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Business Advice

A fitting success story

Futuristic Store Fixtures puts a premium on good service
The Straits Times - February 8, 2012
By: Joyce Teo
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A fitting success story Futuristic Store Fixtures CEO David Low. -- ST PHOTO: TED CHEN

A CHANCE meeting, a fluke that many bosses must dream about, was all it took to turn Futuristic Store Fixtures from a run-of-the mill local operator into a global player.

Well, a fluke and a fierce devotion to service have helped set the firm apart in the business of making fixtures such as shelves and countertops, mostly for stores in the fashion industry.

The lucky break came in 2003 when a friend introduced chief executive David Low to the vice-president of procurement of a major American firm.

At the time, Futuristic was doing fixtures only on a store-by-store basis, but the firm Bath And Body Works wanted to enhance 760 of its stores across North America.

Mr Low flew to Toronto to meet officials from the company. He put in a quotation a couple of months later and was given the job.

The task turned out to be a lot more daunting than he had expected - it was to produce and ship 30,000 pieces of furniture within two months.

'We were not ready. I was quite shocked actually,' says Mr Low. 'I asked to do half of it but they said no. It was all or nothing.

'It was like a life-and-death situation and I told myself, if I can make it happen, that may be the road to my future.'

Because Futuristic could not have done it alone, he mobilised seven facilities owned by other companies in Malaysia.

He spent two months in Kuala Lumpur to ensure everything went well. 'It was like fighting a war; you couldn't waste a day. Whenever there was a problem, we would solve it immediately.'

These days, Futuristic produces fixtures for as many as 1,500 shops a year.

It recorded sales of close to $40 million last year, up by 25 per cent from $32 million in 2010.

Mr Low projects that sales will grow by between 20 per cent and 40 per cent this year as it has just taken on a new client, which is a major sports brand.

'We only focus on retail clients, and because of that, we can only do better and better,' he says, adding that it is tough serving huge retail clients as they demand the same consistency across their stores worldwide.

'There's a high chance that you can get killed by the industry. You make one mistake and you have to compensate millions back.'

He learnt that lesson the hard way about six years ago when the paint on the firm's store fixtures had peeled off by the time they reached the United States.

The customer complained, of course, and Mr Low had the fixtures replaced at a cost of more than $2 million.

He is still fighting a legal case with the Malaysian paint supplier, which refused to own up and pay up.

'In China, the firm might just close shop rather than compensate the client. They will then start another firm,' says Mr Low. 'But we stand behind our client if there's a problem.'

This attention to service may explain why Futuristic is the preferred vendor for big brands, he says.

'The whole world is my market today. Today, China is growing very fast. Brands that we work with are going into China,' notes Mr Low, who turns 50 on Sunday.

'With the experience that we have with major brands and the goodwill, when they go into Asia or China, we are always the preferred vendor.'

Futuristic Store Fixtures is owned by investors in North America, Taiwan and Singapore. Mr Low has a fairly substantial stake.

The business was previously a part of the Sesdaq-listed general contracting firm called Futuristic Group. It was bought out in 2006 while the listed entity has become SingXpress.

The next major change is under way and has involved Mr Low uprooting his family in Singapore and moving to Shanghai, which is a half-hour drive from Kunshan, where the firm has a huge manufacturing facility.

Mr Low says he next plans to consolidate the firm's Malaysia operations, which consist of a metal factory, a wood factory and a warehouse in Shah Alam.

Futuristic employs about 300 factory workers and 40 administrative staff in Malaysia.

But it is in China, where the company has a workforce of a few hundred factory workers and 80 administrative staff, that the big moves will occur.

Futuristic is utilising only half of a 500,000 sq ft piece of land there, owned by Mr Low's Taiwanese partner.

It has received approval to build on the other half and intends to double its capacity there as early as this year.

But Mr Low will still keep his business headquarters - housed in a 1,400 sq ft office - in Singapore as he 'strongly believes in the Singapore brand'.



Ex-MD shines at making jewellery