EBRD and We-Fi help Mongolia’s leading furniture manufacturer go international

By Altjin Munkhbat

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There are many furniture manufacturers and even more furniture importers in the landlocked country of Mongolia. Rivalry is fierce and quality is varied in this competitive furniture market.

However, one stands a head above the competition: Ganbros, led by Ms. Odonchimeg Adilbish.

Marrying the durability to last a lifetime with a design language that is as pleasing as it is ergonomic defined Ms. Adilbish’s entrepreneurial voyage in the furniture manufacturing landscape for nearly two decades, enabling Ganbros to become one of Mongolia’s most prominent furniture manufacturers.

Humble beginnings

Back in the 1990s, “imported goods” were synonymous with “high quality products” in a Mongolia that was freshly parting ways from the half a century of socialism and Soviet influence. This notion had been so widespread and influential that even today it is not uncommon to see people going abroad to shop for furniture in Europe and North America.

“In the 17 years that Ganbros furniture has been in business, we are still trying to tackle this misconception,” says Ms. Adilbish, explaining her business’s transition from an importer to a manufacturer.

“We are but one example that Mongolian businesses have the potential to produce high quality products domestically,” she notes, showing a catalogue of furniture that now decorates many of the highly-valued and prestigious office buildings, estates and residences in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.

An affinity for quality, aesthetics and safety has propelled the business from a simple importer to an established furniture manufacturer.

Ms. Adilbish’s company enjoys ever-expanding cooperation with renowned manufacturers from famous European brands located in countries such as France, Italy and Germany, acquiring valuable lessons and know-how, tailoring and refining their products, and even trialling modern furniture incorporating traditional Mongolian elements.

Changing times, crisis averted

However, everything changed in 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic reached Mongolia. 

Businesses across the country suffered shrinking demands and tightening restrictions on their operations. Shortages of raw materials, declining sales and rising prices had come very close to shutting down Ganbros as Ms. Adilbish exhausted her options to revive the business that represented her lifelong labour and aspirations.

“We, as with the rest of the world, expected the pandemic to pass quickly. When it didn’t, with sharply declining sales and other emerging challenges continuing for many months, we could no longer sustain our business,” reflects Ms. Adilbish. “We were at the end of our tether.”

The EBRD’s Women in Business programme funded by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) became the miracle that Ms. Adilbish and Ganbros needed so desperately in those trying times.

Through the programme, Ms. Adilbish was matched with local consultant Oshmi NGO, who helped Ganbros to audit its existing operational systems and to implement appropriate long-term strategic planning and financial management. “Not only did the programme save us, but it has also opened up many new opportunities,” she notes.

The support and business expertise provided by the programme has allowed Ganbros to keep bankruptcy at bay and transform itself from a national furniture manufacturer into a regional competitor with a foothold in Russian and Chinese markets.

“We are expecting to exceed our sales targets, with a pilot project to export into Chinese and Russian markets by the year 2023,” says Ms. Adilbish with pride.

The story of the furniture manufacturer Ganbros is but one of many successful Mongolian businesses.

With support from the EBRD’s Women in Business programme, women like Ms. Adilbish are encouraged to expand their businesses, helping to diversify the local entrepreneurial scene and add value by generating employment.

The Women in Business programme in Mongolia began in 2020 to encourage women’s entrepreneurship and its further development, and to provide assistance in creating a supportive environment for women-led businesses. To date, the programme has provided advisory services to 17 SMEs in just over a year.

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