Ben Gan, Managing Director of Urban Group, has always been drawn to the creative side of interior design and the world of possibilities that it offers. The self-made visionary entrepreneur has come from a humble interior design company and evolved into a formidable group with a desirable portfolio of high-profiled clients and a strong culture of creativity.
Upon graduating from the Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) with a Diploma in Interior Design in 2000, Ben Gan acquired invaluable experience in Singapore for a few years before returning to Malaysia and establishing Urban Designs Studio Sdn Bhd in 2003. Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, its business soon flourished and Urban Designs Studio now has six branches throughout the nation. Over the years, the business has diversified into six companies specialising in different aspects of the interior design supply chain.
Managed by the 100-strong Urban Group, the companies range from the supply of materials for home decorating (Urban Home Deco) to property investment consultancy (Urban Twenty One). “This direction is in line with my ultimate vision of Urban Group. We are no longer just an interior design company, but rather, a strategic mix of complementary industries,” explains Ben. By establishing a presence at significant points of the supply chain and developing stronger relationships with business partners, the company’s profitability can significantly increase. Most importantly, the group can control the quality of every part of the process which essentially benefits its customers.
In addition to spearheading Urban Group’s diverse ventures, Ben has personally conceptualised an impressive array of projects, including commercial offices, retail stores, entertainment establishments, hotels, and countless residential homes. The group’s client list boasts of industry movers and shakers such as Standard Chartered, Tune Hotels, Sime Darby, The Beer Factory, MediaCorp, and Herbalife.
This year the Urban Group was awarded the contract to design the interior spaces of Caffé Bene, a hugely popular coffee chain from South Korea which is in the midst of launching about 100 cafes throughout Malaysia. The interior design of the current four Caffé Bene outlets is inspired from European-styled cafes. Ben opines that as far as trends go, European designers bring a certain signature international flair to any space – a look that is minimalist, simple yet modern. For his personal space, Ben prefers a simple and understated look. To him, there is nothing better than coming home to a simple and tastefully decorated house that exudes an aura of peace and tranquillity. “Such a space clears my mind and allows me to make great decisions,” he says.
He admits that the interior design industry is a competitive and tough one due to low entry barriers and its unique challenges. “It takes a certain mind-set to press on through the sleepless nights and incredibly hardwork that is a norm in this industry,” he says. Not only do interior designers need to have a sound technical know-how on designing a place from floor to ceiling, they also must possess excellent interpersonal communications and problem-solving skills to deal and negotiate with clients, architects, contractors and other service providers. “I love every challenge that comes my way. I believe that for every problem there is always a solution. We just need to find what it is and apply it. Nothing is impossible,” states Ben.
The key to Urban Group’s success lies in the company’s focus in building a strong relationship with its clients. “We spend a lot of time communicating and planning with our clients to ensure that we completely understand what they want. As such, our customers have the utmost confidence in us,” Ben explains. “The
after-sales service is also equally important to us. Our clients are given three months to a year to check for defects and settle the retention payment after they are satisfied. That’s how confident we are with the quality of our work.” With such a level of personal touch in their projects, Ben shies away from tender submissions which he feels are highly impersonal. “We are interested in design and build projects where we have the opportunity to build a strong relationship and trust with our clients. If they like us, they will engage us and in most cases, they do.”
After doggedly slaving over the business for the past decade, he has recently set up a home office so as to spend more time with his family and children. “With the advent of modern technology, I don’t have to be in the office every day. Plus, with my trusted and able team and business partners, I can now free up more time to be with my family members who are important to me.”
Ben plans to expand Urban Designs Studio to 10 branches next year and with the help of some key business partners, he intends to penetrate the smaller states in the country. “Most competitors are concentrated only in the highly populated areas in Malaysia. I see a huge potential of growth there and am keen to work with good partners to establish a strong presence in those areas,” says the visionary entrepreneur as he charts the course for the Group’s next phase of growth and transformation.