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Local furniture manufacturer eyes hotel industry, export

Observer North East

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, October 16, 2012    

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ERROL Lewin's dream is to have his entire line furnishing major hotels across the island.

The operator of local manufacturing company Jamaica Bedding Limited said not only do his products meet the high standards required for large, local hotels, but the prices have remained competitive with imported goods.

"Our quality is also very consistent and we can fill the smallest of orders up to the biggest," he said, adding that the company also fills custom orders.

"Whatever style you want the furniture to be in, we can make it," he told the Jamaica Observer North East in-between conversations with prospective clients who stopped to admire the intricate designs and talk business at the recently concluded Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Hotel in Ocho Rios, St Ann.

While the bedroom set on display was the talk of the three-day tourism trade show, the company is known for a suite of other products including mattresses made of foam and inner-spring or bonded foam, bed bases, head and footboards, recreational mats, and anti-bacterial mattresses. The company also makes flexible polyurethane foam for upholstery and pillows.

Lewin explained that the company has an in-house designer who is given free creative lattitude, as was evident with an intricately designed headboard and matching footseat.

He expressed optimism at the interest shown by local hotel representatives at the show put on by Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association in partnership with Jamaica Promotions. He is hoping that it translates into more business for him, and employment for an even greater number of Jamaicans.

The 10-year-old company, Lewin said, is seeking to tap into the export market, but it is not as easy as it may appear.

"We are still knocking on doors, but countries like Trinidad have been very resistant to bringing in Jamaican products," he said.

The local entrepreneur told the Observer North East that his foray into business began as an importer of foam, which he sold to upholsterers. When it became no longer viable to import the material, Lewin re-strategised.

"We realised that the importation of foam was too much, so we started to make our own foam about seven years ago," he explained.

The foam was used to manufacture mattresses before the company diversified its offerings to include settees, sofa beds, side tables, head and footboards, and other types of furniture.

The company, which has its base in Old Harbour, St Catherine, currently sells to retailers and some hotels, albeit on a much smaller scale than desired. It provides direct employment to 100 persons, but Lewin said it is believed that some 3,000 are indirect beneficiaries, as the company also produces shredded foam which persons use to make pillows for sale.

It is a challenge, however, Lewin said, to identify skilled labourers to work in the establishment.

"We have the scope for expansion, but the only issue is that it is a challenge finding skilled labourers," he said.

"Everybody want jobs, but they don't have the required skills."

As a means of imparting some of those requisite skills, he said, the company has began a partnership with the HEART Trust/NTA to offer customer service training to the staff.

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