After struggling to find the pieces she wanted for her own home, Australian interior architect Caroline Olah set up bespoke furniture brand, Reddie, in Hong Kong.
The result is a unique new online retailing concept which is already eyeing offshore expansion.
“When I started out as an interior designer, I could never find a store where I could just get my staples, such as a simple table in the right size, colour and material. Everything’s either trend-driven, or you find the right table, but it’s not the right colour. The whole aim of Reddie is to fill that gap in the market,” she told the Hong Kong Trade Development Council newsletter.
With 1500 different combinations, customers can design their perfect piece at Reddie’s online site, selecting materials and colours from four styles. The brand currently offers dining, side, coffee and bedside tables, as well as desk and seating options.
The concept was partly inspired by the Nike ID service, which allows consumers to customise shoes and accessories through such details as base, laces, stitching and outsole. In developing Reddie’s model, Olah says: “It’s a very intricate, mathematical process that we’ve designed so that each top can match each leg.”
Reddie launched in August and opened a month-long pop-up store in October at PMQ in Hong Kong’s Central district, where the business proved popular with tourists visiting Hong Kong from the US and Europe.
“There’s no similar concept that I know of overseas,” she says. “I know some of the big brands have added customisation aspects to some of their products, but I don’t know of anyone who can offer as many combinations as us.”
- The Hong Kong Trade Development Council offers broad-based support and advice to businesses wanting to develop trade opportunities from Hong Kong. For more inspirational success stories like Reddie’s visit the HKTDC website.
The pop-up store at PMQ allowed Olah to reach out to her customer base and better understand their requirements. But online transactions have flourished pre- and post- pop-up, suggesting that many customers don’t see the need to view the furniture before committing to a purchase. “When we first launched, a lot of people told me I was crazy; that people would want to see the furniture [before buying], but within two weeks of launching, we’d already received quite a few orders.”
Initially, Olah thought Reddie would appeal mainly to the 25-35 year old design-savvy set. But the brand’s appeal has proved wider than that, she says.
“As the product can be customised to match anyone’s style, we’re actually getting people in their 60s. There’s a lot of people who are time-poor, too, who would rather play on the site than go shopping [for furniture].”
So far, Olah has noticed many customers designing side tables and dining tables. Reflecting the limited size of a typical Hong Kong flat, the entrepreneur has also noticed orders for smaller pieces coming through. But she believes its bigger selling point is the uniqueness of each handmade piece. Reddie only uses solid teak, one of the hardest-wearing woods, and raw metal that’s powder coated or epoxy-coated for greater durability.
“A lot of furniture in Hong Kong is copied and manufactured in China. It’s hard to find original pieces at an attainable price here.”
Customers can choose from 1500 types of material, colour and style online to come up with their own design
Most of Reddie’s start-up budget went on developing the website and prototyping the furniture.
“I was testing stability, proportion, structure, colour and material. With some of the pieces, I went through about 12 different prototypes until I was happy.”
One of the biggest challenges of setting up Reddie was finding a web developer willing to produce a website that can display the brand’s many combinations.
“I had to render all 1500 combinations myself. Obviously I had some rendering support, but when you’re a new business you try and save on costs if you can do things yourself.”
Another hurdle was finding the right factory. “I almost gave up, as I didn’t think I’d be able to find anyone willing to do it,” she says.
After struggling to find a factory on the Chinese mainland that was prepared to create one-off pieces and accommodate Reddie’s relatively modest orders, Olah subsequently teamed up with an Indonesian factory that understands the high standards of craftsmanship she expects.
“I’m half Indonesian, so it was just a lot easier to find people there who were willing to do it because they make everything by hand anyway, so to do one order at a time is fine.”
Olah likens the process of finding a supplier to dating.
“I had to meet with about 10 different factories in Central Java until I found the person I wanted to work with.”
While the business is self-funded and wholly owned, Reddie is open to working with investors in the future.
“We already have 30 to 50 pieces that we’re looking to sell in Australia and are currently looking into how we can distribute our furniture there.”
It won’t be via furniture stores, however. “I think that’s the beauty of Reddie – we design, manufacture and deliver the product, and because there’s no middle man, we can offer these prices; whereas if we had to wholesale, it would be a different story.”
Olah’s goal now is to host more pop-up outlets in Hong Kong to raise brand awareness.
“The pop-up at PMQ worked really well, so we might do another one here in six months.”
With long-term plans to expand internationally, she is also keen to use the pop-up format overseas.
“We want Reddie to be a one-stop shop for furniture staples.”