A second generation of carpenters is all for giving woodworking a facelift.
From left: Lincoln and Morgan Yeo, Roger&Sons
Roger&Sons is one of the few companies that still makes all its furniture in land-scarce Singapore.
It is owned and managed by 28-year-old Morgan Yeo and his brothers Lincoln and Ryan. Where the company used to only mass produce system office furniture, it is now a brand of bespoke furniture.
Today the business model is simple: Clients approach them with a problem, their carpenters design a solution and manufacture. Branding and design now take top priority, securing the niche market for hand-crafted custom furniture.
Resurrecting a sunset industry
Things were not this simple when the young Yeos inherited the company—then called JR&P Industries—shortly after their father, Mr Roger Yeo, passed away in 2014.
The accounts were bleeding as a result of poor sales. Carpentry in Singapore had been dying for years. Their inexperience invited discrimination from industry veterans while their own generation scoffed at their blue-collared job.
Thankfully their unique skill sets melded together perfectly. Morgan, a finance graduate, now looks after business development and accounting. 24-year old Lincoln, a film major, is responsible for marketing and digital strategy. Ryan, 21, is still serving mandatory military service and helps out at the workshop whenever he can.
The old-school manufacturing model may have been abandoned but the family’s woodworking tradition still lives on. The pride of a home-grown family business known for “quality furniture tailored to one’s needs at an affordable price” became their brand story.
After an overhaul, the young bosses had a new website, logo, name cards and a Facebook account—all created in-house. They also had a new identity, Roger &Sons, “to honour Dad’s 28 years’ of hard work and tell him that no matter what happens we will continue the company,” says Morgan.
Things are better now for sure. Where hiring new blood used to be a problem, Roger &Sons now frequently receives job queries in the mail. Morgan and his brothers also learnt everything on-the-job, sponging up knowledge from employees, suppliers and industry friends.
“To build a business, you need to build a brand. In the beginning there was no reason for anyone to join us since no one knew who we were,” Morgan says.
“Everyone thought I was an intern, which was quite funny,” Lincoln recalls in hindsight. Then 22, he had many unconventional ideas, some unrealistic, which earned him a reputation for frivolity. “It took a long time for them to realise I was indeed here for the long haul.”
Cat shelves for a residence in Singapore
Bespoke furniture for Employees Only, a cocktail bar in downtown Singapore
Less is more
Roger &Sons currently has a small design team of three. All of them are deeply involved in the production process.
“We don’t put materials together just because it looks nice and expensive, it must also be functional,” Lincoln stresses. Some of the materials they use include Russian Birch plywood, Teak, American Oak and Walnut.
Basic machinery are used sparingly as the team believes too much machining work ‘kills the soul’ of the final piece. But the company is considering buying more software to expedite calculations and cutting precision when the number of orders increases. And projects are streaming in indeed.
Skills training remains a top priority as both Morgan and Lincoln want to preserve the vanishing woodworking trade in Singapore. Employees regularly attend courses held by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council. A Scottish carpenter was also brought in to impart carpentry techniques.
“There is a whole generation of craftsmen here, all very skilled and hardworking. It would be nice if they were recognised for their worth,” Morgan says.
By mid-2017, the company hopes to roll out a collection of furniture and later on, an online retail store.
“We want to be able to call ourselves industrial designers and make really good furniture,” says &Sons. “That’s the dream for 2017.”
This article is part of the Singapore furniture industry feature. It first appeared in the Jan issue of Panels & Furniture Asia.