Digital disruption a friend, not a foe, to furniture industry

Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC) sees digital disruptions in the industry as more of a complement than a disruption in its future strategies.

Among others, it is looking at mobile and e-commerce for its members, adopting virtual and augmented reality as well as 3D printing to the advantage of the industry.

Said SFIC's new president Mark Yong: "It is a disruptor if you don't adopt it. If you recognise that there are disruptions and you open your mind to ride the wave, you will grow."

Mr Yong took over the reins last month from outgoing president Ernie Koh, who served a maximum of two terms.

Mr Yong is passionate about bringing its members under one roof in the virtual world for them to market their products.

He said: "We see the need to bring them together on a Singapore-based platform, run by SFIC, and then we can really control the quality and level of responsibility and trustworthiness towards end consumers."

He wants the platform to be the place consumers go to for Singapore-based furniture or brands that they can trust.

Currently, some companies have their own shopping sites while some make use of e-commerce sites like Alibaba.

Mr Yong sees a need to help SFIC's members get onto an e-commerce and mobile platform, so that "they can reach out to a wider customer base or even just to tackle the changing consumer behaviours".

The idea also stems from having shared services, such as logistics and co-marketing space, to lower operating costs for companies.

It is an "opportunity to use less space to present more", said Mr Yong, where a company can showcase its full range of designs with unlimited space online as compared to the limited space an offline showroom has.

He too has experienced how virtual and augmented reality (AR), which global furniture players have been using, can transform customer experience.

He plans to create more awareness of this technology here.

With AR, customers can experience how their home would look and feel with their chosen furniture even before they pay for them.

Said Mr Yong: "At first it was virtual reality (VR) - you had to have someone there doing all the programming for you, put in the floor plan, turn it into a 3D space, put in colours for you and then you just view it. That is step one.

"But now we can see augmented reality, where you can put on gloves and then use hand gestures to drop in (furniture) yourself when you are wearing the goggles. You can use your hand gestures to swipe, drop in things (and) change things."

In Singapore, Commune is believed to be the first in the furniture sector to offer VR to its customers.

The council's internationalisation strategy is also changing tack towards new and emerging markets.

Said Mr Yong: "In the past, traditionally strong markets would be the US and the Western European markets, but now Asia is becoming an area of importance; even some new economies like Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and Australia."

It is also increasingly popular to look at markets in South-east Asia, such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines, he added.

He said: "As these economies move towards the middle class, a lot of the consumers there are looking for a better life. So they look towards Singapore as a place that can provide them with good quality furniture ... and no worries about the issues of quality or delivery."

SFIC is also moving away from being furniture-centric to a greater ecosystem of five clusters, namely furniture manufacturers; retailers; designers and design studios; contract manufacturers; and materials and machinery suppliers, said Mr Yong.

This is so that they can have targeted strategies to help each cluster by deepening engagement and finding ways for cross cluster collaborations through its networking activities.

He also aims to expand its membership to these clusters.

Mr Yong is also looking to rejuvenate the industry by bringing in younger members such as second and third generation furniture players, and entrepreneurs.

Mr Yong, who is the youngest president at 38, said the average age of SFIC's executive committee members has dropped from 47 to 41.

Its youngest exco member is in her 20s.

He said young members join the council as they have a voice in the industry and they find the activities relevant to them.

They also take part in regional trade organisation and events to network and deepen friendships, building the foundation for future collaborations.

This article was first published on December 27, 2016.
Get The Business Times for more stories.