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Success comes from putting in the hours
Many small businesses begin as a solo person providing services that, over time, become popular amongst a certain audience. For Mr Stephen Liong, who has been in the interior design industry for more than 10 years, this journey took around half that time.
“I started out as a designer, then became a manager, and then two to three years later, decided to start out alone,” he recounts. For the first five years, he worked as a sole proprietor, with just subcontractors to help him out with the work.
Over time, however, he managed to gather a small team to service clients, as part of a company now named Luxio Interior Design Pte Ltd.
Competition in this industry is stiff. In Woodlands alone, there are some 20 to 30 interior designers all vying for business. However, Mr Stephen isn’t daunted by the prospect, mainly because his business comes from referrals.
Great service is how he manages to constantly get referrals. “I ensure that I attend to situations quickly, and solve issues for my clients as soon as I can,” Mr Stephen explains. He finds that his clients often like his ideas, too, which is an important part of the renovation process.
“We fully utilize the space, and do well in terms of colour coordination,” he adds.
Additionally, he focuses on bringing in landed or private property clients, as they are more upfront when it comes to requirements and budget. Residential clients make up about 50 percent of their work – the other half are commercial projects.
One of the greatest challenges he faces is in having insufficient manpower. However, Mr Stephen believes that the current team can overcome any obstacles “as a family.”
“With a small team, we are quite limited, so we have to work harder,” he says. “But we are taking in more people soon, and training up young people as well.”
Despite this, they’ve also started taking on work in Johor Bahru recently, working on four to five retail outlets there. However, Mr Stephen is clear that he would not take on any projects that are out of his control.
“For projects in Johor Bahru, I can still go down and see. Now, we have a team there. However, for places like Kuala Lumpur, we only propose the concept and design, but the workmanship is done by themselves,” he says.
He’s definitely aware of his limitations, and stays within them. That limit stands at around seven to eight customers – nothing more – though some customers are even willing to wait for him to be available, something Mr Stephen is very thankful for.
To achieve something, Mr Stephen believes that you have to be present to make it happen. That’s why he work 7 days a week, although of late, he has made sure to save his weekends for his family.
Not surprisingly, he advises young entrepreneurs not to be anxious, but to put in the hours to make their dreams come true. “Young people might want to succeed quickly and hence take shortcuts. But I think you need to put in the time and effort,” Mr Stephen says.
“What you think may not be what customers want. You must take feedback from your customers, and think from their perspective. And this takes time. We might take wrong turns, but from there we must be willing to learn and overcome from our mistakes.”