Q&A with Declan Ee, Castlery Co-Founder

"When people think about designer furniture without breaking the bank, they will think about Castlery."

Updated on June 14, 2017 12:06 pm

Samantha Echavez


Castlery is a start-up success story. Established in 2013, it is now known in the market as a competitive and reliable company that produces and delivers designer furniture without the additional costs of middlemen, warehouses, and shopfronts. It boasts of a formidable e-shop, spacious showroom—what they call the "experience centre"—their own factories, a group of talented designers, and of course, a massive collection of quality-made furniture pieces with reasonable price points.

"Honestly priced furniture, direct to your door"—this is the promise of Castlery, and also the key to its success. Castlery takes pride in the fact that they do furniture retail differently. Because they deal directly with the factories, they are able to remove the middleman and effectively streamline their processes. The result? Quality furniture that comes with an honest price. No high markups, no unnecessary extra costs.

Heading the company is co-founder Declan Ee, who is amazed at their rapid growth himself. "At the very start, I would say [starting Castlery] was almost by accident in the sense that we never planned to go regional and have our own supply chain. My co-founder Fred Ji was looking for something to do. He said, 'I wanted to start a business.' Together with Zhou Zhiwei, our third co-founder, we then tried different things and worked on different projects, from location-based rentals to job matching sites—but Castlery had the most promise," says Declan. The journey to where they are now is quite enthralling and even inspiring. He tells us more in this interview:

The Castlery showroom is located at Alexandra Road. Here, you can engage with consultants, get customised furniture, and marvel at designer pieces.

How did you get started with Castlery, and why did you choose the furniture business?

I furnished my house way before we started Castlery. I got tons of my stuff back in Europe. Naturally, you’d think it was expensive, but it was not. It was much cheaper than [the ones here in Singapore]. So Fred went one step further: He visited factories—maybe 20 to 30—across the region. And I think that was when the seed of Castlery was starting to form. We thought that there might be a demand. The founding team got together and coded the website in 10 days, and within 10 days, someone bought a light bulb, then a sofa. We were just at home. That’s where we started. In the first nine months, sales was very strong, up 100 to 200 percent every month from a very low base. That was late 2013 to 2014. We were just starting out, so our business was more local than regional, and we were still working on getting our own supply chain and original designs, but we saw great potential for Castlery, and said, "Let’s just see what happens."

When did you realise that you wanted to pursue the business?

When we saw the traction, we realised there’s really something that could be done here. I remember delivering a sofa with Fred and Travers (the fourth co-founder, who joined us nine months to one year after we started) to a flat on the ground floor of a 20- to 40-year-old HDB. We couldn’t fit the sofa through the door; we even had to unscrew it. The homeowner is a grandfather. And he said, "You guys have a good attitude." They were very happy. The grandkids were jumping on the sofa. It was nice. We realised we could bring great design and so we were like, "How can we scale this up?"

What were the steps you took after to build and fortify Castlery?

The passion for the design was at the core of it. The challenge was to scale it. Because we could deliver 20 to 30 sofas...how can we do 300? We were asking ourselves that question. Over time, we realised that we need partners to make it for us, and that we need very good control of the supply chain. We weren't big enough to build our own factory, so we made a commitment to vertically integrate. We thought about a distribution centre and a good relationship. By that time, we knew 100 suppliers, then in six to nine months, we knew 500 factories around Asia, Europe. At the end of 2014, we hired our own design team. So at that point, we were pushing our own design.

In a nutshell, that’s the journey. Last year, we moved to this experience centre in Alexandra Road. We have now our own factories and warehouse. As of now, we are fully vertically integrated.

Tell us about Castlery's design process.

There are five key phases: 1) Inspiration or ideation; 2) Finalising the technical drawings; 3) Determining the best raw materials for the designs; 4) Producing the Prototype ; 5) Quality Control Testing.

For the ideation phase, we do not have a set structure and draw inspirations from multiple sources—everyday life, exhibitions, magazines and even music. Fred and I, we both love music. I am also a producer. And as a musician, you care a lot about the little details. This translates over to our obsession over our core products. We think about the furniture: how it looks, the kind of material, and the right price point. There has to be a balance between good quality and the right price point.

"Honestly priced furniture, direct to your door"—this is the promise of Castlery.

What is your vision for Castlery?

We want to be recognised. When you think of a designer furniture, you think of us. We’re not a cheap brand, but we give great value for money. As a company, we hope to become a great brand, and become a very strong vertically integrated company. There will be technology on two fronts: first, on the web/mobile and second, technology across the supply chain. For the consumers, when they think about designer furniture without breaking the bank, they will think about us. That’s what we want.

What were your major achievements in the past few years?

1. Building our own ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system that allows us to track our inventory in real time. We have a real-time indicator on our website. This is very complicated. It took us nine months to achieve this.

2. This showroom or experience centre

3. Opening our own factories and having world-class talents. We have a really good team. We went from using other people’s designs to 80 percent our own. That’s something I’m very proud of.

How do you intend to help the Singaporean homeowner?

To provide great price for good quality and good design. Everybody deserves good design.

But more than that, we want to make the process of furniture shopping as smooth as possible. That’s why we spent so many efforts with our experience centre—we have consultants who can engage you. Plus, there’s no hidden cost. It’s pure transparent, honest pricing. When you are shopping online, we want to make the process smooth as well. You don’t need the stress of buying the furniture with wrong measurements. It’s really that experience.

We want to tell the market that great designs can come from Singapore, and we want to build our brand around that. We’re taking baby steps to reach that.

Quick Questions

City or country?

Traditional or contemporary?

Morning or evening person?

Comfort food when conceptualising

Favourite place in Singapore
The Mandarin Oriental bar, the bar that overlooks the city. I always go there to work.

Favourite furniture piece in your home
Now I have the Tracy armchair because of practical reasons. My wife uses it to breastfeed our child; I use it to burp him. it’s very comfy.

Favourite Singaporean dish
Wanton noodles

If you could live in a famous person's home, whose would it be and why?
Next year it would be great to be in Mark Zuckerberg's home, because he’s working on an AI.

Interior design trend you're glad that happened
Less clutter. Before, it was all about having big things. Now it’s just clean and less mess.

If you would be reborn in another country, where would it be and why?
Spain. I love the culture, the music, and the food. I am influenced by the music they produce.

#01-03A 2 Alexandra Road, Singapore 159919
Tel. No. +65 6744 533
Email: help@castlery.com

Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 9:30 am to 8pm; Sat, Sun, and PH, 12pm to 6pm

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