danovel marcus wong
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Danovel, a renowned upholstery company based in Singapore, has a rich history that spans several generations.

Established in the 1960s by Marcus Wong’s grandfather, Koh Kee Khim, the company’s roots can be traced back to his early days as a young man in Shantou, China.

Driven by the allure of the Nanyang dream, Kee Khim migrated to Singapore in 1937 and took on various odd jobs until the 1950s, when he began learning the art of furniture making.

danovel founder koh kee khim
Founder Koh Kee Khim varnishing furniture / Image Credit: Danovel

This eventually led to him establishing Hock Hin Furniture Company, which was a pivotal time for the local furniture industry, since it coincided with the nation’s modernisation and the construction of public housing projects.

However, a devastating fire swept through the area in the 1970s, reducing many factories to ashes. Undeterred by the setback, Kee Khim rebuilt his business from scratch, only to face another setback when the government reclaimed the land two years later.

He had no choice but to relocate, and eventually settled in a shophouse at Bedok Reservoir, facing a new chapter filled with uncertainty.

How Danovel came about

Hock Hin Furniture Company
Hock Hin Furniture Company / Image Credit: Danovel

In 1985, a ray of hope shone upon them as they moved once again, this time to Gordon Industrial Building, situated behind the old SingPost building.

It was during this period that Hock Hin Furniture Company — mainly ran by Kee Khim’s youngest brother — underwent a transformation, rebranding itself as Novelty Furniture.

“Business was not that great, and it was tough,” lamented Marcus.

However, it was the 1990s that marked a turning point for the company. Marcus’s mother took the reins of the business, leaving her veterinary science job at the Singapore Turf Club to join the family enterprise.

Determined and tenacious, she became a traveling salesperson, visiting countless homes with a car full of fabric samples, promoting the company’s sofas. Her tireless efforts were bolstered by her simultaneous work as an insurance agent.

danovel furniture tanglin shopping centre
Sandra Koh (second generation) at Danovel’s new shop at Tanglin / Image Credit: Danovel

With some luck in 1996, one of our customers liked our service and product so much that we ended up doing a joint venture to open a retail outlet in Tanglin Shopping Centre. We were also known as ‘The Biggie Best Shop by Danovel’.

– Marcus Wong, third-generation owner of Danovel

This marked the beginning of Danovel’s foray into retail operations. In the 2000s, the company opened its second store in Singapore, Only Zest Livings, located in Park Mall.

Now run by the third generation

From an early age, Marcus developed a connection with the family business, accompanying his mother to work and immersing himself in the world of furniture. This exposure ignited his entrepreneurial spirit, prompting him to embark on small ventures, such as selling cookies to neighbours.

danovel three generations
The three generations of the Koh family / Image Credit: Danovel

As the eldest son, Marcus felt the traditional expectation to contribute to and eventually take over the family business. While he had thoughts of pursuing entrepreneurship independently, the opportunity to join Danovel presented itself as a headstart in his professional journey.

Describing Danovel as a non-traditional furniture company, Marcus emphasises their forward-looking approach.

What sets us apart is our commitment to investing in cutting-edge technology, including machinery and robotics, which enables us to combine traditional craftsmanship with modern technology. We can say we are the most advanced upholstery company in Singapore.

– Marcus Wong, third-generation owner of Danovel

The Computer Engineering and Computer Science graduate admitted that he faced a learning curve when he first started working at Danovel. However, his university training in engineering greatly contributed to his analytical thinking skills, enabling him to identify issues within the company and devise effective solutions.

To gain respect on his own merits and avoid being solely identified as the founder’s grandson, Marcus actively participated in furniture-making alongside the workers while leveraging his IT expertise to implement digital solutions and streamline operations.

By working side by side with the team, Marcus fostered a sense of unity and collaboration, building a strong foundation for Danovel’s growth. Today, he serves as the business development director for Danovel.

Danovel faced cashflow issues for the past 10 years

During the global financial crisis, Danovel encountered cashflow issues — it worsened due to the diminishing purchasing power of expatriate clients, and plagued them for the past 10 years.

To address rising rents in Singapore, Marcus made the bold decision to acquire the company’s own premises. This move required a leap of faith, and Marcus’ parents even mortgaged their family home to secure the showroom.

In addition to the property investment, Danovel also invested in a high-tech woodworking machine. However, this resulted in accumulating debts, forcing Marcus’ parents to dig deeper into their savings and eventually sell their investment property.

In total, they spent “a few million dollars” to keep the business afloat.

I could remember those tough days when I had to turn to my partner to borrow money to help me, as I tried to not ask for more help from my parents.

Despite the financial difficulties that our workers were unaware of, we still gave [them] the due bonus they deserved, as we wanted to [reward] them for their hard work.

– Marcus Wong, third-generation owner of Danovel
Image Credit: Danovel

To revive the business, Danovel shifted its focus from the slowing retail segment to targeting corporate B2B customers. Although this shift presented challenges due to limited resources, the company leveraged government support and implemented customer relationship management (CRM) systems to identify and reach out to potential clients.

