Furniture maker has spread its wings with exports to Asia, Europe and US

Furniture maker has spread its wings with exports to Asia, Europe and US

Most small and medium-sized enterprises in Singapore start local, then go regional and later perhaps global.

Not Falcon Incorporation, which took flight right from the time it was set up in 2002.

Founder Low Eng Huat, 53, picked Vietnam as the base to manufacture furniture for the business, while the headquarters was in Singapore. He is fluent in Vietnamese.

After starting out with 40 workers at the Hanoi factory, Falcon's business has soared and it has more than 1,600 staff under its wing today.

Since the firm was last featured in The Straits Times in September 2010, Falcon has started an additional factory in Vietnam and another in Doha, Qatar.

Falcon enjoyed a stellar year in 2011, as revenue doubled from 2010. But its top line grew by a far more modest 10 per cent last year owing to the euro zone crisis and slow pick-up of the US economy, said Mr Low.

The chairman of the interior design, build and supply company said the firm's revenue for last year crossed the $50 million mark but he declined to give specific figures.

The firm is continuing to look for business opportunities beyond Europe and the United States.

Plans are under way to secure projects and sell their products in Sri Lanka and Myanmar as part of Falcon's expansion plans, he added.

Falcon chief executive Iris Lim, 50, joined Mr Low in 2004, two years after the business was founded.

Armed with more than 20 years of experience in interior design, she helps oversee the full suite of products and services offered by Falcon.

Apart from selling furniture, Falcon also refurbishes commercial spaces, including offices and hotels. That includes upgrading the floors, ceiling, walls and furniture.

The majority of its customers are hotels and resorts in Asia. Other clients operate offices and serviced apartments.

Falcon's notable projects in the past year include the entire refurbishment of the interior spaces at MGM Grand in Ho Chi Minh City, loose and built-in furniture for W Hotel's lobby in San Francisco and loose furniture for Grand Hyatt Taipei. Its five largest contracts since last year amounted to more than $50 million.

In addition, Falcon also does interior designing and furnishing of retail store fronts. Luxury labels Cartier, Chopard, Gucci and Montblanc are among its customers.

Back home, Falcon refurbished Orchard Hotel last year, and was contracted again for the hotel's second phase of works to upgrade its ballroom.

It is also renovating and refurbishing the National Environment Agency's office in Scotts Road.

Two years ago, Falcon launched its own line of furniture, called Areca, in Vietnam. Before that, it was manufacturing furniture only under contract for other brands.

It has since exported the middle-to-upmarket line of furniture to more than 10 countries including the US, France, Spain, Japan and Malaysia.

Falcon is also pursuing green initiatives by processing wood waste to become substitute wood that can be used as shelving partitions in cupboards.

When asked about succession planning for Falcon, both Mr Low and Ms Lim laughed and said they would let their children decide if they wanted to run the business.

"It's not a Monday to Friday or 8am to 5pm job," said Ms Lim.

"While I do wish that someone in the family will be keen, I won't force them to take on the business as it's a really tough job." She has two children aged 18 and 20.

Mr Low agreed and said that there is no hurry to rope any of his three children aged four, 16 and 18 into the business.

"I have to travel a lot for work, but I try to come back to Singapore once every 10 days to spend time with the family," he said.

"It helps that the Internet and communication devices make it easier to contact the family while I'm away on business. "But I have to alter my mindset and working schedules to fit the operations and customers."

For example, Hawaii runs on a different time zone, 15 hours behind Singapore; and the Qataris work over the weekend and are off on Fridays.

But will the duo consider listing Falcon on the stock exchange?

Mr Low chuckled and said: "I don't think we're looking at an initial public offering in the near future. But we will keep it in view."

rjscully@sph.com.sg


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