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Koda Ltd., located in Singapore, exhibited this furniture made of American Black Walnut at a recent trade show.
KODA: A Leader In Dining Furniture

By Michael Buckley
Photos by Turnstone Singapore

Singapore–Founded in 1972 and backed by a management team with a combined experience of close to a century Koda Ltd, located here, is a leading Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) and possibly the largest dining room furniture exporter in Southeast Asia. Koda’s range of products is design intensive and aims at the middle and upper end of international markets, demanding individuality, sophistication and elegance. As a leading member of Singapore’s Mosaic generic brand, the company is always at the forefront of furniture industry initiatives.

In his recent National Day speech, Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, applauded local furniture makers for converting from a sunset to a sunrise industry. Koda, the largest of all, has been a leader in this success story. With manufacturing plants in Malaysia and Vietnam and production sub-contracted in China, Koda has grown from a small Singapore-based manufacturer to a multinational with 200 trade customers in more than 50 countries around the world. Koda, founded by the Koh family, has led the local furniture industry by participation in many initiatives, for example the initiation and development of the “Mosaic” brand for national recognition, launched in 2008 by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC).

Ernie Koh is executive director of marketing at Koda. He oversees many markets for the firm.
The older Malaysian plant employs around 300 people of which about one-third of the production staff are local and about two-thirds are immigrant workers and is heavy to manual work. However, Koda is known to be looking at a phase of reinvestment shortly. Last fall, the company stated, “The Group has not let up on its commitment to continually investing in raising its design standards and new product development.”

Production in Malaysia concentrates on the use of solid hardwoods – American Black Walnut and White Oak, with some interest developing in other species such as Maple and European Oak in thicker sections for items such as solid table legs, as well as Rubberwood and Acacia. The newer Vietnam plant is where most of the soft upholstery furnishing production is undertaken as well as solid wood furniture. Koda’s latest collections can be seen at three major Southeast Asian furniture shows each spring – International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS), Malaysian International Furniture Fair (MIFF) and Vietnam International Furniture Fair (VIFA) or simply stroll through

Koda’s Malaysian plant purchases North American White Oak for use in many of its furniture designs.
Koda’s mission statement is straightforward: “We must be the most effective value-for-money manufacturer. We must remain design-relevant. We must invest in Research & Development. We must ensure that our products remain affordable and accessible. We must ensure we have the right people with the right skills. We must deliver to our shareholders value and investment comfort.”

The recent International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS) and other 2010 shows in Kuala Lumpur, Saigon and Guangzhou have served to reaffirm Koda’s strong market position simply by virtue of its ever changing range of quality furniture. Despite employing a team of in-house designers, the commissioning in the past of such international designers as Italian Luigi “Gigi” Garbarino and American John Kelly is another approach.

Koda’s product portfolio of over 300 models caters to the mid-to-upper-end customer segments worldwide and is rarely far from the cutting edge of mass-production furniture design. The company’s engineers are also regularly involved in the final design process. Production capacity in Vietnam for example, with a staff of 2,000, can be upward of 300 containers a month.

This is an example of Koda’s craftsmanship, which is evident in this coffee table comprised of North American White Oak.
Koda has long been a disciple of American hardwoods with major furniture collections over the years in several U.S. species. Currently White Oak and Black Walnut feature strongly in both living and bedroom furniture. A new trend has been much more combination of hardwood and steel in its “Linus,” “Dayton” and “Utah” ranges. Koda has never been frightened to lead the pack with innovation and was one of the first in Asia to develop character grade contemporary, as opposed to rustic, furniture with all the natural imperfections of wood as a design feature. More recently Koda has introduced “Eco” furniture manufactured in bamboo. These have been important to some of its many European buyers where the inclusion of a green furniture option is essential. Koda’s R&D in the past has also focused on recycled Pine and even rail ties as well as coconut wood in an effort to try out new ideas and concepts. However Koda’s long term commitment to hardwood is very clear when reviewing its collections for as long as anyone can remember.

James Koh Jyh Gang is Deputy Chairman and Managing Director and spearheads the growth strategies for the Group’s operations. With significant experience garnered through the initiation of various industry wide projects in Southeast Asia and China, he has been able to successfully formulate Koda’s business expansion strategies, strengthen supply chain management, broach new design concepts and manage international marketing investments. James served as the President of SFIC for two terms. During his tenures he initiated several industry wide projects, most notably the International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS) and the Singapore Furniture Industry Park in Kunshan, China. He was also appointed the Chairman of IFFS Pte Ltd and the International Furniture Centre Steering Committee, with the objectives of growing the IFFS as a world class trade show and positioning Singapore as a premier furniture hub for the global market. James also spearheaded the 3-year Local Enterprise Association Development program, a multi-agency program that aims to enhance competitiveness of various industries in Singapore. In July 2009, he was invited to be a member of the Economic Strategies Committee, an initiative by the Ministry of Finance to develop strategies for Singapore to seize growth opportunities as a global city in order to achieve sustained and inclusive growth.

At the recent International Furniture Fair Singapore, Koda exhibited this piece of furniture of darkly stained North American Oak.
Ernie Koh, James’ brother is Executive Director of Marketing. He looks after many markets, of which several in Europe are extremely important to the company. Koda is usually at the important Guangzhou show and in April this year Koda showed at the Milan show under its well known banner “Redefining Lifestyle.”

Commenting recently on the Group’s performance, James Koh said, “With the odds inherently stacked up against the global home furniture industry, viz-a-viz deteriorating economic conditions and business restrictive credit crunch, we couldn’t avoid a net loss in the past unless we could accept the heightened credit risk exposure that could easily let us clinch more deals. There were several large potential orders we had to walk away from for obvious reasons; although these would have helped generate some economies of scale,” he explained. “The rise in the number of confirmed orders from our major U.S. market has picked up pace over the last two quarters but customers are still continuing their revised buying psychology when the downturn started – confirming orders in much smaller batches and increasingly seeking shorter delivery turnaround time,” he added.

The Group has had a good start in its new financial year reporting a strong 47.4 percent sequential rebound in revenue or 2.8 percent higher than the revenue recorded for the corresponding period ended September 2008, before the U.S. financial crisis imploded.

Koda staff assembles all tables by hand.
James Koh was also very encouraged by the IFFS in March for “the quality of the products on display and the visitor attendance from the outset.” At least in Asia so far Koda is seeing the green shoots of recovery.

Koda styles often combine different species, such as this combination featuring American White Oak and Black Walnut.

Handcrafted design figures greatly into Koda’s ongoing success. About 300 people are employed at the firm’s Malaysian plant.

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