Danovel also developed its own production work order system to streamline operations and ensure smooth workflow management.

Initially, implementing these changes required the sales team to take on additional responsibilities. However, with constant encouragement and continuous improvement efforts, Danovel successfully integrated these tools into its daily operations, leading to increased efficiency and better customer service.

Because of the many technologies that we have implemented, it has given us a leading edge. We are one of the few sofa companies that has a five-axis Computer Numerical Control (CNC) woodworking machine that enables us to build our own woodworking structure for our upholstery.

There was a project that required precise digital cutting of wood pieces, and because of our advanced machinery, we were faster and more cost-efficient. Thus, we were selected for the project.

Subsequently, we were approached by several other companies also requesting us to assist them with their manufacturing using our CNC machines.

– Marcus Wong, third-generation owner of Danovel

Turning COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity

When COVID-19 struck, Danovel faced a multitude of uncertainties, akin to “running in the dark”.

Marcus’ primary concern was the safety and job security of his employees. With a commitment to keeping his team gainfully employed and safe, he navigated through the crisis by taking proactive measures.

danovel masks
Masks made of fabric offcuts / Image Credit: Danovel

During the initial stage of COVID-19, there was a shortage of masks. Since we had a lot of fabric offcuts, we used them to make masks. During the lockdown, we were still able to work, as we applied through our local government authorities.

The masks we made were sold, and we donated most of the proceeds to the foreign workers living in Singapore.

– Marcus Wong, third-generation owner of Danovel

Furthermore, the arrival of a laser CNC machine at Danovel proved to be a fortuitous occurrence during the pandemic. Recognising an opportunity, the company ventured into the production of acrylic barriers.

“As sofa makers, we had zero knowledge, but we had to adapt and innovate,” remarked Marcus. Danovel successfully entered the market for acrylic barriers, selling them to offices and businesses.

As measures relaxed and people were allowed to return to their workplaces, the demand for acrylic barriers grew rapidly.

Within a short span of three weeks, many other companies also began offering similar products. This strategic move helped Danovel generate additional revenue and establish a foothold in a new market segment.

Additionally, the global lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic presented a unique opportunity for Danovel as a local manufacturer.

With overseas outsourcing rendered difficult, businesses turned to local suppliers. Danovel capitalised on this advantage by offering its services when international options were limited. This bolstered the company’s reputation and ensured a steady flow of projects and clients.

Danovel also partnered with a local entertainment company to modify their furniture. By swiftly adapting their expertise to meet the evolving needs of their clients, Danovel not only enhanced its revenue, but also solidified its reputation as a flexible and innovative furniture manufacturer.

Upholding quality and innovation

Danovel’s dedication to excellence and customer satisfaction has resulted in substantial growth.

Over the past five years, the company has achieved an impressive 80 per cent increase in revenue, highlighting its ability to thrive in a competitive market. This growth has solidified Danovel’s market presence and established the company as one of Singapore’s fastest-growing upholstery brands.

We do not focus on growth and revenue too much. I often share with my team that the existence of the company serves to provide them with opportunities for themselves, which would positively impact their families and their lives.

In all that we do, we have to give our very best and diligently provide our services to our clients. We believe that with this sincere approach, clients will continue looking for us, and success will come about.

– Marcus Wong, third-generation owner of Danovel
danovel made with passion
Danovel has been awarded with STB’s Made With Passion mark / Image Credit: Danovel

The company’s commitment to quality craftsmanship and local production was acknowledged by the Singapore Tourism Board, which awarded Danovel the prestigious Made With Passion Singapore mark. This recognition celebrates the brand as a local industry leader, renowned for its commitment to delivering high-quality products.

Furthermore, Danovel’s involvement in national defense efforts was acknowledged through its feature in the MINDEF Total Defence Awards, showcasing its dedication to serving the community.

Looking back on Danovel’s journey so far, Marcus said that his vision for the company’s future is centred on two primary goals.

Firstly, the company aims to provide customers with good value and quality furniture, reflecting its commitment to craftsmanship and customer satisfaction.

Secondly, Danovel has embarked on an exciting venture by creating a mass market e-commerce brand, Zest Livings, which offers customisability and convenience by employing a just-in-time manufacturing model.

The brand provides affordable, high-quality upholstered furniture, comparable to imported pieces in the Asian market. This new initiative not only allows Danovel to explore franchising opportunities, but also enables the company to expand its reach into overseas markets, promoting its homegrown furniture brand globally.

Reflecting on lessons from the past generations, Marcus added that his mother and grandfather had instilled valuable lessons that continue to guide him in his leadership role.

His mother emphasised the importance of gratitude and integrity, advising him to approach every step of the journey with humility and reliance on a higher power. Doing what is necessary, delivering promises wholeheartedly, and maintaining integrity are the principles that drive Marcus’s leadership and contribute to Danovel’s success.

Featured Image Credit: Danovel

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)