Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the furniture chain literally went through the fire to emerge as one of the new Superbrands of Singapore.
Contributed By Reuel Eugene Tay
When you think of furniture, the name V.Hive quickly pops up as one of the main places to get a new sofa set or outfit your office. A household name in Singapore today, V.Hive, which has a total of 10 retail shops across Singapore, was recently named one of 38 new Superbrands in the fifth annual Superbrands program by Superbrands, the internationally-renowned independent arbiter of branding.
Participation in Superbrands is by invitation only. Brands are selected through independent consumer research conducted by the Nielsen Company to identify the strongest brands across more than 90 different product and service categories. Next, the shortlisted brands are then judged by a panel of six industry experts based on their locality, longevity, awareness, reputation, innovation, market share and recognition.
Between August and September last year, the Nielsen Company conducted a survey on 1,500 Singaporean consumers age 18 to 55. The results yielded V.Hive as one of this year’s Superbrands, all of which are featured in the fifth edition of the Superbrands book, which showcases the most valuable consumer brands in Singapore.
The Superbrands Award ceremony will be held on June 7.
Ironically, the odds were against V.Hive since the company had never won any awards before. “We never expect to achieve this because Superbrands is not something that we can apply for,” says Felix Song, the company’s chief executive officer. “As a matter of fact, we tried to get the Promising Brand Award in 2010, but we did not succeed. God works in mysterious ways—I think He was trying to tell me He had a better award for me because Superbrands is more widely recognized (than Promising Brand) and also represents the people’s choice.”
To start off, business was far from smooth-sailing for the founders, Felix and his brother Michael. Their path was filled with many “valley experiences.” Felix lost S$100,000 in his first business 28 years ago. In 1986, the two opened their first furniture shop, selling simple cash-and-carry items in the now-defunct Yaohan Department Store in Parkway Parade. As business began to pick up, their older brother, Dexter Song joined them to become the company’s financial controller in 1990. The decline in business at Yaohan in the late ‘80s forced the company to shut its department stores one after another. The Song brothers, left with stock to sell, had no choice but to set up their own shop.
Felix initially wanted to name the shop “bee hive” because “bee hives are always busy”. He decided to swop the “bee” for a “V”—for “victory.”
V.Hive officially opened its doors for business at The Furniture Mall along Beach Road in 1990. Business started to take off soon after—V.Hive became a wholesaler and moved from selling simple cash-and-carry items to larger items of furniture such as wardrobes and beds, even office furniture. Shortly after, they began receiving contracts to supply offices with furniture.
wBut just when things began to look up for them, the company’s warehouse caught fire one morning in August 1999. The ravaging fire, which took 10 fire engines two full days to put out, practically burned down the entire 20,000 sq ft warehouse and with it, V.Hive’s office, which was then situated above the warehouse. This accident resulted in the company losing 80 percent of its goods and other vital commodities and documentation.
The fire advanced so fast that Felix didn’t even have time to drive his Mercedes Benz out of the compound—the car was reduced to scrap metal. Even the office safe was destroyed by the flames and the contents along with it. Yet, miraculously, no one was hurt, and the petrol kiosk right next door to their warehouse did not catch fire.
“It was the most distressing period of my life, in all our years of business dealings, because we still had our retail business to take care of,” recalls Felix. “Business had to go on every day, the monthly rent still had to be paid, but I had no goods to supply to my shops or to deliver to the customers who were waiting for their furniture. On top of that, I had to pay contractors to remove the heaps of burnt furniture and ash, and pay for public liability and compensation for the damage caused.
“Even though we were 100 percent insured, my insurance adjuster came to me and told me he couldn’t pay me anything as I had no financial statements to back up my story or show how much goods I had on hand.”
When the word went out about the fire, Michael’s prayer leader came to the scene and began to pray and ask God to deliver the brothers from this tragedy. The brothers then mobilized all their staff to search through the piles of ashes and melted metal for the accounts book which could guarantee their insurance lifeline.
“By God’s grace,” as Felix puts it, they found two account books among the ashes five days later.
“It looked like a hand had been placed on the book, as if God’s palm had protected it!” describes Felix. “There were only slight burnt marks around the edges of the books; critical information regarding the monthly statement of accounts for the past one year had not been burned! And with that critical information, we were able to claim the full compensation from the insurance company and start over again.
“The three of us literally felt like we had gone through a fire experience just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, and the Lord was with us! After the incident, the insurance company didn’t want to work with us anymore.”
That incident sparked a change in Felix in his pursuit for God. Prior to the incident he was, by his own admission, an inactive fourth-generation Christian. Felix and his wife Tiang Pek Yin came to City Harvest Church on Michael’s invitation in 2004, and joined the Business Breakthrough Group, an outreach to business people.
“After so many years of looking for a church, coming to CHC and meeting these great people is one of the best things that has happened to my life. I wouldn’t go to any other church than CHC.”
Felix and his wife subsequently enrolled into CHC’s School Of Theology in 2005, and Michael in 2006. The two brothers believed in applying what they learned in CHC and SOT: “to find a need and meet it,” and to “walk the talk,” as challenged by CHC’s senior pastor, Kong Hee.
BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING
V.Hive began to collaborate with non-profit organization CityCare Ltd to give away furniture to underprivileged families. They were soon approached by MediaCorp to be a sponsor for Renovaid, a TV series featuring home makeovers for needy families. They gave away dining tables, study desks, beds and wardrobes. V.Hive took things a step further in their charitable efforts, providing free furniture to countless local churches, a church in Ipoh, Malaysia and an orphanage in Thailand.
Despite donating a considerable number of goods each year, the business had continued to grow at an ever-increasing rate, year-on-year, so much so that V.Hive achieved their best performance in sales this year.
“But we believe that the best is yet to come!” Felix grins, quoting from a recent sermon by preacher Phil Pringle at CHC.
The company’s top management consists of the three brothers and a retail manager, all of whom are Christians. Felix credits the success of the company to the unity and shared direction, vision and values of the management. “We all have diverse views but we can always come to an agreement because of our unity. Being Christian helps a lot because our values are the same and there is no division or conflict,” he explains.
Today, V.hive takes pride in being a one-of-a-kind furniture wholesaler-retailer, providing furniture from all over the world that are of great quality, design and value for money. “We personally source for and import our furniture from countries across the globe, wherever we can find furniture of good design. We’ve even gone into the ulu ulu (remote) places like villages, where other furniture retailers wouldn’t want to go. We have been doing this for the past 25 years, and it took a lot of hard work and learning from past mistakes.
“But our customers can see the sincerity and hard work we have put into bringing the best furniture to them, and that is one of our key success factors,” Felix reveals. V.Hive also prides itself for having one of the widest varieties of furniture in the market, and for customizing imported furniture to meet local needs.
The Song brothers plan to move towards selling more high-end furniture of strong design, but at a much lower cost than currently available. One such example is Acme’s Komforte recliner chair.
Felix attributes V.Hive’s success to hard work and the God factor. “I am just a polytechnic graduate and Michael, an O’ level graduate. I believe that you don’t have to have a degree to be successful—what you do need is hard work and determination. And as a Christian, we depend on God’s grace. God works for the good of all those who love Him. Behind every successful man, there is God, not just the wife!”
For more information on V.Hive, log on to www.vhive.com.sg