From IT products to smart blinds

Mr Wilson Chew, founder and managing director of MC.2, and his partners decided to develop a smart blind that can transform balconies, which are usually under-utilised because of Singapore's hot and wet climate, into indoor living spaces.
Mr Wilson Chew, founder and managing director of MC.2, and his partners decided to develop a smart blind that can transform balconies, which are usually under-utilised because of Singapore's hot and wet climate, into indoor living spaces.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

MC.2's Altex SecureZip smart blinds can be controlled using an app or via voice recognition

The name MC.2 might be familiar to those who frequent IT malls like Funan Centre and Sim Lim Square. But these days, the 14-year-old Singapore company is no longer selling laptops or IT accessories.

Instead, it has moved from IT retail to selling smart home solutions, fronted by its own smart blind system that cost half a million dollars and a year to develop.

Officially launched in January this year, MC.2's Altex SecureZip smart blinds can be controlled using an app, or via voice recognition with Google Home or Amazon Alexa devices. Unlike conventional blinds that flap when the wind blows, it uses a frame to secure itself. It repels rain, ultra-violet light and insects. It even keeps in the cold air of air-conditioning.

The company also distributes other curtain and blind brands, such as Hunter Douglas and Toso, as well as other home solutions like tiles, wallpapers and smart home speakers.

It is a big difference from when its first IT store opened in Funan Centre in 2004. MC.2 subsequently opened more stores, including three in Sim Lim Square, two in Funan Centre, and a Sony Centre in Suntec City. At the height of its IT retail business during around 2010, MC.2 was making $50 million in revenue annually.

However, since 2013, the local IT retail landscape has changed significantly, making it difficult to compete, according to Mr Wilson Chew, founder and managing director of MC.2

He cited two main factors that prompted MC.2 to switch to the smart home business.

First, big players such as Apple and Sonyentered the local market with their own retail concept stores. "They are not only our suppliers, but they have also become our competitors," said Mr Chew.

The other reason is the increased popularity of online stores, such as Amazon, Alibaba and Lazada, which are also selling IT products.

"It is just not sustainable in the long run," he said.

About 18 months ago, he and his team decided to look at other business alternatives. They decided to focus on home solutions after they discovered that the balconies of Singaporean homes are under-utilised.

"We saw this gap that has not been filled by anyone in the market," he said.

Singapore homes are generally small, but a lot of the homes have balconies. And because of Singapore's hot and wet climate, these balconies are usually wasted space.

"That is when we decided to develop a smart blind that can transform balconies into indoor living spaces," he said.

The company soft-launched the Altex SecureZip in October last year and has since been installing the blinds in 120 to 150 households a month on average.

Mr Chew said that MC.2 also saw an opportunity to provide a full suite of home solutions. "Usually, the traditional home decor shop specialises in one product only, like it sells curtains only or sells flooring only, but we provide total home solutions," he said.

MC.2 opened a 4,200 sq ft showroom in January at Ubi Avenue to showcase its total home solutions including curtains, flooring and windows. It allows customers to touch and feel the "real thing" instead of looking at catalogues.

"Here (at the showroom), it is all about the customer experience, they can try it out, use their voice to control the blinds, so they can experience what they are buying," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2018, with the headline 'From IT products to smart blinds'. Print Edition | Subscribe