, since May, its died off," he said.

Demand for bamboo furniture, he suggested, has long been sporadic, but has dropped off even more in the recession.

"Demand has been up and down in the past, but with the recession, especially with what is going on with the hotels, it affects us," said Hamilton.

"A lot of our business came through the hotels. Negril, especially, seems to be very quiet."

The company has kept its location and inventory, but designs and display apparently will be different.

"We have a range of new products, and we want to attract new people to our new showroom," said Thielker.

He said the marketing, to begin in September, will include art exhibitions in collaboration with local artists.

"We will be building more awareness."

Currently advertising under its new name, Bamboo Jamaica promises handcrafted original bamboo furniture including living room designs, unique bedroom pieces, dining sets, veranda furniture, lamps and accessories.

Bamboo is a main input, but not the only wood used by the company.

"Sometimes we use wood to blend with bamboo, especially for headboards and frames. We use imported poplar or local wood - whatever suits and will stain well when needed," said Hamilton.

Exotic line

The company's website, which is yet to include the new name, indicates that the clientele includes private homes and businesses including hotels, offices and restaurants.

It states that the factory produces an "exotic line of durable, high-quality furniture and accessories using carefully selected Jamaican bamboo which has undergone a thorough preservation treatment."

The company has been manufacturing high-quality bamboo furniture and accessories since 1990, with chief executive officer Hamilton, who is one of the original founders, still in control as the majority shareholder, Thielker said Tuesday.

Hamilton told the Financial Gleaner that his company does about $12 million of business "in a good year" using skilled labour and special handsaws as the only equipment in the workshop.

The company employed 15 persons up to last year but has since laid them off, employing instead a cooperative of workers to produce designs made to order.

Hamilton was born and grew up in Caymanas where his parents, of Scottish origin, farmed sugar cane and reared cattle and thoroughbred racehorses on the estate.

Deciding to make a career in furniture manufacture, Hamilton has set his sights on a niche for bamboo designs in Jamaica and internationally.

In 2009, the company's largest order was for a beach club in the Cayman Islands.

According to Thielker, the factory can do as many as five new sets of furnishings each day, but all orders are custom made after clients select from pieces in the showroom.