In the heart of the bustling Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig is a veritable adult’s dreamland. If kids and the young at heart have Disneyland, today’s lifestyle-enriched grownups have the 5,000-sq m showroom of Focus Global as their dreamscape.
Stepping into the showroom, one is greeted by the sight of intimate vignettes of home furniture, equipment and accessories.
On each of the showroom’s five floors is a wide range of products with designs ranging from the classical to the modern, with of state-of-the-art technology, particularly on the floor of bathroom fixtures.
There are faucets made of gold, for instance, and showers that are multi-lit and multi-scented (aromatherapy as you take a shower), and with piped-in music.
If one needs proof of how the Philippine economy is thriving, one need only visit the Focus Global Showroom. Here, Filipino consumers would be delighted to see how they can spruce up their home or workplace in line with their respective lifestyles.
The Filipino’s taste certainly has become more sophisticated this century, and his eye for design more discerning.
Focus Global, which is celebrating its 25th year, is at the forefront of this lifestyle renaissance.
It has brought in and continues to bring in home brands that have developed an enviable market in the Philippines, and which have become iconic— from Ethan Allen, B&B Italia to SieMatic, Sub-Zero, Wolf, Miele, Dornbracht, Villeroy & Boch, Pella and Tempur, among others.
Indeed, the five-story Focus Global showroom is a one-stop destination for top-of-the-line home lines.
On one of its floors is the kitchen and dining area where chefs prepare fine meals for the clients, to show the quality of Focus Global’s kitchen appliances.
In a recent exclusive interview with Inquirer Lifestyle, Focus Global, Inc. executive vice president Lolita Sy notes how business has grown the past five years—“thanks in general to the positive performance of the Philippine economy, and the increasing demand for brands of more distinct quality and sophistication.
“This is clearly manifested in the growth of the luxury property segment in the country,” says Sy. “Some of the most luxurious residential real estate developments such as Two Roxas Triangle, Shangri-La Horizon Homes, Discovery Primea and The Suites have come up in the last five years, and have chosen brands like SieMatic, Sub-Zero, Wolf, Miele and Dornbracht for their most discerning clientele.”
This growth is due not only to favorable market conditions. Sy says, “I feel that, more importantly, our business has been driven by our steadfast focus on the things we value most. We have always considered the following as critical to running our business:
“First, we are very selective with the brands we represent. We bring in only brands we truly believe in and would love to use ourselves.
“Second, we place great importance on the people we work with. We try to select the people who we feel would take pride in their work, would have a high personal standard for excellence and would love to do things well. We invest in their training, motivation and growth.
“Teamwork is one of our five core values and we stress this in our daily work life. We also value dedication and discipline. I believe our team reflects these values in their work and how they deal with our clients.
“Third, we focus on making our clients’ experience very personal, enjoyable and worry-free.
“We strive to make our customer service stand out, where our clients appreciate not only the outstanding products they have purchased, but also the expert knowledge of our sales designers and the efficiency of our operations.
“Critical to almost all clients is the attentive after-sales service we give. We have often been thanked or praised for being one of the few suppliers that our clients can really depend on after the installation is done.
“Fourth, we work hard at building our brands.
“We’ve invested in a 5,000-sq m showroom in BGC where our clients can see many product choices. Providing a convenient one-stop destination for our brands is part of our customer service strategy.
“We’ve also invested in technology in our systems, for instance, in our Ethan Allen and B&B websites, where our clients can preview our on-stock items to save themselves time before coming to our showroom.”
It is interesting to note how Focus Global stuck it out even through the 1997 Asian crisis when the market was down.
Sy recalls: “We started in 1991 with the consumer products division and then the home furnishing division in 1996. Even with the Asian financial crisis in 1997, we knew and believed that there was a market for beautifully made home furnishings that the discerning Filipino consumer would appreciate.”
Through more than two decades, Focus Global has carried brands that are market leaders.
Sy cites examples: “Coleman has become almost a generic name for jugs and coolers.
Oster, our line of small kitchen appliances, has become synonymous with the iconic Oster blender. KitchenAid is a staple in the kitchens of those who love to bake, whether beginners or professionals.
“Our kitchen and appliance brands, Siematic, Miele, Subzero and Wolf, are very popular because they provide outstanding performance, beautiful aesthetics and great value.
“Tempur also is a trusted and well-loved brand. Most people can’t live without it after they have started using it.”
The birth of Focus Global is interesting.
Lolita and her husband Steve were building their house in the ’90s. Mrs. Sy recalls: While looking for furniture, my husband Steve and I realized that there weren’t many good furniture brands on the market. When we happened to be in the US and saw Ethan Allen, we were very impressed with the quality and wanted to bring in the furniture pieces for our use.
“That was where the idea came up. Why not bring Ethan Allen to the Philippines and share our exciting discovery with the rest of the country?”
What made them stick to the high-end niche?
“We wanted to build a portfolio of complementary brands,” says Sy. “But, I guess, it is also because Steve thought it would be great to bring in the brands he was in love with. He has an eye for things of exceptional quality.
