Furniture, beddings and home furnishings are so basic to a comfortable life that we often take these for granted. But to entrepreneur Jenny Koh, basic should never mean sacrificing quality.
Her company, Matsushita Greatwall Corporation, aims to be known as the best brand when it comes to these pre-requisites to creating spaces that are both productive and welcoming. So much so that she acquired an ailing 21-year-old company in 1989 because she saw the potential of building up the business. “Like food, we need to eat it every day. Likewise, we need to have a good night sleep in order to stay happy and healthy.”
“We, therefore, saw opportunities in the long term for premium sleep and rest solutions. We researched and looked into world-class international brands to add into our repertoire as it gives a higher and better perceived value to the customers.”
Now, targeting the consumer and hospitality market around the region and beyond, Matsushita Greatwall boasts some 2,000 employees worldwide – of whom, 300 are Singapore based – and warehouse space of one million square feet.
From manufacturing economically priced bedding products, Koh claims her company, which marked its 50th anniversary recently– has grown to be the largest manufacturer and distributor of premium pocketed mattresses, divans, household furniture, sofas, sofa beds, bed accessories and bed linens. She explains: “As we increased the product lines we had, we also expanded our markets from the mass to include the more affluent. From being a Mom n’ Pop entity, we entered the major department stores in Singapore. Recently, we opened the doors of two Ashley Homestores on 67 Sungei Kadut Drive and 12 Kallang Way, with a flagship King Koil Gallery on Marina Square, level 3.”
As the licensed owner and manufacturer for the King Koil brand of mattresses in the Lion City and Brunei, Koh’s company also handles top brands from the UK and Australia such as Dorma, Silentnight and Stylemaster. Koh says: “We do everything ourselves in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, in terms of manufacturing and distribution
In other countries, we work and collaborate with either strategic partners or distributors of our brands to run it for us.
“We are also going global by appointing an exclusive distributor for our brands or go into joint venture with local partners.”
With the added advantage of having its own factory, Matsushita Greatwall can cater to customers’ special requests within a short lead time. “This has enabled us to gain the trust and loyalty of retailers,” Koh observes. “Our reputation has become that of a one-stop solution for someone’s furniture and home furnishing needs.”
Present in 200 outlets across Singapore, including retail heavyweights Takashimaya and Robinson on Orchard Road as well as Harvey Norman, Courts and specialists stores in the suburban areas, Matsushita Greatwall is certainly well represented in the Lion City in shop sizes ranging from 1,000 sq ft to 8,000 sq ft.
Then, it also supplies to key five-star hotels in Singapore such as Fullerton Bay, Ritz Carlton, Marriott, Shangri La, Pan Pacific, Grand Hyatt, Orchard Scotts Residence, Mandarin Orchard and the CDL hotels among others. The National University of Singapore and the military camps are also customers of Matsushita Greatwall’s product lines.
For those consumers with no time to shop, they can access Sleepwell.sg and Qoo10.sg to check on Matsushita Greatwall’s goods and order straightaway.
Other markets Mastsushita Greatwall is active in includes Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Europe and Madagascar.
Koh, who is Group Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director, cites the “7Ps” as the guiding light of their direction. “We’re constantly referring to them in order to improve.”
Price: “We work on differentiated pricing strategies for the variety of brands that we carry.
Promotion: “We work on intensive advertising to increase brand awareness amongst our customers. We promote huge warehouse sales to reward our loyal customers by giving them a first hand seat at our new launches and products, and we work on special offers for them throughout the year.
People: “We strive to provide the best customer service to our customers by giving warranties for products purchased. We treat our staff with utmost respect and we value a good and collaborative culture with them
Place: “We ensure that our products are easily reachable by our customers by ensuring that we are located at all major shopping areas in Singapore through distribution of our products at major departmental stores. We are also trying to aggressively enter the e-commerce market.
Product: “We constantly innovate and improve on the design, quality, value, technologies, variety and usefulness of the product and brands that we have. We have a team of product development specialist to study the market and trends and to R&D for new products.
