Interview with Darren Lim – Marketing Manager of Estil Furnishing
Darren Lim, a homegrown manufacturer of drapery, soft furnishing and shading systems. He is also the second generation slated to take over this business that was started by his parents in 1989. Over the 28 years, Estil is known for the quality of their products particularly in the commercial property sector.
In the 2 short years he joined his parents’ company, Darren made simple changes using essential technology solutions, and made significant improvements to the business revenue, processes and operations. He shares with us some insights into the journey.
What were some motivations for joining the family business?
I initially wanted to experience the corporate world, but as I was looking, I realized I already had relevant work skills to help out in the family business as I had run my own business while in Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Hence I understood the struggles, ins and outs of business.
At the time, Estil Furnishing was not doing too well, there were very little sales and enquiries, so I decided to put whatever skillsets I had into helping my parents first. Seeing them stressed about their business and livelihood motivated me to want to help alleviate the pressure and grow the business.
What difficulties did you face in trying to convince the older generation to digitalise?
I think that everyone that wants to change will face an initial resistance. My parents did not understand why they should change, or why they should spend a sum of money on something they didn’t believe in.
I soon understood that this was because of cash flow problems. If you could not afford to support the monthly salary of your staff, how would you be able to spend on digitalizing? A lot of SMEs in Singapore adopt a reactive, fire-fighting stance towards business. When times are good, the business owners enjoy the success, but few have contingencies for rainy days.
So how did you overcome this resistance?
You overcome the resistance by giving the older generation a taste of what’s out there. I started by introducing my parents to Google Drive. The idea of using Google Drive or Dropbox didn’t come as naturally to them as they did for me and my peers, but when my parents saw the convenience of using Google Drive, it helped our productivity.
Initially when clients made enquiries, we would need to scan images one by one from a physical catalog, before emailing it to the client. I then helped them redesign their product catalog into a digital format, making it consistent, and then uploaded it onto Google Drive, which gave them instant access to all their product information. This greatly simplified the work process. So giving the older generation a taste of what tech can achieve, will help them open up more to the idea.
What convinced you to digitalize/ implement tech solutions in your business?
I see myself as an effective worker, I do not like to waste time. So I’m attracted to any process that allows for unnecessary work to be cut out. In my family business there were too many workflow inefficiencies that relied heavily on pen and paper, which was what drove me to implement some form of tech solutions.
What were some of the tech solutions that you implemented? And how did they raise the profile of your business?
I think the most basic thing was to update our website and social media presence. Though this was a no brainer for me, it was something completely new for my parents. Furthermore, it’s not only about building a website, but also using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) to make sure that we were visible online.
Another challenge was that my parents were not willing to trust a hired salesperson with the business contacts and tricks of the trade, given that Singapore is so small. So I managed to convince them to engage a ‘digital salesman’, which was our website. I worked out the sums, and the amount they would need to create and maintain the website – and do digital marketing – was cheaper than hiring a full-time worker. After SEO and SEM, there was a large, noticeable improvement in the number of enquiries and clients that we got, so I think employing this strategy was a simple first step that paid off.
Should SMEs digitalize? Why?
I don’t think it’s a question of should SMEs digitalize anymore. Simply put, SMEs MUST digitalize. Ten years ago, the answer to this question might have been different. Mobile technology and the internet was still relatively unproven, and traditional processes still worked. But the rate at which technology is changing and disrupting business is too fast for SMEs to ignore. SMEs must start implementing tech solutions, at least at the basic level with a website or social media presence. “Everyone is impatient now, and if you are unwilling to change, the world simply will not wait for you.”