As the founder and CEO of Singapore’s leading home improvements retail chain, Mr. Low Cheong Kee has brought the Home-Fix brand to Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia and Mongolia. He also operates Home-Fix Trading, an importer and distributor of quality lifestyle brands, sold in Home-Fix stores and in leading retail outlets throughout the region.
Low Cheong Kee (CK), also owns and operates an expansive co-working space called XPC, a showroom and service arm called Home-Fix & More, and the largest Asian outlet of the acclaimed French furniture brand Gautier.
Armed with the first-hand experience of working in his parents’ store, CK opened the first Home-Fix store in Siglap Centre in 1993. Soon after, his brother, Low Cheong Yew came on board, and together they grew the business exponentially. From a single store, Home-Fix grew to a chain of over 30 stores in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Mongolia. Today, after a ‘right-sizing’ exercise, the Asia-wide chain still numbers close to 30 outlets. Throughout his quarter of a century in business, CK has been tirelessly transforming all that he touches. Employing technology and implementing systems, he transformed the old, outdated model of a hardware store from a small owner-centric shop – one where only the owners could locate and cite the price of every item in stock, to a modern retail empire. The introduction of computerised stock inventory and price tagging standardised offerings across all stores. A strong service culture, which invested heavily in developing talent from within, made Home-Fix synonymous with sound advice and that most important commodity, knowledge.
Despite the stellar reputation and steady expansion of the Home-Fix chain, CK became acutely aware of the mounting challenges posed by the rapidly changing retail landscape. Well-travelled Singaporeans had become increasingly exposed to overseas trends. Tech-savvy consumers had become more and more comfortable with shopping online. Time-starved consumers had become less inclined to roll up their sleeves and ‘do it themselves’.
In response to these factors, CK searched for opportunities. True to character, he found them. It dawned on CK that, while consumers may not have the time nor the tools to ‘D.I.Y.’, they were becoming thirstier for product knowledge and hungrier for choice. And so, the concept of ‘D.I.F.Y.’ – or ‘Doing It for You’, was born. Soon, Home-Fix stores offered consumers the option of engaging a tradesman or skilled service provider to install or apply the products bought in-store. It was the perfect solution for consumers who wanted to play an active role in the buying but not in the doing of the D.I.Y. process.
With the introduction of the D.I.F.Y. suite of services, Home-Fix stores had all of the homeowners’ home maintenance and renovation needs covered. However, when CK stepped back and looked at the bigger picture, he realised that Home-Fix had not so much neglected but ignored one very important stage in a homeowner’s life cycle – the very first stage of setting up a new home. CK shifted his sights from the admittedly diminishing returns of the D.I.Y. market to the growing category of the home creation market – that joyous first stage in the homeowner’s life cycle when, typically, a newlywed couple moves into an empty flat. It’s that exciting time when the walls are blank canvases, and every bare room is filled with endless possibilities – and endless purchases waiting to be made.
Tapping that rich wellspring of potential, CK opened not one but two major new ventures in early 2017 – Home Fix & More, and Gautier. Located in a bustling suburban neighbourhood of Singapore, Home-Fix & More is a showcase of handpicked quality brands in home-related categories ranging from wall decorations to home automation and lighting. A series of interactive product displays encourages consumers to browse, learn, trial and buy – and engage a tradesman to install their purchases, all under one roof. It was D.I.F.Y. taken to a new level.
The second new venture that was unveiled within the Home-Fix Group of Companies was Gautier, a French brand of furniture and furnishings that were handpicked by CK himself. Beloved in Europe, Gautier is fast winning fans among discerning local homeowners as well as architects and upscale interior design firms.
Today, Gautier and Home-Fix & More operate as next-door neighbours in two vast adjoining showrooms. This strategic juxtaposition allows shoppers to browse and buy their large furniture items, then literally stroll through a common door and select their fixtures, fittings, paints and more. Together, these two new ventures represent a ‘one stop shop’ for new homeowners.
Over the past decade, CK has become increasingly involved with the burgeoning makers’ movement in Singapore. A founding member of OneMaker Group (OMG), he has hosted bi-monthly Makers’ Meetups in the Home-Fix Building and provides subsidised working space and equipment rental for members at XPC. He continues to champion, mentor and supports the group in a number of ways.
Partnering the Singapore Government in the SkillsFuture movement, an initiative aimed at helping Singaporeans realise their potential in life, CK has recently steered his Group of companies in another new direction – education. Drawing on its deep expertise in staff training, Home-Fix now conducts well-attended short courses in Painting, Varnishing & Wood Care, and in Basic Handyman Tasks & Repairs, at XPC. Members of the public ‘pay’ with SkillsFuture ‘Credits’. Never one to shy away from a challenge, CK recently ventured into digital making as an extension of the Makerspace that was part of the Home-Fix Experience Centre (XPC). When the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) announced a plan to nurture a new generation of digital natives with a passion to create with technology, CK rallied his team to pitch for the contract to supply codable micro-controllers – called micro-bits – to schools and the community. Micro-bits were developed with the beginning digital makers in mind to ease them into the complex world of coding, crafting and creativity. They can be programmed to work with sensors and motors to perform a variety of functions to make everyday things like kitchen timers, tea brewers, compass, step counters or automated plant watering systems.
After winning the pitch to make and supply micro-bits to schools, CK also directed Home-Fix to work with schools, community clubs and other social organisations to introduce digital making across broad segments of society. Home-Fix partnered with Dads For Life, a fathers’ movement to run father-child digital making workshops. In what has been a touching role reversal, these digital natives shared with their parents the fundamentals of computer coding, using kits designed and manufactured by Home-Fix. Home-Fix also offers short classes in micro-bit coding coupled with D.I.Y. projects, which are as much about father and son bonding as they are about mastering a mini motherboard.
From selling D.I.Y. to teaching it, CK continues to preach the D.I.Y. lifestyle, through ways and means that continue to surprise industry seers and, truth be told, CK himself. “if a customer has no time or talent for D.I.Y., we can always offer them inspiration to make a home that is a true reflection of their personality. That’s where the D.I.F.Y. (Doing It For You) concept and Gautier come into the picture,” added CK. At the end of the day, CK aspires to make peoples’ lives simply more meaningful.