By Mei Kuan
The journey of Eastern Decorator began in 1968 when a young couple in Ipoh (the late Dato’ Bernard Koay and wife, Datin Koay) founded a simple furnishing store, operating as a linen and custom-made curtain retailer. In 1988, the family-run company started supplying to local department stores and added pillows and other bedding accessories to their range.
Through sheer hard work, tenacity and a healthy business philosophy, the company today has grown to be a large-scale manufacturer with a global presence and a trusted brand in Southeast Asia. Beyond 50 years, the Eastern Decorator premises are a familiar sight and pride of many growing up in Ipoh.
In an exclusive interview with Ipoh Echo, Susan Koay Sui Sen, who is the founding couple’s daughter and also Chief Operating Officer of Eastern Decorator Group of Companies (EDGC), shared all about the homegrown company with a portfolio of various brands. One of many is AKEMI, which has consistently been named the #1 bedding brand in Malaysia since its introduction in 1992.
“We grew up helping out in the store but back then, the business was much smaller. We spent most of our time at the store. At only 5 years old, I learned how to sew and would craft these small plush toys to be sold to earn extra pocket money. These are memories which I’m particularly fond of. As I grew, so did the store,” she recalled, adding that she took up her first job at the ED Shop after completing a short course on interior design.
“In the early days, our very first shop was inspired to learn from the exquisite products of the Eastern market, and as a result we strived to always deliver only textiles of great quality. Hence, we named our company ‘Eastern Decorator’,” explained Susan who is presently based in Ipoh.
“For years we traded without an actual brand name, as we were manufacturing for other big players. Our turning point came when we attended a business trade show in Germany. Inspired to build a brand, we jumped right into it. Regarding the name, we wanted something more feminine as our customers comprised more ladies back then, and also something short and easy to remember with Asiatic elements. We immediately fell in love with the name ‘AKEMI’,” she enthused.
Operating the largest home textile factory in Malaysia with over 60,000 square meters of cutting-edge manufacturing lines located in Ipoh, Eastern Decorator currently markets its products via its subsidiaries in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia. Including Malaysia, it has over 1,200 points of sale throughout the region.
As the EDGC keeps moving forward, she expressed, “The biggest source of motivation was definitely the results. In line with our company mission, ‘To inspire people to lead fuller lives through quality products that enrich everyday experience’, we have always centered our efforts towards understanding our customers and their needs. My second and more personal motivation would be the big family of EDGC itself. I, too, learn from them and am inspired by their belief in us.”
A shining example of companies never forgetting their roots, the EDGC constantly gives back to the community especially in Perak. For instance, Eastern Decorator would support donation requests for bedding products from those in need, be it families, orphanages, medical hubs or schools.
“When the Movement Control Order (MCO) landed, we were forced to halt our manufacturing processes due to mall closures, leaving our factories inoperative during that period. At the same time, news broke out that the rising COVID-19 cases had caused a major shortage in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) amongst our frontliners. Together with the board of directors, we took the bold step of utilising the manufacturing capabilities of our factories to produce PPE for our frontliners, such as face shields, boot covers, tudung (headscarf), hoods, and isolation gowns. We eventually managed to produce and donate 33,734 pieces of PPE to medical hubs around Perak and full-fledged government hospitals in the Klang Valley. Until today, we are still partially using our manufacturing capabilities to produce reusable face masks that are given away free at our points-of-sale throughout Perak,” she shared.
According to her, the harshness of the pandemic drove them towards digital transformation. “In a short amount of time, we have managed to debut our official web-store (shop.akemihome.com), increase our presence on online marketplaces such as Shopee and Lazada, and venture into TV shopping.”
Did I mention its latest launch of AKEMI HeiQ Viroblock Series, a new line of product which has viral and bacterial-inhibiting technology? Created in partnership with an award-winning Swiss innovation company, it has been tested to effectively inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses up to 99.9%.
The leading entrepreneur also highlighted that current visitors to the ED Shop (formerly known as Eastern Decorator Retail Centre) along Jalan Sultan Iskandar will find that it adjoins a new café. “We wanted our shoppers to enjoy a seamless and all-around shopping experience, so we rented this space to a tenant who aligns with our overall attributes, enabling shoppers to take a break whilst shopping. We got this idea when we were doing the overall redirection of the ED Shop. Used to be a direct shop-n-go venue for people, ED Shop presently has become a shopping destination offering a comprehensive range of home and living products on top of our bedding products across various brands.”
Here’s her advice: “As I think of entrepreneurs starting out, I think back to the early days when Eastern Decorator was only a shop. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it is important that you first discover your talent, then turn it into passion, and let it drive your journey of entrepreneurship. It is also important to always establish a vision and mission for the venture you are in. Always remember to align your direction to the needs of the market and consumers. Lastly, always work with a humble heart, no matter how high we have climbed. Do that by always listening to the customers – be it compliments or negative comments.”
Indeed, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. To learn more, visit the official Eastern Decorator website. Interested readers also can visit the ED Shop Ipoh Facebook page or reach the one-stop shop at 05 253 9898.