SME Spotlight

C&R Interiors managing director Alan Ng: A workplace for 'happy office people'

Mr Alan Ng in his company's showroom in Pasir Panjang. "Our new direction is to create furniture that is open- concept, boosts interaction, and is eco-friendly," he says.
Mr Alan Ng in his company's showroom in Pasir Panjang. "Our new direction is to create furniture that is open- concept, boosts interaction, and is eco-friendly," he says. PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Some might see furniture production as a dying trade, but C&R Interiors managing director Alan Ng begs to differ. In the third of a four-part series featuring small and medium-sized enterprises that have chosen to put business continuity management at the forefront of their concerns, Mr Ng, 35, tells Tan Fong Han about his vision for the industry.

Q Tell us a little more about your company.

A The company was founded in 1977 by my father and a few partners. Back then, it focused on traditional wood crafting and labour-intensive carpentry works.

During the 1980s, the economic boom and rapid industrialisation resulted in strong demand for furniture. Hence, we started manufacturing open-plan office furniture.

Now we design our furniture according to customers' needs, and produce it in our factories in Singapore and Malaysia.

Q Is this a family-run business?

A I have two siblings but I am the only one in the business. I developed an interest in the furniture industry only in 2009, after working for another firm in the same industry.

I felt that I could help this industry and my company to grow.

My siblings have their own businesses.

Q How do you stand out from others in the industry?

A In other people's minds, the furniture industry is a dying trade. For us, we would like to serve tomor- row's needs. Our products are not the grab-and-go kind.

We have our full range of products, concepts and experts (designers and sales consultants) to design and produce them for our customers. Also, our company produces different products compared to the system furniture produced by other firms. System furniture is usually modular machine-made components, assembled like Lego blocks.

For us, we integrate carpentry skills and ideas into our furniture. For example, we use vinyl, a mate- rial usually used in carpentry, to build our workstations and cabinets. We have the skills, the people and the machinery to do so. The majority of my production team is trained in carpentry.

Q What is the demand for your products like?

A There will always be demand for carpentry furniture. However, manufacturing carpentry furniture is quite labour-intensive and incurs high costs so it may be less popular than system furniture.

On the other hand, carpentry furniture may be more classy and complicated than system furniture. Hence, firms may prefer to integrate the two for important rooms such as meeting rooms and boardrooms.

This is where we come into the picture. We integrate carpentry and system furniture to provide cost savings, and a greater range of products.

Q How is the company doing and what are some challenges you face?

A Revenue grew by more than 12 per cent each year between 2011 and last year. We recorded sales of $19 million last year, about 80 per cent of which came from local sales and 20 per cent from exports.

One challenge is that carpentry work is labour-intensive, and the Government is less encouraging about labour-intensive industries.

However, we are still able to cope with labour needs because only around 25 per cent of our products require carpentry work. For the long term, we may move our carpentry department to Malaysia because costs are lower there.

There are also limitations to expansion in terms of volume and revenue if we just function in Singapore. Hence, we're expanding our businesses overseas. In the past year, we have opened several sales offices and manufacturing plants in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. We have around 150 staff in total.

The greatest challenge, however, lies in attracting talent to join my team. Many people consider the industry a sunset industry and are unwilling to join us.

But recently, we see a change in the mentality of fresh graduates. I think the most important thing is to explain to them what we intend to do and how the company can grow.

Q What does business continuity management (BCM) mean to you?

A BCM serves as a guideline for all employees to work towards. Ultimately, we wouldn't know when there is a risk, and if our procedures are adequate to meet it.

By giving our customers a sense of assurance that we know what to do when things happen, we are not only giving them the physical furniture, but are also assuring them on what to expect when challenges surface.

The requirements and expectations involved in BCM require a lot of different departments to work together. It is about teamwork.

Q Most SMEs are usually too preoccupied with the day-to-day running of the company to worry about BCM.

A Yes, the day-to-day operations are hectic enough. Yet, as the saying goes, "no man is an island". It is important that everyone shares a common understanding of what to do when there is a risk.

In fact, the staff are more responsible when they interact with customers after the BCM. They are well aware that they cannot face challenges alone, and focus on teamwork to get the job done.

Q What has the company implemented since joining the programme?

A We have improved our sharing network with our sales offices in various countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines). We have set up a cloud to share company updates. This protects us from cyber attacks and unforeseen personal emergency leave because every document on the cloud is tracked.

This also serves as an update of our offices' work.

Q What are some of your company's future plans?

A We have budgeted about $2 million for the expansion of our plant. We plan to double the size of our factory in Malaysia to manufacture more goods for export. We are working closely with International Enterprise Singapore on this.

We are also developing furniture for collaborative areas in the office - soft furnishing. We want to create a work-and-play environment, and bring to our customers the "happy office people" concept.

For now, we are piloting this in our own offices.

Our new direction is to create furniture that is open- concept, boosts interaction, and is eco-friendly. To be visionary, it is a workplace of the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2016, with the headline 'A workplace for 'happy office people''. Print Edition | Subscribe