SINGAPORE - Even as furniture manufacturing was deemed a sunset industry in Singapore in the 1980s, HTL International was already looking to produce and design quality furniture for overseas markets.
Group managing director and chief executive Phua Yong Tat, 62, said: "HTL started as a small upholstery company in 1976, but our vision was to look into the Asia-Pacific region. We were already thinking of a regional business then, as Singapore is a very small market."
HTL began modestly in the 1970s, churning out PVC sofas at a time when most retailers here imported leather products from Italy or Germany. It saw a need to learn to produce good leather products with great designs.
Mr Phua said: "If we wanted to go overseas, we needed to know where we stood. Did we have good design and the technology?"
Hence, it acquired design and technical know-how from German furniture maker G Laauser GmbH & Co in 1981 to sell its designs in Asia-Pacific.
"It was a very important move for HTL... We learnt about its production line, automation, and revamped ours," said Mr Phua.
In 1985, the recession in Singapore spurred HTL to speed up its regionalisation drive. Equipped with the newly acquired knowledge from G Laauser, the firm began selling its products to Hong Kong and Australia.
Even then, Mr Phua was already mapping out a strategy to go beyond the region. In the 1990s, HTL embarked on its plan to expand to Europe.
"Even the regional market was too small for us," said Mr Phua, with a laugh.