#51 - Art of Construction

Q&A: Indonesian Startup Fabelio Shakes up the Local Furniture Market

Courtesy of Fabelio

How can young business and design-savvy entrepreneurs crack the code for their local market? Jakarta-based furniture brand Fabelio, founded in 2015, explains how they succeeded in doing just that in this interview with ArchiExpo e-Magazine.

Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest growing markets. Its long history of craftsmanship, wide range of beautiful materials readily available and affordable labor make for an excellent combination when entering the furniture market. This fact intrigued the co-founders of Fabelio when in 2012 they were selected by incubator Rocket Internet, known for having made “a lot of waves in Asia with its e-commerce startups“, to collaborate on many of its ventures in Indonesia.

The diverse expertise and background of the co-founders—CMO Christian Sutardi (German), CPO Filippo Lombardi (Italian) and Chief Design Officer Marshall Utoyo (Indonesian) and. CEO Krishnan Menon (Indian)—united them in establishing an e-store which stands out among its competitors such as BeliFurniture and Livaza.

In under three years the company evolved from a limited amount of products available only made to order to 5,000 products, some of which remain made to order while the “best sellers” are now housed in their large warehouse; and now work with more than 2,000 local craftsmen and factories, strengthening their connection to the community.

Invited to their office in Jakarta, we speak to Filippo Lombardi about the e-commerce journey and the company’s relationship to not only its clients but the community.

You might be interested in reading this article on furniture e-commerce in Indonesia.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Tell us about the beginning of Fabelio.

Filippo Lombardi: We met in 2012 when we were selected by Rocket Internet and then we launched, with a few others, the Conclave Coworking Space. Later we decided we wanted to enter the furniture market and found that the Indonesian companies producing beautiful furniture focused on exporting, as they could increase the prices; there weren’t really any brands targeting middle-class Indonesians, who are also interested in purchasing beautiful furniture for their homes. We chose to serve the domestic market and our company has evolved in accordance with their needs. For example, as you can image, made-to-order products take a long time to produce and deliver—45 days can test someone’s patience when we see something we want to buy and have right now. Our clients began demanding faster delivery and that’s when we started stocking best-selling pieces in a warehouse. Also, when many of our clients expressed their desire for a more classic collection, we got to work. It will be available as of October.

Another important obvious enlightenment was that every % improvement in any part of the customer journey has the same % improvement on revenues,” Fabelio on 500distro.asia

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What role do your showrooms play when Fabelio is an e-store?

Filippo Lombardi: In 2016, we opened our very first showroom and invited clients to come see the products first-hand. Although the purchasing occurs through our website, clients can make the purchase while at the showroom. Today we have eight showrooms and a large percentage of sales taking place there. We’re known to offer a 10% discount to customers who come to one of our showrooms to make their purchase. Our showrooms act as a physical location in order to showcase our products so that we can interact with clients face-to-face.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Why didn’t you choose to include brick and mortar?

“Some of the biggest online retailers, take Amazon and Alibaba, are opening brick and mortar stores.”

Filippo Lombardi: It’s the biggest conversation we have with our investors. For the last twenty years, the trend has been the full digitalisation of the retail world. Everyone was and is still moving to the digital world because it’s more efficient and less expensive. What we saw, later on, is that some of the biggest online retailers, take Amazon and Alibaba, are opening brick and mortar stores. We believe in an omnichannel approach. However, transitioning from brick and mortar to digital, in our opinion, is more challenging than the other way around.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What are some other ways you connect to locals?

Filippo Lombardi: We invited graffiti artists to collaborate on a project where they painted art on several of our items.

Aditya Jamaluddin, Chief Marketing Officer:  For our first collaboration we decided to ask three female street artists to participate to bring out the young spirit of female Indonesians. The artists created colorful prints on their key pieces which include their Wina cabinet, Java table and sofa. The proceeds from the project were donated to KOWANI, a foundation engaged in women’s empowerment in Indonesia. As this was successful, we decided to do a similar collaboration which will highlight our Independence day—with other brands that include Negarawan Batik where our furniture is adorned with Indonesian batik prints. This particular collection includes 17 pieces and is all made in Cirebon, in the center of Indonesia. We want to make a sense out of Indonesia furniture, which currently might be well-known for its use of Teak wood but Indonesia has another beauty: the art scene. By combining art and furniture, it’s a way to add heritage to the home.  

Fabelio also stands out by offering free interior design serves for customers interested in refreshing at least one full room.

Most of our clients don’t know about interior design, so we expect our free service will generate more demand for interior designers in the future.”

The company doesn’t have any “innovative” high-tech features, such as a smartphone app—although clients can request VR for their interior design projects, they usually don’t—, but Indonesian search engines list Fabelio on the first page of results. Why? It’s all about good design, considering the clients’ needs first and forming a strong marketing team.

Fabelio exemplifies the growing trend of putting the clients at the heart of the company. Let the clients lead the trail for growth in regards to product design and the business model, but entice them to come to you—and they will!


About the Author

American artist Erin Tallman is a journalist for various online publications and is the Editor in Chief of AgriExpo e-magazine and ArchiExpo e-magazine. She has published three books, including her first novel.

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