25 Years of MIFF: How to Assemble Success
Published 7th November 2018
In recognition of the Malaysian International Furniture Fair (MIFF) celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, we look at the story behind the remarkable annual event, from its humble beginnings to today’s successful international furniture fair.
MIFF has its share of trials and triumph since the first show in 1995. The success of the fair is credited as a boon to the growth of the Malaysian furniture export industry: In the 1990s, the country’s industry was fledging. In the past 25 years, it’s grown to become one of the world’s largest – and top 10 – furniture exporters.
“It’s all hard work and there’s no private agenda,” said Dato’ Tan Chin Huat, the man behind MIFF, the biggest furniture fair in Southeast Asia today.
The Seeds of Growth
Dato’ Tan Chin Huat saw an opportunity for the young Malaysian furniture industry to grow when the first Industrial Masterplan (IMP1) was rolled out by Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1985. With its abundance of tropical trees, at that time Malaysia was merely exporting timber and semi-finished wood products. There were only a handful of furniture exporters in Malaysia – the industry was dominated by Europeans and Americans. He saw an opportunity to cool down on what he called “an anti-tropical wood campaign.”
He says that if Malaysians wanted to sell furniture, they had to go abroad at that time. “So, why not have it here, for ourselves?” he asked. And thus, the seed was planted.
The first MIFF was held on a very small scale at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), filled with only a handful of local entrepreneurs.
“In the first few years, purchases from regional buyers were not as encouraging, but there were one or two companies who clocked up orders,” he recalled. Their persistence throughout the first few years paid off despite losses.
Then MIFF caught the attention of the Malaysian government. Dato’ Tan recounted how Tan Sri Paduka Rafidah Aziz, Malaysia’s then Minister of International Trade, had mentioned that she thought the potential economic spin-off from MIFF (which then had over 2000 visitors annually), could be a considerable financial contributor to trade in Malaysia.
In their conversation, Dato’ Tan told her about the exhibitors’ predicaments in terms of costs from tax regulations. “Seeing the huge potential, she went back to the Ministry and gave instructions that MIFF participants be given a double deduction of taxes and also be eligible for subsidy incentives for booth rental and booth presentation, a privilege previously given only to Malaysian exhibitors participating in overseas shows,” he said
Competition Leading to Quality Innovations
In 2002, MIFF attracted participants from the People’s Republic of China, who emerged as strong competitors for Malaysian counterparts.
“Competition sometimes creates a momentum for people to grow faster in terms of design, product creation and creativity.”
-Dato’ Tan Chin Huat
Dato’ Tan smiled as he recounted how the competition spurred Malaysian companies to increase innovation: “Our furniture companies gained a lot from the healthy competition,” he said.
MIFF 2014 Buyers' Night
Dato' Tan (3rd from right) with delegates at
the MIFF 2017 Welcome Reception
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