When a niche industry stumbles in a technological race
By Guest 01 Feb, 2012
Ashley Choo of qeeple talks about the interior design industry in Singapore and how it is struggling to find its place on the web.
Even in its infancy stage, the local interior design industry could be seen as one with a bright future. As early as the 1960s, the newly elected government was eager to give citizens a sense of “a concrete stake in this country” through countless housing programmes. Among them, was one that opted to cultivate that elusive sense of ownership via a state published magazine, Our Home which was filled with idealized design versions of the modern living in Singapore’s high rise homes. The magazine ran from 1972 to 1989 and was distributed to all HDB tenants.
On this backdrop, Singapore not only achieved one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. It also created a fertile ground for local architecture and interior design providers to fulfill the needs of the new home proud owner.
DOMESTIC THIRST FOR DESIGN
Today the interior design industry still enjoys consistent demand. The Singapore homeowner is now better travelled, more discerning and many can now recognise designer furnishings the way they would a designer bag. Coupled with a low interest rate environment, the typical homeowner can also easily obtain substantial bank loans to do a major redesign.
Yet despite the vibrancy in the design industry, supporting platforms in the print and online media industry have failed to keep up.
Homeowners now still have to rely on exhibitions and local magazines to look for services. But these mediums often favour established firms who have a substantial marketing budget and act as a high entry barrier for new and talented designers. Few new players can afford a bill of S$2,000 per magazine feature or a US$1.20 per click fee to stay on the front page of Google searches for “interior design Singapore”.
With limited choices available, homeowners usually end up asking for recommendations from family and friends. Today, a typical design firm gets 60 – 80 percent of its business from word-of-mouth sources. But all too often, goodwill referrals end up with frustrated homeowners with designers who-can’t-get-the-job-done and designers who have to spend time rejecting homeowners with-too-low-budgets.
FLOCKING TO THE WEB
Things are turning for the worse. The print industry has its own bag of pains with a recent spate of bookshop closures. MPH closed down one of their key locations in Novena Square last May, Borders last August and PageOne later this year in February. With interior magazines less easily obtainable, homeowners will be increasingly driven online for their design needs.
Most local firms have their own websites but many are neglected and nestled deep in the recesses of the web where few users will stumble upon.
Google searches often end up with results as meaningless as directory listings. While there are a couple of discussion forums, some quotation portals and a handful of emagazines and blogs but none that comes close to truly engaging the new web savvy consumer that’s used to Web 2.0’s beads and baubles.
THE ODD JOB DESIGNER
For the web entrepreneur, the untouched amazon of an industry represented by tens of thousands of gorgeous portfolio images and countless design talents will prove to be inviting. But this rose doesn’t come without its thorns. This is a traditional industry still suspicious of the idea of sharing in a Web 2.0 landscape.
One of the six new local interior design platforms we knew that sprouted last year shut down just five months after launching as it was unable to gain a critical mass of content from local design firms and furnishing merchants.
Yet it is increasingly critical for new platforms to help marry local designers and homeowners. Homeowners are increasingly going to better developed US based platforms such as Freshome and Houzz for inspiration and it’s just a matter of time before they engage foreign designers for their design needs.
What’s left for the local interior design industry will be low budget projects and odd jobs. The domestic demand for design will always be there, but the supply of the design services need not be local, not for the smart Singapore web consumer.
About the author
This guest post was written by Ashley Choo, co-founder of qeeple, a local interiors and furnishing platform. She has a huge passion for the local interior design and is still looking for a viable web solution for the interior design industry.