SME Spotlight

Customer-first strategy pays off for sofa manufacturer HomesToLife

The furniture trade attracts more consumer complaints than many industries but that does not deter HomesToLife, the new retail arm of sofa manufacturer HTL International. In the last of a four-part series, Rennie Whang speaks to retail manager Phua Bo Wen, marketing manager Phua Jing Hong and sales manager Joyce Lee about how the company embraces and delivers service excellence.

Mr Phua Bo Wen (at far left) and Mr Phua Jing Hong. Their company has hosted many workshops, including on calligraphy, flower arrangement, terrariums - anything of interest to clientele.
Mr Phua Bo Wen (at far left) and Mr Phua Jing Hong. Their company has hosted many workshops, including on calligraphy, flower arrangement, terrariums - anything of interest to clientele.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Q What is HomesToLife?

Mr Phua Bo Wen We are a vertically integrated sofa manufacturer. We source the leather, tan the hide and complete the value chain up to the point of selling it to customers.

We address a segment of the market we think is under-served - where individuals may want to pay more for a good product which not everyone else has.

Our space is a blend of several ideas. We want it to be like an art gallery but also comfortable and inviting; a place where you come and discover something new. So we've had many workshops here, including on calligraphy, flower arrangement, terrariums - anything we think is interesting for our clientele.

Q Tell us about one of the toughest customers the company has had to deal with.

Ms Lee In March, a customer purchased a sofa at our store, but when we parked it in her home, she felt it was small. She was concerned it was not made to measurements and faulted it for being defective.

I assured her I would do some measurements at the storefront display set and get back to her.

I did the measurements, but I already suspected it was an issue of expectations. According to the picture of the sofa she received, the cushions fit snugly, although in the product shot and display piece, it was meant to have a very small gap as part of the design.

She said she sent the picture to her friends and they agreed it wasn't right. Then, she came down to the store. She softened upon seeing I had done some measurements, and I told her I guessed it was probably just that her cushion was new, we needed to do some "puffing" and that would do the trick.

We sent a team to her home to do that and take fresh measurements. She was convinced there was no defect, but was still upset and said it could have been our styling that made her feel the product should look otherwise.

We wrote her a note to explain, offered her a food and wine hamper as well as a 20 per cent discount to buy a throw or cushion. And if she was still not happy with the product, we would do some styling adjustments.

She wrote a thank-you letter to us instead, and till today, is still a customer with us.

Q How is good service part of your company culture?

Mr Phua Bo Wen The top management is always emphasising service.

Also, we never pay our suppliers late, for example, as trust and business integrity are very important.

When our parent company first entered the Japanese market selling furniture to businesses, we knew that the Japanese were stringent on standards, but didn't know how stringent.

When they sent their quality control inspector to us, we had to keep reworking, which delayed the first shipment. At the same time, they were pressuring us to deliver the goods.

Many people at that point might have decided it was too difficult working with them, but we persevered. We lost a lot of money in our first year of business with the Japanese because we flew our products over to make up for lost time.

But we improved, and that customer is today our biggest Japanese customer. Every year without fail, Japan is a stable market for us, which goes to show that when you take care of your customers, they will stay with you.

Q How big is the retail portion for the overall company and how do you hope to grow HomesToLife?

Mr Phua Jing Hong Retail is currently a very small segment of total company revenue. We started HomesToLife in Singapore as we are a Singaporean company and brand, and once the concept is stable, we will franchise the concept out to the region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Customer-first strategy pays off '. Print Edition | Subscribe