By Kami Navarro
For avid Pinterest users and dedicated fans of The Sims’ build mode, there is perhaps no greater satisfaction than stumbling upon the perfect piece of furniture that could make your dream room come alive. In real life, the same feeling holds true. Through tastefully decorated showrooms displaying their best wares, furniture stores like Choice Furniture entice customers—allowing them to discover the possibilities offered by a well-designed space.
In what has become a familiar refrain in this pandemic era, for Choice Furniture, everything changed when COVID-19 struck local shores. With their physical showroom temporarily shuttered due to tightened measures to contain the virus’ spread, leading to reduced footfall even after the circuit breaker, the stalwart of Singapore’s furniture scene had no choice but to expand their online operations, or risk being left behind.
But with support from the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) SMEs Go Digital programme, Choice Furniture rose to the occasion. Here’s how they gave their showroom—and their business—a much-needed upgrade.
Breaking free from tradition
According to Mr Dan Ng, who currently handles digital marketing and business development at Choice Furniture, his parents decided to venture into the furniture business in 1997. Starting out with a store in Bukit Panjang Plaza, the enterprising family frequently showed off their products at the mall’s furniture fairs—later expanding to three showrooms at Rochor Centre. Throughout the two decades, Choice Furniture kept up with the trends of the times—offering everything from minimalist Scandinavian-inspired furnishings to intricate, bespoke pieces.
“We are currently moving towards more custom-made furniture,” explained Mr Ng. “That means customers will usually come to our showroom, where they choose the different materials and colours that we can customise.”
Though Choice Furniture’s showrooms were buzzing with customers pre-pandemic, Mr Ng—a true-blue digital native—saw how more and more people were turning to online platforms for their furnishing needs. For the company to survive, it was crucial for them to keep up and evolve with the times. According to Mr Ng, It was around this time that he learnt of the Government's active encouragement for SMEs to adopt digital solutions, leading him to research about the many benefits offered by the SMEs Go Digital programme.
Heartened by what he had read, Mr Ng kickstarted the process of digital transformation for Choice Furniture by shortlisting relevant solutions—and eventually revamping Choice Furniture’s e-commerce portal by September 2019. This step was made possible with the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) under SMEs Go Digital, which provided funding support for their pre-approved solution.
We had a website in 2016 that was not specifically used for e-commerce. There was a lot of issues with the backend. When the government announced the PSG, we decided to revamp our website as we know there is a better system out there for e-commerce.
Their move proved to be timely; as COVID-19 made its way to Singapore in early January 2020, the store at least already had a user-friendly, responsive e-commerce site.
Thriving thanks to digital
Still, the company’s darkest days were yet to come. For three months during Singapore’s circuit breaker period, Choice Furniture couldn’t open their showroom, resulting in a drop in revenue. On top of that, Choice Furniture faced stiff competition from other established e-commerce furniture shops, spurring them to think of new ways to better engage customers in the digital era.
“It was very hard for us to show furniture to the customers as they wanted to still see the items in person,” lamented Mr Ng. Luckily, the website they made with the help of PSG proved to be a useful avenue for showcasing their products and reaching customers online. From actively promoting their products on social media to taking on Facebook Messenger chats and video calls to virtually give customers that personal touch, Mg Ng and his parents also seized all opportunities to grow their digital presence.
We always thought it would be impossible to sell our storage beds online because everything is custom-made. But surprisingly, we have managed to sell more custom-made storage beds and sofas in this past year.
Collectively, their efforts led to a 50 percent increase in sales revenue—cushioning the impact brought about by the circuit breaker and other safe management measures. “Through online channels, we could reach out to more shoppers because once we answer their enquiries through online chats, they proceed to shop on our website!” enthused Mr Ng.
Having reaped digital gains even amidst hardship thanks to SMEs Go Digital, Choice Furniture has expanded even onto Lazada and is now looking to tap on human resource systems and billing solutions with PSG support. Indeed, thanks to the digital solutions and grants, Mr Ng has observed an uptick in productivity.
For all these reasons, he is now a firm advocate for embracing technology as a tool for growth and change—and time is of the essence.
It's very important for SMEs especially to start adopting new technologies because the competition out there—regardless of what industry you're in—is very stiff. If you don't do it now, when more players come into the industry, it is going to be even more competitive.
Photos by Cyril Ng
Feeling inspired by Choice Furniture’s digital journey? The SMEs Go Digital programme aims to help SMEs use digital technologies and build stronger digital capabilities to seize growth opportunities in the digital economy. Find out more about the SMEs Go Digital programme here.