Reddie is a new online furniture retailer in Hong Kong that puts the process of design in the hands of its customers. We speak with founder Caroline Olah to find out more about the company’s business strategy.
August 14th, 2015
Having worked in commercial architecture firms for 10 years, most notably with Woods Bagot in Dubai and Sydney, and Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) in New York, Caroline Olah had always felt the frustration of not being able to find the right furniture for her projects. “I found that as an interior architect, there were no stores where I could mix and match designs, and choose my own finishes to suit each project’s style. I also saw that there were very few stores where you could buy handmade and customisable items without the huge price tag,” she explains.
Olah had always toyed with the idea of having her own furniture business, and felt that the time was right to put her plans into action when she made the move to Hong Kong at the end of 2014. At Reddie, the power to design is placed in the hands of the customer, who is able to customise each product in no less than 1,000 different ways. We find out more about Reddie’s unique concept.
Why is the company called Reddie?
I struggled with naming Reddie for over a year; nothing seemed quite personal or right. One day I just thought to myself: I want our products to be just “ready”…. no fuss, clean and simple, and ready-made for you. With the birth of my son Eddie, it was quite fitting to call the company Eddie with an R, thus the name Reddie was born. So now I have two babies – Eddie and Reddie – and I may have called my son Reddie on more than one occasion!
Can you elaborate on your ‘original not trend driven’ approach to design, as described on your website?
Reddie’s concept is “A furniture brand where you can customise timeless designs online”. This concept acted as my client. Much like a project, when starting the design process I couldn’t just design pieces that I thought were ‘trendy’; I needed to stay in line with Reddie’s concept and create a collection that would stand the test of time, but were still ‘original’ designs.
Your products are handmade. Where are they produced and how do you ensure quality at every step of the production process?
When looking in this region for factories, I discovered that Indonesia had very skilled craftsmen and quality teak wood. After a year of searching I found the perfect team in Central Java that produce quality handmade metal and wood products. Being half Indonesian and speaking the language I understand the business culture. The team is led by a dedicated master craftsman who has years of furniture production experience. We design, manufacture and distribute our products so we can control the whole supply chain allowing us to quality control at every step. It is also important that I am physically in the factory as much as possible and it helps that the factory is next to a gorgeous beach!
Who is the Reddie customer?
We are definitely targeting the trade [sector] along with homeowners. Being from a trade background, I know the ins and outs of a project and understand the designer’s needs. For the trade [customer], we also offer the ability to further customise designs and create new designs.
With homeowners our client base has expanded beyond what we originally thought. Various types of people are buying our products, because they have the ability to pick styles and colours that work with their aesthetic. They have ranged from bachelors with slick inner city apartments, to families with ‘softer’ homes.
Why did you choose to establish Reddie as an online business?
Hong Kong is a digitally advanced and mobile savvy market; you really notice when you are on the train and everyone has their heads buried in their phones. Having an online business gives us the opportunity to reach all of these people. E-commerce is growing significantly in this region, so it’s a very exciting time to start a furniture business online.
Can you elaborate on the company’s online business model and the team involved in making this business strategy work?
The business model for Reddie is not typical for a furniture store. You can customise designs online over a 1,000 different ways. This was not only a difficult task for a web developer, but difficult in terms of production, as most factories are not willing to make one order at a time. Because of this I had to find people that believed in the idea, liked the challenge, and were innovative thinkers. After a lengthy search I am very lucky to have found the right people and Reddie is what it is today because of them.
The factory in Indonesia has a team of [over] 20 people and in Hong Kong we have a small team that handles customer service, sales, marketing and design with the intention of growing next year. We have a web development company that supports our website needs, and a trusted logistics company that handles shipping and deliveries.
How do you respond to customers who wish to see the physical designs before making their purchase?
We understand that some people need to feel and touch our product, so we will be having a pop-up store at PMQ in Hong Kong for the month of October. We aim to have several pop-ups throughout the year, and when we launch into a new region we will do the same. Being online gives us this flexibility.
Who is responsible for the product design development at Reddie?
The aim of Reddie is that you can use our site to create your own piece [of furniture], but the base designs were developed by me. There are four base styles in the collection that are available in multiple colours and sizes. I originally sketched over ten styles and sent them to friends and colleagues around the world, to gauge what were the most popular. I did this because I wanted Reddie to be for the customer, so it was important to understand what people liked. Four styles were chosen that were further refined and developed in our factory during the prototyping phase.
How does your experience as a commercial interior architect influence your work at Reddie?
My time as an interior architect has helped me in so many ways. I used to be a design leader on large-scale projects. With a job like this you are designing, managing staff, clients, budgets, etc. Developing a furniture brand is exactly the same, except the product is different. There are many moving parts and pieces, and you are constantly juggling.
Reddie will be holding a pop-up store at PMQ in October as part of its official launch. It currently ships to Hong Kong and has plans to expand to other countries in 2016. For more information, visit reddie.co
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