AIR DIVISION: No Ordinary Purveyor Of Fine Furniture
By Michael Buckley
Singapore, Asia–This entrepreneurial enterprising company (Air Division) punches way beyond its weight, rather like the island state on which it is located. Regularly quoted by government ministers and government- backed industry bodies as an example to all, Air Division is hard to define.
The company is at the leading edge of designer furniture in the Singapore retail market with two prestigious showrooms for local consumers, as well as trying extremely hard to bring its own brand of Asian service, design and custom furniture quality to international markets. Recently, it was granted prime space at the 2010 “imm” Cologne in the prestigious Pure Hall, after five previous attempts. Christopher Soh, marketing manager, believes this is a testament to the company’s past achievements in becoming a leading Asian supplier of distinctive designer furniture on the world stage. Soh would probably be the first to admit that this has not been without the help of International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, Spring Singapore, the DesignSingapore Council and the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC), where he worked for a number of years before joining Air. But that’s exactly how things do function in Singapore. Impress the establishment and little expense is spared to encourage effort and assist towards success. For example, in 2009 Air Division as one of a band of select furniture designer/makers that exhibited in Milan with SFIC under their Singapore Mozaic umbrella; and accompanied by former Prime Minister, now Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong, no less. This second Milan appearance was “better than other fairs we have been to, and several good contacts were made with buyers receptive to our designs,” Soh said.
Christopher Soh, marketing manager for Air Division in Singapore, says “knowing that American hardwood is from sustainable sources” has been key to success of the products by this award-winning firm.
Of the four homegrown brands, Plank Living accounts for up to 50 percent of total offerings, from which the wooden collection is mainly derived. Sofas are the other main items. Designs currently come from within, by the company’s own designers, but consideration may also be given to outside commissioned designers. All manufacturing is contracted out, mainly in the neighboring State of Johor in Malaysia and some are still made in Singapore where mass production of furniture is a thing of the past. Only bespoke furniture making survives in Singapore – a country where tourism, retail, biomedical and aviation industries now set the price of labor. The company is naturally reticent about its producer relationships, but a recent visit by the author to the main manufacturing plant in Malaysia confirmed the standards of material and quality control as well as working practices.
Only American hardwood is used now that Teak, which was Air’s leading species, has been discontinued. The firm believes that U.S. material provides a more reliable source, compared to Burmese Teak, which is ever more difficult to get and subject to huge price fluctuations. The company also feels that plantation Teak, from countries like Indonesia, is not up to the standards it requires in its well-established premium Plank Living range, which now only uses American White Oak and Black Walnut. Also, “knowing that American hardwood is from sustainable sources was key,” Soh said. This can clearly be taken as a demonstration of where American hardwoods lie in the top end of Asian designer furniture markets. It is significant that under hardwood information in the current catalog, it states that only timber chosen from sustainable forests in the United States is used, and later continues: “All hardwood sourced is from a member of the American Hardwood Export Council. American hardwood species comprise one of the most sustainably managed forest resources in the world, producing consistent grades and providing constant and reliable shipments.” To learn more, go online and visit the association’s website at www.ahec.org.
Air Division is at the leading edge of designer furniture in the Singapore retail market with two prestigious showrooms for local consumers.
Air Division is wholly owned by Singapore partners. The company is also proud that to date its designs are 100 percent Singaporean too, which may explain the level of official support it gets. With only a small team of people employed, Air is a tight ship too, and thus able to weather the global financial storm of recent months when demand took a dramatic downturn. Incorporated 10 years ago, it describes itself as a highly developed, multifaceted furniture design and retail specialist. However, the future must include international recognition, given there is a domestic market potential of only 5 million people. The management is actively seeking overseas partnerships with likeminded companies or partners in design and is also considering offering franchises for which there are details on its website. Already Air Division is trading in Scandinavia, Germany and Luxembourg.
The international appeal of the signature Plank Living Collection is its warmth and assurance enveloped in fine wood with craftsmanship at its heart. The stamp of quirkiness and individuality is what the company believes sets its Funktion range apart from others. The company’s main export brand, Plank has been featured in many leading international design titles such as Monocle and Wallpaper.
Awards and accolades have also been important for the company’s development. From 2004 to 2006, it was the recipient of nine awards, including:
• 2004 Design Excellence Award for Air Division catalog; • 2005 ISO 9000: 2008 Award for quality management systems; • 2006 Gold Award for Best Furniture Retailer; • 2009 ISO 14001 Award for environmental management systems; • 2009 Winner, Asian Furniture Leadership Award.
At Air Division, only American hardwood is used now that Teak, which was Air’s leading species, has been discontinued. The firm believes that U.S. material provides a more reliable source.
In 2009 Air Division launched its fourth edition of Broadcast catalog, a showcase of its bestsellers and new offerings of tables, chairs, storage and audio units from all four homegrown brands. There is no easy way to combine minimalism with comfort, but the struggle to keep material costs down is worth the comfort of making some contribution to the environment. This is at the center of the company’s business and design philosophy and jumps out from the pages of Broadcast 2009.
To quote the publication, “At Air Division, we believe that the integrity of design lies in improving the usefulness and aesthetic forms of objects, while serving the needs of people. Our steadfast design approach is based on sincerely applying the following fundamentals of good design; creative concepts, honest use of materials, efficient and intelligent use of advanced production techniques and exacting proportions and details.”