Taking over family's bookbinding business a childhood dream come true

Some children shun their family business or become reluctant successors.

Not Ms Winnie Chan. In fact, her childhood dream was to join her family's bookbinding business, Grandluxe.

"Growing up, my ambition was to be my dad's secretary," Ms Chan, who is in her 40s, tells SundayLife! with a laugh. Her father, Mr Percy Chan, 68, is chairman of Grandluxe.

Her dream even had an impact on her education. Her computing science project for the A levels was based on a study of Grandluxe's payroll system and she opted to read economics at the University of California as it seemed most practical for when she returned to the company.

Her elder sister is a piano teacher and is not involved in the business.

Grandluxe is a traditional bookbinding business started in 1945 by her grandfather in a small shophouse at Mohamed Sultan Road.

Over the past 70 years, the business has grown from a tiny outfit producing hand- sewn paper stationery to a company that has five brands under its belt and manufactures paper and leather goods for companies in more than 30 countries worldwide.

Still, despite her bushy-tailed enthusiasm, the journey to become general manager was not a bed of roses for Ms Chan, who joined as a sales executive in 1994.

Married and a mother of two, Ms Chan recalls an instance when, as a newbie, she decided to take orders for notebooks from individual insurance agents, only to realise the packing staff at the warehouse were not willing to pack an order that totalled only 500 pieces.

"They were used to full container loads of export shipments and weren't willing to help me pack and deliver such a small order. Being a traditional business, there was a lot of resistance to change, so I was left to do everything myself," she says.

Still, it was experiences such as that which taught her resilience - a trait that stood her in good stead when she founded the company's newest brand, Bynd Artisan, last year.

Offering personalised notebooks and stationery, the brand reflects Ms Chan's fight to take what is thought to be a sunset industry such as bookbinding into the 21st century - all the while keeping true to its essence of craftsmanship.

"Bynd Artisan is my way to provide our younger customers with a tactile experience of choosing and making their own notebooks - something I want to preserve even as we enter a digital world," Ms Chan says.

It also gave her an opportunity to retrain the craftsmen to multitask as artisans, some of whom have worked at the company for more than 40 years.

The retail concept can now be found at Tangs Orchard as well as at the flagship atelier at Chin Bee Avenue in Jurong, where popular notebook-making workshops are conducted every weekend.

So promising is the take-up that the company is in talks to franchise the brand internationally, to places such as Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and Dubai.

Says Ms Chan of the past 21 years she has spent working for the family business: "I've been lucky that my dad has been incredibly open-minded and supportive of my initiatives to take the company forward.

"Knowing that he's proud of what I've achieved with Bynd Artisan is what makes me happy - it's my own proudest achievement in the past two decades."