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Styling a Star Company in the Furniture Space

Local home-grown furniture company, Star Furniture Group has risen from its humble beginnings as a two-man-show to become an integrated retailer, manufacturer and exporter boasting group revenue of S$40 million last year.

Styling a Star Company in the Furniture Space

While the local furniture scene may have been undergoing tough times since the nineties, Star Furniture has been holding strong, expanding its footprint with the opening of more than 40 stores locally and also regionally in Malaysia and Taiwan. It has also been growing its export business to cover more than 45 countries. A decade ago, the company turned its attention from wholesaling to designing furniture, collaborating with well-known local interior designer Jerry Low for their JotterGoods brand — which while taking them out of their comfort zone, proved to be a breakthrough both locally and abroad.

Having spent his school holidays working in this family furniture business, Mr Kenny Koh, managing director of Star Furniture Group, joined the company in 1989. He shares his insight on his business and on being an entrepreneur:

How did Star Furniture start?

My two older brothers founded the company in 1981, during a time when demand for furniture was strong. This was mainly because many people were moving from kampongs to HDB flats — and new furniture was needed. A year or two later, my brothers moved into the wholesale business in order to reach a bigger market and audience, but unfortunately the main factory was destroyed by fire in 1984. Undeterred and using the 1985 recession as an opportunity to expand our retail business, my brothers opened our first retail outlet in Yishun and subsequently rented a warehouse in River Valley to start Singapore’s first furniture warehouse outlet business. We began exporting our products in 1991, starting with Taiwan where the common language and culture made it easy for us to do business.

In 1994, Star Furniture entered the China market with three partners but in the end, only we stood firm, buying the other three partners’ shares. While many might view our first foray into the Chinese market as a mistake, we choose to view it as a learning opportunity. The working culture was very different from ours and the area we chose, Fuzhou, was not a good choice for us to set up a factory; as we had to import materials from Dongguan which is 700 kilometres away. It was the classic case of jumping into the river without realising that there are stones below. What I have learnt from this experience is that in such business operations it is crucial to involve the right people — your strongest people —whom you can trust. Otherwise, you have to get involved personally.

What was Star Furniture’s turning point?

Things changed for the better when high costs forced us to move our production out of Singapore to Johor, Malaysia, in 2000. This is when our export volume went up, our costs went down and we became more competitive.

Soon after this, Star Furniture set up another factory in Dongguan, China. Finding new markets is still a priority of our company especially since our industry is a competitive one with more players coming in all the time while costs continue to rise.

Styling a Star Company in the Furniture Space

What do you believe enabled Star Furniture’s success?

We have consistently brought to market superior quality products in modern innovative designs that are current to market demands.

Another strong point of ours is our customer service. About 10 percent of our customers are returning customers, which in our industry, is a strong figure because, after all, you only tend to buy furniture a few times during your lifetime.

You are part of the Singapore Furniture Industries Council. What prompted you to get involved and how has it helped propel your business forward?

Being part of the Council is a way for me to contribute back to society. In addition, I also learn a lot from various industries and peers. It has helped my business grow by helping us to participate in overseas shows organised and facilitated by the SFIC as well as in terms of tapping into industry knowledge and skills.

You have mentioned that these are tough times for entrepreneurs on a whole. What tips do you have to weather this journey and win the race?

Focus on what you do well and not on fast returns. In our case, we focus on the core areas we excel in such as furniture manufacturing, retail innovation and customer service.

Also, be proactive. Government schemes such as those offered by SPRING Singapore (now Enterprise Singapore1) are actively promoted. We have been working with SPRING (now Enterprise Singapore1) for a decade. For example we are working with SPRING (now Enterprise Singapore1) to improve our technology and services. We just launched our revamped e-commerce website in October, which besides being more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing, is now fully integrated and synced. This saves manpower as there is no more need for manual updates online and on our back-end. Doing this has almost doubled our sales in Singapore.

Click here to discover how trade associations and chambers like the SFIC can support your business’ growth.

1SPRING Singapore merged with IE Singapore to form Enterprise Singapore on 1 April 2018.

Last Modified Date: 17 Apr 2018