In an age where most people live in a throwaway society, and anything bright, new and shiny is preferred, it is hard to believe anyone would want to spend money on second-hand goods. But step into second-hand furniture retailer Hock Siong & Co and you see people selecting pieces of solid wood furniture or an old table lamp.
Owner Toh Chin Siong started the company as a karung guni (rag and bone) business during the 1970s. But since 1999, he has been buying items from hotels and reselling them. He still runs the business but it is his eldest daughter, Brillyn, who has modernised it.
"We may be in a sunset industry, but with technology, Hock Siong can catch up with the times," says Ms Toh, 30.
She studied business IT in polytechnic and later did a business degree at the National University of Singapore, with the clear intention of joining the family business and taking it into the future. Her childhood was spent going around with her father collecting old newspapers, and she also helped her dad with the business during her university days, since he wasn't too proficient in English.
"It was natural to want to join the family business," she says. She has been working full-time at Hock Siong for the last seven years.
Back then, she was surprised to see that invoices were written in carbon copy bill books. "We had so much paper, which was ironic since we were a company that is into recycling," she says. Using such bill books also meant there were no real checks in place – any staff could easily make changes in the invoices.
So she decided to introduce a point of sale or POS system. She met with some reluctance – not from her father, but rather from the staff. "They didn't see anything wrong with the old system, and were not keen on the change," she says.
Still she persisted, and today, Hock Siong uses a cloud POS system that allows Ms Toh to track sales, orders, and customers' purchases, even when she is overseas. "It is a worthwhile investment, since operations are run more efficiently now," she says.
Ms Toh recalls that when she first joined the company full-time, the business wasn't doing that well. It was also around then that Facebook was starting to catch on in Singapore. "Since it was free to start a Facebook page, I did one for Hock Siong," she says. Today, the page has garnered 41,000 likes. Two years ago, after noticing that not everyone likes going on Facebook, she started an Instagram account as well. Some 2000 posts later, the account has 15,900 followers and counting.
Ms Toh takes pictures on her iPhone and comes up with the captions. Her style is to have a caption that is irrelevant to the picture. It can be random things such as captioning a newly refurbished teak tv console as her bae, says Ms Toh. "I don't want the captions to be too serious. My posts are more to capture the mood of the moment," she explains. But should anyone want to know the prices of the items, she welcomes them to message her directly. "I reply to all comments and questions, since it makes for better interaction."
Every Saturday morning, Ms Toh hosts a Facebook Live session, which she nicknames Walkie Hockie, where she takes her audiences on a tour of the showroom. Each session gets about 800 to 1,000 views.
Going on social media has helped spread the word. Ms Toh usually posts new items that have just arrived at the store. She posts about five to eight times a week, and whenever a post goes up, it usually draws a bigger crowd to the store that same day. Hock Siong is also attracting a younger clientele.
Ms Toh has a personal Instagram account which is private, where she usually posts food pictures. While her father initially wasn't convinced by the power of social media, he now has his own Facebook account too, and checks on the company page.
Ms Toh hopes to make online shopping a reality in the near future. She plans to set up a pop-up online shop, so customers can make their purchases easily.
While she knows that social media has drawn more awareness to Hock Siong, she isn't too caught up with numbers and analytics. For Ms Toh, keeping alive Hock Siong's mission of building an environmentally conscious enterprise that provides clients with quality products at affordable prices is more important. "Technology is just a tool, there has to be a balance between that and our company's mission," she says.
Written by Tay Suan Chiang for The Business Times. PHOTOS: YEN MENG JIIN