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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Signature takes on rival European makers

KITCHEN and wardrobe systems designer and retailer Signature International Bhd (SIB) is certainly an example of a homegrown brand that thinks big.

For a brand of humble beginnings, the specialist in the design, manufacture and retailing of kitchen and wardrobe systems can today hold its own in a market dominated by European names.

Its products, under the brand names Signature Kitchen and Signature Wardrobe, are not only perceived as high-end brands, but have also made their presence felt in more than 10 countries.

The company, which started in 1994 at the lower end of the market, today boasts stylish, high-end kitchens and wardrobes with a distinctly European feel.

And these it proudly and prominently displays at its 23 showrooms nationwide and 15 overseas.

Managing director and co-founder K.C. Tan said having the “European look” was part of the company’s strategy to develop the brand and grow the business.

"We want to be recognised as an international brand and where there is market that has growth potential, we look at it" - K.C. TAN

“We don’t tell customers that we’re selling a commodity. We tell them we’re selling them their dream kitchen,” he told StarBiz.

“When we think of kitchens, we are reminded of kitchens in the old days – a place that is full of dirty, oily pots and pans, and cockroaches running everywhere.''

Tan said the standard European kitchen is a picture of contrast.

“The European kitchen looks stylish and elegant. Just think Jamie Oliver and how stylish he looks when he cooks! That is the image and appeal we want to portray to our customers. It’s part of our strategy to push our brand,” he said.

Tan said the company might even consider a co-branding venture with a foreign company as part of its vision to enhance the brand further.

“We want to be recognised as an international brand and where there is market that has growth potential, we will look at it,” he said.

The ambition to become a world brand was already in place when the company went public early this year.

“When we chose to be listed, we decided on the name ‘Signature International Bhd’ to signify that we did not just want to be a local brand. “We want to be a global player,” Tan added.

SIB is the first kitchen and wardrobe company to be listed on Bursa Malaysia.

To maintain its edge, the company takes part in international exhibitions to keep up with the latest styles and trends and to get new ideas.

It uses imported oak, ash, beech or maple rather than the rubber wood most local manufacturers use to give that European finish.

“We also work closely with European manufacturers so that when there are new products over there, we would be one of the first to incorporate them into our products,” Tan said.

He attributed the strong European influence in SIB’s systems to the domination of European players in the kitchen industry in the Asia Pacific region.

This was evident when SIB set up its first showroom overseas in Bangkok in 2004.

“Local kitchen manufacturers within the region are quite far behind in terms of technology and product design. Local players tend to be small operators or small-scale carpenters and are no match for the high-end Europeans,” Tan said.

He added that because SIB’s products were targeted at the high-end market, it was competing with European rather than local brands.

Tan said the Signature brand was on par with the European makes in terms of quality but was way ahead on pricing.

“Some of our competitors’ products can be up to 10 times more expensive than ours despite the similarity in quality,” Tan said.

Today, the Signature brand has become a benchmark for quality, affordably priced kitchen and wardrobe products.

SIB also provides installation services to its customers all over the world, a value-added feature that most international companies could not.

“We also send our people overseas to install our products. This is a huge advantage for us because even if our competitors did the same, it would still be too expensive,” Tan said.

In recognition of the standing of the Signature brand, SIB has won numerous awards, including the Golden Bull Award in 2003, the Enterprise 50 Award in 2006 and the Brandlaureate SMEs Chapter Award in 2007.

Universiti Technologi Malaysia’s Prof Dominic Lau also featured SIB as a Blue Ocean Company in the Malaysian edition of Blue Ocean Strategy.

According to Tan, having a strong brand has everything to do with the company's success and where it is today.

“When you invest in branding, you invest in the future of your business. I firmly believe that business success and brand strategy go hand in hand,” he added.

By The Star (by Eugene Mahalingam)

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