x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

I hope you're sitting comfortably to hear my domestic blues

How do all of these furniture shops, which essentially sell slight variations on the same theme, manage to remain in business?

When it comes to flaws with their finances, business writers usually have plenty of personal pain points. For some, it's a stock investment that went sour or a loan that was locked in at too high an interest rate.

For me, the regrets revolve around furniture.

Like other expatriates, presumably, I dumped my old belongings at deep discounts before moving to the Emirates. There was that US$180 (Dh661) patio set, complete with "two swivelling chairs and a sturdy table" that went for $85. A leather couch that converted into a sleeper bed, originally worth more than $1,500, sold for just $500.

But the most painful blow to the bank account came after I posted pictures of a "beautiful mahogany" dining table on to a blog accompanied by shots of half a dozen micro-fibre chairs. I originally bought the set for $2,700, though I noted on the blog that the price was now "negotiable".

And that's exactly what the winning couple did: negotiate. In the end, they bought it for a measly $800, but not before I threw in some bedside tables for free, just to secure the deal.

Which brings me to Abu Dhabi, where fresh from a bout of furniture-selling fatigue I realised I would need to buy all those pieces once again.

It didn't help that I first moved to a strip along Airport Road that had some 15 furniture and curtain shops scattered across just one city block.

Need a firm mattress for that new bed? You can stand at the entrance of one Serta shop and see its competitor, Sleep Products Gallery, right across the street. Go down the block and you will encounter Dana Style Furniture, which is right next to another furniture place and just a short walk away from yet another.

Competitive as each of these businesses may be with their neighbour, they certainly share a common goal: to get a sliver of the Dh6 billion that is spent each year on furniture and furnishings in the Emirates.

To put that into perspective, furniture sales in the UAE make up a full 14 per cent of all non-grocery sales, according to research from Euromonitor International. And that is only bound to go up now the new Ikea on Yas Island boasts 35 cash tills to serve a sales area of 19,150 square metres.

How do all of these furniture shops, which essentially sell slight variations on the same theme, manage to remain in business? It can't be easy, especially when they are located in mini districts and have curmudgeons like me, who compare prices as though it is a competitive sport, to contend with.

High demand from ample expat turnover certainly helps, particularly when furniture stores are situated close to one another and offer nearly identical wares, says Muhammed Nawaz, who runs Masha Allah Curtain & Decor on Airport Road.

Mr Nawaz says his business has remained open for 17 years despite being directly sandwiched between a curtain shop on either side that display many of the same offerings.

Some of these business owners also seem to have a strange affinity for competition. Perhaps it is programmed in certain entrepreneurs, or they just enjoy the thrill of living dangerously with decor.

Last September, Perla Lichi also decided to open the doors to a furniture and interior design studio on Airport Road.

"I'd rather be in a place to sell the same things as other businesses because people can shop around, compare and narrow down what they want and where they want it from," says Ms Lichi. "I want to be where the action is."

So where exactly did Ms Lichi set up shop? Just down the street from Mr Nawaz's curtain store, and across the road from both Marlin Furniture and Al Wahda Mall, which boasts four furniture and household shops of its own.

"I like competition," she says. "When there's a lot of competition there's a market for it. If there's no market for it, there wouldn't be all this competition."

As true as that may be, I have personally abandoned Airport Road and plugged into the online world in search of someone else's furniture at deep discounts.

One bedroom set I recently found at Dubizzle.com ended up costing less than half of the Dh7,000 the owner originally paid last year. And while I discovered the bed creaks at every turn and the dresser drawers only come out when yanked, I tend not to lose too much sleep knowing that I got a bargain.

Did I mention it came with a mirror and a pair of bedside tables?