When Khoo V-Ho was 22 years old, he was gearing up to graduate from law school. But two months before his CLP examination, his dad passed away.
His family had been in the furniture business for the past 35 years, and instead of letting it end with his father’s passing, V-Ho decided to take up the mantle.
Two years later, V-Ho’s sister, Giselle Khoo, decided to quit her studies. Around the same time, an opportunity to start a business together in a premium location in Georgetown came up, so the duo decided to go for it.
To pay homage to their late father, the Khoos decided to name the business Dad’s Woods, simultaneously pivoting to focus specifically on wooden products.
Their father’s business, called Eng Wha Home Centre, sold a variety of products from mattresses and sofas to tables and cabinets. While V-Ho had obviously frequented the store, he was never quite involved with it.
“During high school, I’ve been to some furniture fairs with my dad, but in terms of business and operations, I had zero experience,” V-Ho said.
But the furniture store wasn’t technically V-Ho’s first brush with entrepreneurship, as he had attempted to start a clothing line and a solid perfume line in his youth.
Still, as V-Ho put it: “It’s one thing to know how to work and sell something, it’s another thing to run a business and manage staff.”
Being only 22 at the time, he faced some doubt, but he admitted that a lot of the time, the pressure came from within. He said it involved a lot of insecurity and getting unnecessarily defensive.
Thankfully, old staff members would help out and support V-Ho as he kept up with the operations. At the same time, he saw the potential in his father’s business, and felt that it could also use an upgrade.
“I always wanted to build a brand that is from Malaysia and, specifically, Penang,” he explained.
When the opportunity arose, V-Ho jumped on it. It started when his friend was going out of business, and asked him if he wanted to take up the lot.
As it was set in a premium retail location, V-Ho felt that it was an attractive offer that he couldn’t pass up. At that point, he had also been already selling wood slabs for about eight months, so he decided to go all-in with that.
And thus, with his sister on board, Dad’s Woods was truly born.
Proponents of Malaysian wood
V-Ho got his start with wood when he was looking for pieces to upgrade their offerings in the family business.
“I was just thinking if I were to start something in Malaysia, wood seems to be the most natural way to go, because Malaysia has amazing timber,” V-Ho reasoned.
V-Ho believes that Malaysians tend to sit on a lot of premium resources without appreciating them or making use of them properly. Instead, he sees people taking timber just as a raw material to export and make fast cash.
“When I was starting the business, the idea was to start something with the best of Malaysian materials, with good designs, good branding in mind, and do something that is truly original and Malaysian,” he said.
The high-end, bespoke nature of Dad’s Woods pieces is a reflection of his mentality, as V-Ho believes the exclusive designs keep the integrity of the product itself. After all, the nature of wood, and solid wood specifically, is already premium, and the starting cost is already high.
All of the timber used in Dads Woods’ pieces are locally sourced, mainly from Peninsular Malaysia, though V-Ho would like to explore different regions if possible.
The wood is manufactured in Penang, and some of the upholstery work is done in Semenyih, so even local craftsmanship is utilised to create Dad’s Woods pieces.
When asked whether he ever doubted his decision to pursue a business in furniture, V-Ho admitted that he has had his moments.
“When times are hard, like during the pandemic, you just constantly ask yourself, ‘Why, why are you doing this?’” he expressed. “You see your peers are still working, they’re still getting their salary. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was zero [income for us].”
Back then, Dad’s Woods had not ventured into the e-commerce space, and V-Ho was convinced that no one would buy their furniture online, what more during the pandemic.
“There’s no way people are going to buy a sofa or a table at this price point without having to see the product,” he recalled.
But still, cash flow was getting low, and they had to try something. The first thing the brand did was to just try and clear its inventory. Products were sold at a discounted price.
On top of that, V-Ho also started to design new pieces and come up with smaller trinkets.
Today, Dad’s Woods has over 8K followers, and V-Ho has realised that it is in fact possible to sell furniture even if physical stores are closed.
No longer a necessity
For the rest of 2022, Dad’s Woods will be focusing on fulfilling short-term goals. In fact, V-Ho already has the whole year lined up with new launches, fairs, and projects.
“I would definitely want a studio in KL to meet my clients,” he added. “Right now, most of my clients travel to Penang to see me.”
During our interview, I asked him about something he said in an article with Home Journal. He had mentioned that he went into the furniture business out of necessity. I wondered how that has changed through the years.
“I did that interview some two years ago,” V-Ho said. “The business is at a very different place now, so, I’m happy that I made the decision, and… yeah,” he finished with a smile, letting his and Giselle’s achievements thus far speak for themselves.
Featured Image Credit: Dad’s Woods