“Office furniture is actually not the majority of our sales,” he told The Korea Herald at Casamia Uffia’s showroom in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. “We design various commercial spaces, whether they be libraries, hotels, or office buildings.”
|Lee Hyung-woo, president of Casamia Uffia (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
Uffia, which is entering into its 10th year, provides furniture to companies such as Naver, Samsung and LG. Since its beginning, it has been led by 38-year-old Lee, who is the son of Casamia’s CEO and Chairman Lee Hyun-koo.
Lee said that as a midsized company competing in a market dominated by larger companies such as Fursys, he approached these projects with a focus on creativity.
“Furniture pieces can be functionally creative, but most of that depends on how you utilize space,” he said. “Furniture, generally, does not vary much in terms of function. It’s about how you present those basic functions, how you make people feel. So far, we’ve worked hard to create flexible, open spaces.”
Uffia’s idea of flexible and open commercial spaces begins with escaping conventional ideas about what furniture should look and feel like.
“At one company, they use a ping-pong table instead of an office desk in their meeting room. They have a room for napping, where they use actual beds with real fabric like those at home, instead of hospital cots,” Lee said as examples.
|Casamia Uffia's project with Naver's Green Factor (Casamia)|
Lee thinks that Uffia is a good fit for smaller start-ups or IT companies that are looking to fill their spaces with unique, out-of-the-box products because of Uffia’s small size.
“At larger office furniture companies, for example, it would be hard to customize a particular tabletop. They have to go through complicated processes and work out every detail with their factories. Since we’re much smaller, we are much more flexible.”
Walking around the Uffia showroom, Lee described how each client was able to customize the company‘s products to fit their own needs. “None of these designs are set in stone,” he said. “It’s easy for us to add a cabinet or a set of drawers.”
Lee said that what was most important in his business was the compatibility between the cultures of Uffia and the client company.
“Most furniture stores have the technical capability to make the same products. For example, we can make everything that Hanssem makes, and vice versa. It’s more about the culture we can provide. It’s not about how many designers we have from which schools,” he said. “It’s about our company’s DNA, the intangible things.”
It is this flexible culture at Uffia that leads Lee to believe that his company will continue to be competitive in Korea’s furniture market.
“Korea’s furniture market will not grow as a whole. The economy and population are both stagnant,” he said. “People in their 20s are not making enough money, and older consumers with buying power are not interested in new furniture. According to statistics, 60 percent of the population falls into the category of consumers in the so-called B-brand, or low-cost market. We see a lot of consumers moving into that space.”
According to Lee, the two companies that successfully positioned themselves for that majority market are Hanssem and Ikea.
“Ikea’s competitiveness is its price. Their Korean store is one of the most successful in the world, which goes to show how much Korea was waiting for a brand like that to come along. Hanssem, on the other hand, is diversifying its portfolio. They began with kitchen furniture, and have now moved into home and bathroom furniture. They are a furniture store, but are moving into interior design and porcelain design spaces. They’re breaking boundaries,” he said.
Uffia hopes to take on a similar strategy targeting niche markets. A self-proclaimed bibliophile, Lee says that he has his eyes on small private libraries.
“When people are looking to start new businesses, most people think of fried chicken stores or bakers. But there are a ton of small, private libraries as well, over 6,000 of them,” he said. “But only a few hundred of them are modern libraries. The rest are up for renovation.”
Although Uffia has not yet made any significant sales from this area, Lee says that he sees great potential for growth there.
“There are lots of other things we have in mind as well, including office items for professionals and rental services, which are already being provided by many other companies,” he said.
“The only thing that our future services will have in common is that items are loaded onto a truck and delivered to the consumer. We will do everything we can possibly do within that framework.”
By Won Ho-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)