Furnishing success in a dynamic retail environment

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

The recent years have seen a raft of changes for the retail sector, many accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include the pandemic challenges to brick and mortar establishments, the growth of e-commerce, the expansion of delivery platforms, changes in consumer expectations, and a global talent shortage.

To tackle this last issue, the Singapore Ministry of Manpower has expanded its Progressive Wage Model (PWM), hoping to help retail businesses retain and attract new talents through an increase in annual compounded wage and structured training programmes.

This is in line with the ongoing Forward Singapore exercise, where businesses are encouraged to do their part in the nation’s social compact by investing in their workers, ensuring fair employment practices, and improving on the quality of jobs. In August 2021 a Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage workers made 18 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the MOM and are being rolled out in 2022 and 2023.

To explore how businesses can keep up in today’s dynamic retail environment, SMEhorizon speaks with Declan Ee, Cofounder and President of Castlery.com, a digital-first furniture brand that believes that everyone deserves a space to thrive without the burden of being out-priced or forced to choose “fast furniture”.

How will the recent recommendations from the Tripartite Cluster for Retail Industry (TCR) affect the retail industry?

The recent recommendations will benefit the retail industry in terms of attracting and retaining talent. As a digital-first furniture brand, we believe that our people still form the foundations of success for our business—happy employees translate to quality customer experience and better business.

In fact, at Castlery, we already pay our sales staff above the new baseline wage, excluding monthly commissions. Importantly, we look forward to more training opportunities to equip our staff with relevant skills such as interior design knowledge, so that they continue to grow in their careers and better serve our customers’ needs.

What are the current talent demands in Singapore’s retail industry? Are there specific concerns faced by SME players?

With the continuous technological advancements and the government’s drive towards becoming a Smart Nation, finding the right talents to help drive the company’s digital transformation is an ongoing challenge for many, especially the older, more traditional SMEs. Talent attraction and retention continue to be a big challenge as SME players compete with large multinational corporations or tech giants.

How has Castlery managed to increase its headcount worldwide since its founding?

Castlery has been fortunate over the past nine years when it comes to getting quality talents onboard to drive our mission and vision as a digital-first furniture company that aims to create spaces that help urban millennials thrive through different seasons of their lives, with our furniture. From just a four-man team, we are today 260 people strong globally.

We believe that having a purposeful brand mission and vision is crucial to helping us attract talents who are also aligned with our purpose, and we are thankful for our employees who have remained steadfast and committed as we expanded over the years and set foot beyond local shores, into Australia, and the United States.

What tech platforms and cloud solutions do you use?

Castlery’s website is developed in-house. We use Amazon Web Services.

How has the pandemic changed the needs of your employees? What sort of tech and non-tech processes do you use to help in collaboration and communication?

Since the pandemic, Castlery relies on technology a lot more for collaboration and communication, just like many other companies. For example, Microsoft Teams is one of the main tools we use for team meetings and to facilitate work that requires collaboration.

What advice do you have for SME players seeking to expand their business in the current climate?

As an SME, we’ve found that the path to success often comes with unexpected challenges. In recent years especially, the curveballs keep coming as the pandemic leaves us with a slew of supply chain issues and we enter into an era of inflation.

Expanding the business in the current climate can be daunting and will come with its set of challenges, but it is important for fellow SME players to keep an open mind and be adaptable. It is important to have a clear understanding of the core vision and stay close to it, so you can keep your feet running even at the lowest point.