“After Ethan Allen, he remembered the products he had seen and was very impressed with during our trips abroad, such as Sub-Zero and Siematic. He kept dreaming of bringing them to the Philippines.
“Today, Sub-Zero and SieMatic are two of our best-selling brands. People are more than willing to pay a premium for excellent quality and service.”
Where education is concerned, the couple have had more than adequate preparation for setting up what would turn out to be a pioneering role in the retail of high-end furniture, home furnishings and kitchen appliance.
A product of Assumption College in grade school, and International School Manila in middle school and high school, Mrs. Sy earned her BA Economics degree from Stanford University.
“I worked summers with my mother in our family business, Mesco Inc. (machine tools engineering services),” she says. “After graduation from college, I worked at Golden West Financials in branch operations and with the treasury department in the Bay area. After that I came back to the Philippines to join Mesco Inc. as CFO and treasurer.”
Steve studied in Iligan City up to third year high school, then moved to Manila to Grace Christian High School, and earned his BS Industrial Engineering degree at the University of the Philippines. He was asked to join the UP College of Engineering Advisory Council.
He took his masters in Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He worked at SGV right after graduating from University of the Philippines before going back to Iligan to help his mother manage Lian Hong Co., Inc., a family business started by his grandfather sometime in 1927 and revived by his father after the war in 1946.
The couple have five children.
In the last few years, the Sys’ Focus Global has acquired Italian brands which are more design-driven.
B&B Italia has furniture pieces designed by world-renowned architects and designers, such as Antonio Citterio, Naoto Fukasawa, Zaha Hadid, Patricia Urquiola and Jean-Marie Massaud.
Boffi is a line of beautifully designed kitchen cabinets, wardrobe systems and bathroom fixtures.
Both firms are pioneers in the Italian furniture industry. Both are awardees of the prestigious Golden Compass award for design and both are members of the Fondazione Altagamma.
These two brands are the only Italian furniture and kitchen companies that have joined the prestigious group of awardees. Gucci, Ferragamo, Ferrari and Bulgari belong to the elite circle.
Mrs. Sy describes their appeal to the more discerning Filipino consumers: “Aside, of course, from the refined craftsmanship, is the uniqueness of the designs. Each piece has a story to tell, and is in itself, a conversation piece. This is very interesting for clients, especially since nowadays, luxury has become all about the experience.
More of our Q&A with Mrs. Sy
What is the aspect of Filipino lifestyle that Focus Global appeals to?
Filipinos love to entertain family and friends, love beautiful things and love fixing up their home. Focus Global carries brands that are beautiful and inspiring for the home.
If you were to advise a newly married couple with good purchasing power, what brands will you recommend?
Definitely Ethan Allen and Siematic.
I would recommend Ethan Allen because it is a great investment and even having just a few pieces really changes the look of the space because of its beautiful proportions and its quality finishes.
Siematic is also an investment that I recommend as it will give you great pleasure and functionality for years..
If you can afford it, a B&B designer piece is like a work of art you can appreciate and enjoy every day in your home.
And if you love to cook, Miele, Wolf and Subzero will be something you’ll love to use and make cooking something you’ll want to do all the time for your family.
How wide is the market of Focus Global? Its demographics?
Focus Global has products ranging from jugs and coolers to very high-end kitchen and wardrobe systems. So in terms of demographics, our market ranges from as young as 5 years old to as mature as 65!
We cater to young homemakers (with our Oster appliances), to the more sophisticated cooking aficionados (with our Wolf and Miele appliances), and appeal even to the professionals of the trade (i.e. chefs and business owners who use Kitchen Aid).
What is your husband-wife synergy like in business? Who decides? Do you have interesting differences in business opinions?
Luckily, we have only minor differences in opinion, because he makes the final decision! (Steve often tells his friends that he always has the last say: “Yes dear.”)
As far as our business dynamics, I always think of Steve as the visionary, the strategist.
We both believe in building a strong team and empowering them. He often tells our key managers that he sets up the game for them and they are the ones to play it!
On my end, I feel that I’m more of the implementer. Because I’m very fond of details, I like to “perfect” the plans. Since I was an avid volleyball player, I love team sports and so I would also consider myself as the coach for our team. I think Steve and I both love to coach and mentor people.
If you were made to choose a chair that best represents your personality, in your portfolio, what will it be?
I’ve always found the B&B Grande Papilio by designer Naoto Fukasawa very intriguing. Naoto was in Manila recently and explained how the Papilio took inspiration from the shape of a butterfly, with its wings open in flight.
There was so much thought put into the shape and outline of this chair where the difference of a few millimeters in thickness made the proportion perfectly pleasing to the eye. The perfection of the outline is amazing and even the unseen curves in the back and sides of the seat make it so comfortable and ergonomic.
So while the Papilio looks very simple, its design actually pays attention to details. My office team usually says that my strength is in the details, and that I tend to notice the things which most people overlook, but are, in fact, very important.