SSF makes its mark in home retail
Behonce Beh 
Some of the items on display at an SSF store

HOME is where the heart is. And for SSF Holdings Sdn Bhd founder King Wong Choong Loong, that heart is filled with furniture, home furnishing, artificial flowers and an assortment of trinkets.

The home living concept store and solutions provider has seen tremendous growth since its inception three decades ago.

It is now one of the largest retail concept chains of its kind with over 650,000 sq ft of total business area nationwide.

SSF’s history can be traced to 1987 when Wong struck out on his own as an artificial flower wholesaler.

Before that, he was in the haberdashery trade dealing with clothing and accessories, which he felt was getting saturated at the time.

A decade into the business, he weaned off his wholesale business and ventured into retail by opening his first large-scale store for home furnishing supplies.

“We kept up with the market as we moved from one segment to another over the years.

“Our growth turned flat once we reached a certain stage. This forced us to expand to other product categories,” Wong says.

To date, SSF has over 32 stores across Malaysia. It is supported by a network of 469 employees.

Not all stores share the same footprint and product mix. SSF’s smallest store stands at 8,000 sq ft in Ipoh Parade, Ipoh, and Hartamas Shopping Centre, in Kuala Lumpur, while its largest store spans across 100,000 sq ft in Sungai Buloh, Selangor.


Real-world view

SSF attributes its large footprint to its display showcase where individual rooms are created, akin to a furniture showroom, which allows shoppers to view and have a sense of how items will look like in a real-world setting.

“The product mix differs for each store. Some may not carry all 13 of our product series as it depends on the surrounding market and customer demographics,” Wong says.

The company’s products range from artificial flowers, bedding, bathroom accessories, furniture, home decor and wedding gifts, among others.

Wong says the best performing locations are in major cities
such as Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Penang, thanks to their mature and developed communities.

The largest contributor to turnover comes from furniture sales, which stand at 30%. This is a fairly new segment for SSF, having only introduced furniture to its stores in 2010.

“We had furniture made as a display in our stores to showcase our wares. But customers kept asking if they could purchase them and we found an opportunity to venture into the segment,” says Wong.

Three decades of business experience has taught him that seasons and preferences change, and the same could be said of consumer behaviour.

“One of the biggest changes is customers using technology to make purchases. When they see something they like online, they want the convenience of purchasing the item immediately.”

In keeping up with the times, SSF introduced its online store which showcases a small selection of its extensive inventory. A full version of its online store is expected to be launched early next year.

SSF sources its wares from various manufacturers and suppliers.

“We have a long-term working relationship with manufacturers and suppliers to produce designs exclusively for us.

“Our own design team is tasked with coming up with new items and products for our stores,” he says.


Discerning consumers

Wong says SSF typically imports over 50 to 60 containers of stock monthly.

A growing middle class and an increase in disposable income signal that modern consumers have developed a more discerning approach to their home furnishing needs, focusing on form over function.

“Customers these days place importance in quality of life. Their living spaces reflect their personality and taste.

“Previously, it would have cost a lot to purchase designer home furnishing owing to its high price.

“We are able to lower the prices of designer items as we make large orders,” says Wong.

The bulk of sales for SSF is derived from its consumer market with an average basket size of RM200-RM300.

SSF’s in-store loyalty programme has over 110,000 members on its database to date, with an average of 8,000 new sign-ups monthly.

Its corporate membership, which is open to business partners such as interior designers and food and beverage business operators, has over 1,084 members.

This year, the largest purchase from a single business partner stood at RM50,000, according to SSF purchasing and marketing manager Castor Yong.

Wong says he expects a 19% business growth this year, compared to 17% previously.

Logistics and delivery, he says, will remain a business challenge though it is a “good problem to solve”.

The average basket size for SSF customers range from RM200 to RM300

High demand

“We are unable to fill all our customers’ orders or deliver as quickly as we want to. This is owing to high demand and limited resources,” Wong says.

“Resources”, in this instance, means having a good network of logistics partners. Hence, SSF manages deliveries through its own in-house team and outsourced third-party operators.

The problem could escalate once the full version of its e-store is launched, as SSF anticipates a jump in online sales in the near future.

Apart from this, Wong says SSF will branch out to provide home furnishing services to customers and homeowners.

“What we plan to do is offer customers the option to furnish their home in five days. They can choose from selected themes which will be displayed at our up-and-coming showcase concept event at Glenmarie, in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

“With this service, homeowners do not have to source for their items from different suppliers, but deal with one only.

“Our diverse range of products extends from bed frames to the towels and soap for the bathroom,” he says.

The new services and showcase are expected to be launched in Q1 next year.

Undaunted by setbacks

SSF Holdings Sdn Bhd founder King Wong Choong Loong is one who does not shy away from failure but meets new challenges by taking the bull by the horns.

Wong started his entrepreneurial journey as a artificial flower wholesaler

He is optimistic of opening a store in Singapore by the middle of next year. This is not SSF’s first foray into the Lion City as it follows an earlier attempt in 2012.

“We were too ambitious and opened an 18,000 sq ft store in Singapore. Sales were good but we were crippled by the high operating costs, including rental,” he says.

Though the store closed after three years, much was learnt from that experience.

“Our upcoming Singapore store will have a smaller footprint of 3,000-4,000 sq ft and serve as a concept store for shoppers to browse.

“Potential purchases will be supported by our stores in Johor, particularly an upcoming one that will be opened close to the Tuas Second Link,” says Wong.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 255.