Manufacturers and distributors of wooden products need to establish close links to boost domestic consumption, a conference heard in HCM City on Nov. 13.

Nguyen Quoc Khanh, deputy chairman of the Handicraft and Wood Industry Association of HCM City (Hawa), said last year Vietnam , with exports worth more than 3.2 billion USD, was the largest furniture exporter in ASEAN.

But its products remains unpopular at home since manufacturers focus completely on exports and domestic consumers prefer imports, he said.

Besides, the lack of large distributors and the absence of ties between manufacturers and distributors are adverse factors, he said.

Locally made furniture only accounts for 25 percent of the domestic market, with imports, mainly from China , accounting for the rest, Khanh told the conference held on the sidelines of the VIFA Home exhibition.

But consumers have begun to pay more attention to the origin of imported products and their contents, especially with regard to health, he said.

Formaldehyde is commonly used by furniture makers in China 's Foshan Province , and this is detrimental to people's health, he said.

Thus, with consumers gradually losing their confidence in imports, local firms should grasp this opportunity and win their trust by offering quality products at competitive prices, he said.

With cost no longer a limiting factor, they have to diversify their designs and offer customers more choice, he said.

Along with living standards, demand for interior decoration items and furniture is also rising in Vietnam .

Many delegates pointed out difficulties in penetrating the domestic market, including a shortage of market information and high distribution costs.

Businesses do not feel secure enough to invest in a market without reliable information, Nguyen Chanh Phuong of Danh Moc Company said.

The woodworking industry needs to do market research so that producers can develop the right products, he said.

Khanh said getting money for their goods from distributors is also a big concern in the domestic market.

Many attendees called on the industry to develop products exclusively for the domestic market and not just sell excess items made for the EU and other export markets since local and foreign customers' tastes varied.

Vu Van Anh of distributor Vietmay Depot said manufacturers should work with professional distributors instead of setting up their own systems to ensure outlets for their products.

Heiko Woerner, technical advisor to the Vietnamese German Forestry Programme, component 2, said Hawa and the German Technical Cooperation Organisation will jointly survey domestic consumers' tastes to assist furniture firms.

To create links between manufacturers and distributors, Khanh said Hawa plans to soon launch an online furniture market with up-to-date information about product samples and prices./.