Process: “We have a well-tailored process in place to minimize costs and increase effectiveness. We are also working on to tighten up these processes to minimize costs and maximise profits
Physical Environment: “We are the biggest mattress, bedding and living room providers in the market, thus our band has good physical and psychological evidence in our marketing.
What differentiates Matsushita Greatwall from the competition? Koh declares: “We also highlight R&D as a means to improve our products and work with various suppliers to bring in better products that can enhance our product mix which could further improve the quality of sleep and lives of our customers.
According to Koh, their customer profile is not static, as their different brands attract a specific set of buyers. But generally, Matsushita Greatwall targets the mass and affluent sectors within the 25 to 55 age groups. “We constantly innovate to cater for the needs of the whole spectrum of the consumers as they are all important to us. From young, to the mature seniors, we have a product line or brand that will engage them,” says Koh.
To satisfy Matsushita Greatwall’s exacting standards, suppliers are required to undergo “vigorous quality and service evaluations before being accredited to us,” according to Koh, who adds: “We do our research and check testing testimonials to ensure credibility of suppliers.” Sources of product lines include Denmark, the US, Europe and throughout Asia. A collaboration with Ashley Furniture Industries, reportedly the US’ largest furniture manufacturer, is working out nicely.
The importance of follow through service is not lost on the Matsushita Greatwall team. Says Koh: “We provide warranty for our mattresses and sofas. We also provide delivery services for bulky items and we allow exchanges for items on a case to case basis.
“Our customer service guys do house visits to help solve any issues our customers have. Additionally, we are able to do customised work based on the requirements and needs of the company,” Koh reports.
Digital and social media has expectedly put more pressure on the company to stay many steps ahead of today’s clientele. Says Koh: “They’re more affluent and more in the know. Normally, they first research online on existing brands and products before selecting a few that will look at in the stores.”
“Since most departmental stores are on the e-commerce platform, prices are very transparent and customers are very aware of the market price of the various brands that carry similar products, thus making them price conscious and sensitive.”
Currently the aesthetics influencing millennial shoppers tend toward the minimalist and industrial as coming from the Scandinavian school. “Very modern and less grand and opulent,” Koh comments. “The direction is also toward being more health conscious, which makes us try to inject our products with some health-related value add-ons such as negative ions etc.
As Matsushita Greatwall forges into the new year, it projects to grow by 10 percent annually. Yet, it is aware of the constant challenge of managing people and costs. It continues to explore ways to train and retrain employees “to allow them to excel their area of expertise as well as to attract more talented and capable people to join us.”
Koh adds: “As technology advances, we are also moving in that direction by working on to be more digital and technological savvy. We will look into investing in technology to further improve our company.”
AN ADVANTAGE OF AESTHETICS
Furniture and Furnishings Export International (FFEI): The furniture industry is dominated by men. What has it been like for you operating in this kind of environment?
Jenny Koh (JK): Today’s female executives are more driven and independent. However, it is still not easy. It takes lots of guts and grit, and one has to learn the ropes of the industry. Our advantage, however, is that we are more meticulous and in tune with aesthetics. Thus, we are able to see furniture, furnishings and beddings, not as a product or commodity, but as a lifestyle element. Females always try to view things in different perspectives, which gives us a holistic 360-degree approach, which is essential in this industry.
FFEI: Have you encountered any challenges from male employees, who may have difficulty working for female boss? If yes, how did you deal with such situations?
JK: I think it is essential to be passionate in what you do. This will motivate you to earn more about the industry. By being logical, no-nonsense and hands on has allowed me to do this and build relationships and trust with the stakeholders I work with, including the employees.
FFEI: How about dealing with suppliers, who may also be mostly male?
JK: It is important to know the work that you do and the industry you operate in. This, coupled with a can-do and no-nonsense attitude, helps to you eventually gain the respect of your suppliers. A close and loyal relationship with them has allowed me to gain their trust and support so we are able to work collaboratively for a win-win situation for both parties.
FFEI: What is your advice to other women, who are starting out in the future industry and are already hold top management positions?
JK: You will need to have lots of will-power and guts and a positive outlook about succeeding. Being very hands on helps as it allows you to learn more. Most importantly, learning is a journey, so it is important to continue to improve through training and education.