How a 16th century sculptor inspired Singaporean furniture brand Cellini


d has come a long way since then. Recently, it was ranked No.1 for its customer service in the premium furniture retail sector in Singapore.

The home-grown designer brand took the top spot in a survey of over 1,600 brands across 93 categories that was conducted by the Singapore Straits Times and Statista, the world’s leading data and business intelligence portal.

“We are 36 years old this year, and right now we have 57 stores in four countries, with two factories in Indonesia and one in Malaysia. Our headquarters is in Singapore, and all the designs come from here,” Janice Tan, Cellini’s regional retail marketing director and shareholder, told Inside Retail.

Things are looking up

When the pandemic first hit the Asian markets, Tan explained that the company was preparing for the economic downturn that would follow. But, surprisingly, the lockdowns and social movement restrictions in Asia actually had a positive effect on the company’s bottomline and the whole furniture industry.

“We were bracing ourselves for any eventuality, but it turned out that as people were staying home so much, their need to furnish their homes only grew, and we saw growth in all of our markets, in Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore,” she said.

The company also benefited from advanced planning in the sourcing of its raw materials. In some cases, it was even getting them ready half a year in advance.

“With all the global logistics issues, backlogs and shipping containers not arriving at the ports, this was affecting our competitors who relied on getting their supplies from China, while our operations in Indonesia and Malaysia were always running at full capacity,” she said.

Tan explained that since Cellini is a manufacturer-cum-retailer, the impact of supply chain delays on the customer is minimised. Although the company’s profit margins have become thinner as a result of the current economic headwinds, its growth trajectory is still positive.

Nuances matter

For the uninitiated, Cellini is one of the few companies in the region that consolidates different production facilities, such as metal, solid wood, veneer fabrication, panelling, sewing, upholstery and spray painting, all under one roof. 

“We have a good mixture of state-of-the-art machinery and well-trained craftsmen who have stayed with the company for long periods of time. We have retained our employees well, and we have a low turnover rate across the board,” she added.

According to Tan, customers have consistently given feedback about the long-lasting nature of their products with most of them retaining their look and overall quality even after a decade of use.

This gives Cellini a major edge over all the other furniture brands in the Asian marketplace. Tan said the company is ensuring this mantra continues as it grows its product portfolio.

“We are not really in a niche market, as we cater to the middle and upper middle class demographic, so we need to be very careful with our pricing strategies,” she noted.

As the company’s main pool of customers have higher disposable incomes as a result of working from home and less travelling, the company has been enjoying steady growth, despite the global economic situation over the last few years.

“Our market has been quite bullish in the last few years, with an increase of about 80 per cent in terms of revenue year on year. Interestingly, the spending habits and purchasing patterns in our main markets are quite similar across the board as well,” she stated.

Does e-commerce matter?

When it comes to the furniture space, especially in the Southeast Asian marketplace, physical stores are extremely important as customers need to have the tactile experience, to touch and feel the products in the flesh.

According to Tan, while physical stores are almost a prerequisite for their business, one cannot ignore the fact that e-commerce and the overall digital experience is becoming a far more important factor for the brand in the long term.

“E-commerce is very essential, and when we were at the height of the pandemic, we were ready with our virtual showroom, and this was when all of our 50 stores were shut, so the online avenue was the only lifeline we had,” she said.

Tan revealed that many customers end up making purchases online after viewing WhatsApp videos, fabric recommendation videos and other digital content, so, in her mind, online is critical as the first point of contact.

“If customers are impressed with what they see online, they will make a trip to our stores to buy big ticket items. Right now, e-commerce sales constitute less than 10 per cent of our revenue,” she noted.

Embracing augmented reality

Tan said that Cellini is currently exploring the possibilities around augmented reality and is thinking about rolling out this feature soon.

“Apple has approached us with some of the apps in this AR space, but the offerings are not that stable from a technological standpoint, so we are waiting for future iterations and then [we will] make some decisions on it,” she said.

Specifically, she said that the apps are not very accurate in their scaling and sizing, so the company is not very keen on signing up to this service just yet.

“There is no point rushing into something just to be first in line. At the moment, our virtual showroom is doing a good job, but of course once better AR apps come along, we will definitely look into implementing it,” she stressed.

Tan went on to explain that the company is always keeping abreast of the latest technologies and trends in the marketplace, and is a frequent visitor to international trade shows like the Milan Furniture Fair.

“Besides that, we work closely with our vendors, to see what’s going on in component technologies, and this is perhaps more important to us than just seeing what is trending in the industry,” she said.

The future beckons

When it comes to catering to different age groups and demographics, the brand is always fine tuning its offerings to ensure it taps into the zeitgeist of the marketplace.

“Our customers in the 25 to 30 [age] range are often looking for updated designs, bold colours and new textures, while the older age groups are more attuned to comfort, lumbar support and functional attributes,” she said.

According to Tan, the brand is always laser-focused on customer feedback and goes to great lengths to ensure its products are in the sweet spot to maintain top of mind awareness among its clientele.

“Customers in their 40s and even [through to] their 70s are still our main target, but having said that, younger customers are finding us on social media, and we are able to engage and connect with them. So we are happy to see younger buyers interested in our products,” she said.

Last but not least, Tan revealed that the company is looking into expanding into a new market in the Asian region by 2023 but is tight-lipped about the details.

“We are definitely going to continue with our expansion plans in our current markets of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. But by next year, we should be in a new market in Asia, unfortunately I can’t disclose anything further at this point,” she concluded.


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