A Passion Project
Florence Ko’s unprecedented interest in interior design paved the way for the creation of one of the country’s biggest distributors of Italian luxury furniture brands.
It all began when Florence Ko was in the midst of building her home around 18 years ago. The goal was to search for high-end pieces to furnish the house, but availability was scarce and options were limited. “Even then, I was already dealing with Germans and Italians because of our hardware business,” she says. “I had next to no knowledge regarding the furniture industry, so our suppliers served as my links to the brands I was interested in. I later realised that this could be a good business venture because it would give Filipinos access to high-quality furniture.”
Her first acquisition was furniture brand Poltrona Frau, which one of her suppliers suggested she should get in touch with. Today, Furnitalia is the licensed distributor of large brands such as Molteni & C, Flexform, Giorgetti, Cassina, Fiam, Veblem, Roda, Venini, Fontana Arte, Penta, and Calligaris.
Philippine Tatler: What was your biggest challenge in the early stages of the business?
Florence Ko: I don’t have an architectural or interior design background, and I wasn’t sure what the highend furniture brands were. With bags and cars, it’s easy to distinguish—we can easily give examples off the top of our heads. For furniture, it’s a different case; I took my cues from my contacts who were already in the industry. In the beginning, most of what we did was based on hearsay, but we got lucky. We are blessed because we were able to learn things along the way.
PT: Was it difficult to convince all these brands to enter the Philippine market?
FK: Not at all. At that time, Italian furniture brands had no presence in the country. To be able to distribute their pieces was a big opportunity for both Furnitalia and the brands.
PT: Do you have a certain aesthetic in mind when choosing brands to distribute?
FK: Not really. I limit myself in terms of quantity, though. Think of this in the context of a pie—with more mouths to feed, the share of each one will be significantly smaller. When I acquire a brand, I want to be very committed to it. I don’t want to just keep getting them on board and not be able to give them their due.
PT: How do you keep good relationships with your brands?
FK: It’s just like maintaining your relationships with your friends or significant others—you have to make sure they’re happy. If there are disagreements or problems, you have to solve them together.
PT: Have you noticed any rising trends in furniture? How do these affect what people buy?
FK: Yes, but personal preference still plays a bigger part in the decision-making process. Regardless of whether a certain piece is trendy or not, if it doesn’t suit the client or if the client doesn’t like it, it doesn’t result in a sale. Not everyone likes the same things.
PT: What makes Furnitalia unique from the other companies in the same business?
FK: I believe each and every company has its own way of representing its products. We all have our own marketing strategies; it all depends on what will work with what we sell. My business is also highly concentrated—Furnitalia only deals with furniture. My other products fall under different companies. Another factor is my presence. I’m at the showroom almost every day. I don’t get to talk to each and every customer, but I try my best.
PT: Is there a pressure to stay relevant?
FK: Of course. You have to keep up so you won’t fall behind—this applies to all businesses. As much as possible, I want Furnitalia to continue to grow for the better. We want to give the clients the best service and experience possible. In line with that is my willingness to invest. If a piece is beautiful and unique, I will not hesitate to invest in it to add value to Furnitalia.
Photography by Ramon Mangila | Make-up by Jorence de Limos of MAC Cosmetics | Hair by Jan Edrosolan