Value for money.
That in a nutshell is the driving proposition of one of Western Australia’s top furniture retailers – Furniture Bazaar. Set up in 2004 in Perth, Western Australia, it boasts showrooms in Cannington, Cockburn, Joondalup, Mandurah, Midland, Osborne Park and Rockingham, all some 80 kilometers from the central business district.
Girish Shah, owner, managing director and chief buyer of Furniture Bazaar, takes pride in his company’s evolution as a lower-end furniture retailer to a medium-end one. He says: “We’ve managed to grow from 2004 to 2017, but the past two years have been difficult because of the downturn in the economy.
“People’s minds were shut off to buying, and we couldn’t hire new staff.”
A slowdown, however, hasn’t dimmed Shah’s optimism for brighter days to roll around once more. They completed a rebranding exercise that was rolled out in November. “We are confident of a turn around by mid to end of next year,” he declares. “We’ve been in this game for a while, and that has meant we’ve developed our expertise.
“For us, the most important thing is that we’ve also developed empathy. Not only do we appreciate the unrecognized challenges of buying furniture, we understand what that piece means personally for each buyer.
“We refuse to participate in a retail market that leverages on consumer ignorance. Instead, we are known to play by our own set of rules. Our business is built on a foundation of honesty and transparency – which is manifested in the way we reward our staff to the prices we offer customers. We believe in reaching a fair result for everyone.”
Besides earning a reputation as a dependable supplier of “value lounges [also tagged as sofas, couches or divans],” the furniture importer believes they appeal to customers due to their immediate stock availability and customer service. “Where others are all about mark ups, we make sure that the price we charge truly represents the value of our products. So, customers walk away with both a purchase and the empowerment that comes from striking a good deal.
“To us, ‘better’ means more than a price tag – it’s recognising and catering to the real needs of our neighbourhood. ‘Furniture for every life is our motto.’ ”
The “neighbourhood” that Shah and his competitors serve consists of the 1.8 million people who reside in Perth and its surroundings. About 400 big and small furniture retailers operate in the market. Apart from Furniture Bazaar shops, customers can also browse on an online platform, going through a variety of excellent images. To further differentiate themselves from the rest, Shah and his 58-member team offer a number of service benefits. These include the customization of lounges, which, according to Shah, could entail the addition of an extra seat, adding a chaise to the end portion or an electric reclining function, instead of a manual one; free delivery or free pick up of old lounges and mattresses; reselection of furniture in case the piece does not seem to fit with existing pieces; free assembly of heavy tables; free call outs and repair within warranty periods; a 60-day mattress comfort guarantee; the sharing of product rating information; and availability of ready stock.
The boss adds that part of the sales consultants’ training sees them visiting major mattress factories in Perth to learn and understand more comprehensively about the manufacturing process. “So, they can explain the product better when they are selling,” Shah says. “Retail success is always dependent on ensuring the customer has full trust in your product and offerings. Hence, the reason that all our showrooms are located in areas where there is a concentration of furniture stores, as this helps customers compare prices with the competition.
“We also make sure our stores’ layout is easy to navigate and people can easily identify the product range and visualize the products in the package.” The demographics that Furniture Bazaar attracts are usually female shoppers between 25 and 54 years of age. While regular promotions are part of the strategy to spur spending, the Black Friday sale (usually the Friday after the US celebrates Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November) and post-Christmas sale are the time when stocks move effortlessly out the door.
As a furniture importer, the enterprise relies on China, Malaysia and Vietnam to keep its showrooms and storerooms well filled. Shah says the best lounges come from China; the best pieces for the bedroom and dining room from Malaysia and Vietnam, which is also a byword in the field of veneers and timber products.
Shah stresses his partiality to forging “partnerships with suppliers who share our commitment to reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Partners like Ashley Furniture of Vietnam, which is very conscious about the environment as well another company in China that works in high gloss but is very clear about how the whole process is done; how their workers are fully protected; and where their chemicals are stored and how they’re disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.”
He adds: “When sourcing laminates, foam, fabrics and wood core materials, we look for products that carry green certifications from industry specific, third party organisations.” Current trends and market preferences are certainly important to monitor, says Shah, but these continue to shift, and shouldn’t prevent furniture retailers from having a core range in stock which sells easily. What’s been popular lately are models from Scandinavia, while those that project the look and feel of velvet are also “hot” with buyers. “Earlier, it was hydraulic bar stools,” Shah reports. “Now, its fourlegged ones. So, one has to keep on tracking trends.” The latest aesthetics and products available in the furniture realm are showcased at regional events such as the Malaysian International Furniture Fair (MIFF) and Export Furniture Exhibiton(FFE) in Kuala Lumpur; the China International Furniture Fair (CIFF) in both Guangzhou and Shanghai; and the Vietnam International Furniture and Home Accessories (VIFA-Expo).
Where does Shah see the market heading? He believes there is now an emerging preference for “short-term furniture [shelf] life.” He explains: “Earlier customers wanted a lounge to last from 10 to 15 years. Now they are happy to keep it for five years. They want to upgrade in a shorter time than before.”
But no matter the time frame, Furniture Bazaar is here to stay – and well entrenched in its customers’ lives.