Helping smart home dreams become reality in Singapore

IMAGINE having the ability to control your different home electronics with a touch of your phone. Or, being able to let in visitors to your home and monitor them without being physically present.

It may sound like a fantasy from an Iron Man movie, but such smart homes are increasingly becoming more common here, thanks to the govern-ment's Smart Nation push.

This rising interest in smart homes was not lost on Tony Tan, founder and managing director of home solutions provider Titantt.

A veteran with more than 20 years of experience in the interior design and home furnishings industry, he took a leap of faith two years ago and started Titantt. He was joined by director Tasso Chan shortly after the company was set up.

Titantt aims to fill a gap in the market for high-quality but affordable home automation systems, kitchens and feature walls that cater to Singapore's climate and lifestyle.

Making the switch

As an interior designer previously, Mr Tan often met clients who wanted smart homes with features such as security gates and motion sensors. But a decade ago, such systems were exorbitant and uncommon.

As he was pondering over how to offer such gadgets at an affordable price, he chanced upon what he was looking for overseas. All in the span of the last two years, Titantt managed to get exclusive deals with overseas suppliers to bring in their products.

It was also only six months ago that the company managed to secure and move into its current premises strategically located at Tai Seng. The area is about 5,000 square feet with the luxury of space to feature multiple showrooms for customers to see and feel their products.

"Before this, the company operated out of an office cum warehouse in Balestier of less than 2,000 square feet. Our meeting room was also our showroom," says marketing director Chia TY.

Changing the atmosphere

Within their new premises, there is an area located at the back which the company informally calls the "community centre". The space has tables, chairs, shelves, books and samples for interior designers to bring their customers down to make use of their venue and resources for free, says Mr Chia.

He explains that this is based on the company's philosophy to build synergy, and not walls.

"In this trade, the atmosphere is quite negative as people don't want to share information and keep trying to undercut each other, so the founder aims to change the business mood. What we want to do is invite interior designers to use our resources, with no obligations or commissions," he says.

He says that interior design firms generally have small offices and it might be challenging to invite customers in for meetings lasting more than two hours.

Mr Chia says that their only request to interior designers who use their place is to take a look at their products and showrooms. "If they can integrate our products into their home designs, great. If not, just use the place and the free air-con," he quips.

Another way that the company is aiming to change people's minds about the industry is by paying attention to quality and service standards.

Mr Chia says that in the interior design industry, there're a lot of "black sheep" and "service standards are a mixed bag".

"It is often a price war and quality control is a nightmare . . . there's often no one to grade us and it's all by word of mouth," he says.

So, whether customers like it or not, Mr Chia says the company makes it a priority to sit down with them to make sure they understand all the details.

Their products are protected with two years' warranty for products and installation on manufacturing defects, with life-time warranty for kitchen hardware. As a means of quality control, the company does not even rely on third-party installations as they want to be responsible for the full process.

"We want to build trust, which is important for both interior designers and home owners," explains Mr Chia.

Automation systems

One of their biggest draws is the home automation systems. Electronics such as lighting, air conditioner, television and even curtain blinds can now be integrated into one central device or smartphone.

Such smart homes are becoming a trend, says Mr Chia. This can be attributed to the government's drive to introduce such technologies in public housing. The Housing & Development Board's first smart housing district in Punggol was launched for sale last year and it is likely that such technologies will continue to be rolled out in future housing estates.

However, smart-home systems are not just a feel-good, high-tech device for the young and rich to play with, explains Mr Chia. With an ageing population, such technology can be very helpful for those with mobility issues.

For example, opening a curtain may be a difficult task for an elderly person with arthritis or a young child, but with an automated system it can be done with a touch of a button.

Aside from aiding aged dependants, such technology can also be used for security. With a smart home, people can install digital locks for hourly helpers or technicians to enter the home and this can be viewed from mobile.

"If you go overseas and forget your switches, you can do it from your mobile instead of causing security issues by getting someone to go in and switching them off as well," says Mr Chia.

He says the company's automated home systems are one of the more affordable ones in the market because they do not rely on any patented technology.

Mr Chia explains that their aim is to ensure their system is as "tech-friendly as possible" by making use of existing technology such as Wi-Fi, infrared and Bluetooth, and eliminating the need to spend additional money for licensing or patents.

Standing out

Titantt also takes care to carefully curate its products to ensure that they are suitable for the Singapore market.

First, their kitchens are modern, European style, which is in line with Singapore's preference for minimalist and contemporary design.

However, instead of using particle boards which are the norm for European kitchens, Titantt customises their kitchens by using moisture-resistant plywood which is more suitable for Singapore's humid, tropical weather.

Mr Chia adds that the 11-ply plywood that they use is much thicker and stronger than the local three-ply plywood. He says that the latter is susceptible to warping and may not provide adequate structural strength. It also may not provide resistance to termite attacks, which is a common issue faced by landed home owners.

In addition, he says that 90 per cent of local kitchens use a laminated finish, but the company uses spray finish, which he says is better quality.

Mr Chia adds that even though the company is fairly new, the company has garnered the support of strong partners. One of them is local building material supplier Hafary, which provides the premium kitchens' solid granite counter tops.

"Working with these local big boys has given us a lot of confidence," he says.

While he says that getting brand recognition and local manpower are some of their bugbears as a fledgling small and medium enterprise, the company will continue to aggressively market its brand within Singapore.

"We foresee that competitors will undercut us in the future as right now we are flying under the radar, but we hope to improve our service and quality and continue to bring high end products to the masses," concludes Mr Chia.

This article was first published on May 2, 2016.
Get The Business Times for more stories.