In less than a decade, Proof Living has successfully introduced a diverse mix of leading furniture brands to the Singapore scene. Its head of operations, Yung Ong, talks about growth and lessons learnt.
7 March, 2012
We’re seated in the new Great Outdoors showroom, Proof Living’s brand new outdoor furniture boutique and just one of many projects that has kept Yung Ong and his team busy over many months.
Kenneth Cobonpue’s collection at the new Great Outdoors showroom in Devonshire Road.
Also to be launched soon is a homeware and accessory store called Gilt & Folly, which will be located next to the new Poltrona Frau retail space at Scotts Square.
The Poltrona Frau flagship showroom, which opened late last year at Scotts Square.
Yung’s entry into the furniture retail business with Proof Living happened quite by chance when, in 2003, the then 23-year-old law graduate was persuaded by his mum to help out with the family business.
Yung’s first instinct was to get involved with the family’s bar and restaurant ventures, but his dad had other ideas.
“We had already been in office furniture for awhile and in 2004, my father wanted to diversify the business,” says Yung, referring to Vanguard Interiors.
“It had been 13 years [with Vanguard Interiors] and he had already been in the business for more than 20 years. He felt that in order for us to take the next leap it only made sense that we diversified into something that was similar to what we were already doing. So residential furniture would be the natural progression,” says Yung, who was handed the reigns in this new venture.
Fred and Ginger by Poltrona Frau
“Back than we were a little naïve. We thought that since we knew so much about office furniture, residential furniture wouldn’t be too different… But honestly, the 2 products are so different and the industry is even more different than the products.
“It was a greater challenge than we expected. We did worse the second year than we did the first. That was really a shocker for me.”
Brooklyn by Poltrona Frau
Detractors, Yung recalls, would bring up the team’s youth and lack of experience. “In some ways as defiant as I was to what people would say, there is some truth in that. But the most important thing that I learnt is that you must achieve stability. You need to be able to retain people. The group that grows with you, especially in the beginning through those hard years, are the people who learn all the lessons with you.”
The Atelier collection – new line of small leather accessories by Poltrona Frau.
A fortuitous meeting with Poltrona Frau, says Yung, had an important part to play in their decision to move into this new area of the business.
“The sales director for Asia [at Poltrona Frau] met my father and told him about this brand that basically sold itself because of its deep heritage in leather and its association with Singapore Airlines and Ferrari,” says Yung. “I fell in love with the brand, and I felt really strongly, after they told me the story and showed me the products… that we would be able to develop a following.”
Today, apart from Poltrona Frau, Proof Living carries a diverse and carefully curated list of brands such as Barbara Barry, Vitra, Zanotta, Riva 1920, Walter Knoll, Kenneth Cobonpue and Paola Lenti.
Proof Living showroom at ION Orchard
“We carry the different brands for different purposes. They all have their own different personalities and heritage… we do a lot of soul searching amongst ourselves into what we think would be good for the market here. We want to show people something different,” Yung explains.
The response to Barbara Barry, in particular, has been overwhelming.
Bracelet chair by Barbara Barry
“I think we are probably her most important market worldwide… we are trying to give people more options, and I think that’s what really drove our decision to do something radical which was to bring Barbara Barry to Singapore.
“It’s extremely different for us, and extremely different for the market as well, because you don’t see many American brands represented in Singapore, or any, in fact,” says Yung. Again, detractors were back in force. “They were saying American furniture can’t work in Singapore, there just isn’t any demand, the items are too big, our homes here are just too modern to accept that kind of design and style… we found that not to be the case,” says Yung. “I think we shocked even ourselves.”
Crescent Console by Barbara Barry
“When Barbara came to visit us at the end of 2010, we had a turnout of about 500 people and everybody came and queued up to meet her personally and get her autograph… she has an even stronger following than anyone could possibly imagine.”
Yung says the team is now looking to grow the company’s presence in Malaysia and Indonesia, but nothing is set in stone.
“We try to plan as far ahead as possible, but most of the time opportunities just arise when you don’t expect to be doing something.”
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