FormFluent: growing a luxury clientele today
City lockdowns, border closures, and the most contagious pandemic since the Spanish Flu spelled disaster for many businesses globally since 2019 – so what would you have done if you have just launched your business before the pandemic? Many closed not long after to hedge against further losses during the initial outbreak, and many more tried to hold out as long as possible but had to shut down eventually. However, FormFluent Holdings Pty Ltd had bigger ideas, immediately transitioning to capitalising on the increasing digitization of commerce and to not forget that businesses are all about people.
FormFluent is the brainchild of Shwu Ching Chai who has a long professional history in the luxury industry and digital space. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Sydney. After that, she worked at the likes of The Richemont Group and The Hour Glass, handling a wide range of brand portfolios including Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Cartier, Rolex, Sydney Airport, Richard Mille, Reuge, AMP Capital, China Eastern Airlines, Harry Winston, Ferrari, Louis XIII and many others. She has also been the Head of Digital at Noble Universal during a period of rapid adoption of e-commerce and increasing importance of digital marketing. Back when she was working within the luxury watch industry, she was told by Swiss watch executives that ‘she would not make it far because she was female and Asian’ in an industry full of white European males. Unfazed, Ching refused to let her professional progression be dictated by antiquated systems of hierarchy and power. This pushed her to plan her own journey off the beaten path with the helping hands of the many genuine connections she fostered over the years. She has always found joy in building things from scratch and in engaging with the entrepreneurial process.
Lladró is a luxury brand from Spain specialising in the finest craftsmanship of handmade porcelain. They have already been in Australia for several decades but have only been appreciated by connoisseurs who are lucky enough to happen upon them or have known the brand before and actively searched for it. Through her years of fostering connections and providing indispensable servicing to both suppliers and clients, Lladró reached out to offer her exclusive distribution rights in Australia. This is a rare occurrence considering Ching does not come from luxury retail pedigree and isn’t even born and raised in Australia. The idea of FormFluent was then birthed to house Lladró and give other international luxury brands a localised voice in Australia and beyond. She is focused on building a robust luxury market for upcoming international brands with the long term in mind.
Braving the Storm
By opening the Lladró Sydney Boutique a month before COVID-19 hit globally, Ching was forced to navigate a host of logistical and market issues. There was both a commercial and moral limitation with using traditional mediums and methods during the pandemic. To circumvent this, Ching leveraged a continual nurturing of existing client bases and a strong digital presence and emphasis on e-commerce. Ching is also a strong proponent that the pace of markets will be changing more rapidly in the near future, what with the emergence of commercial-ready artificial intelligence, the increasingly unknown timeline of economic and tech wars, and the unpredictability of supply and logistics problems. There is a constant need not only to know your market but to follow it closely and know how the niche of your business fits into the big picture.
Every cloud does have its silver lining, so it is up to businesses to recognize and seize such opportunities. For example, the inability for most people to travel during a long pandemic meant that they had only limited local access to luxury brands and their available selections. Being forced to stay and work from home also encouraged people to splurge on quality furnishings and décor to compensate for the loss of freedom. Therefore, there would be a lot of uncaptured appetite for luxury from the region waiting to be served the correct platter. FormFluent was able to empathise with the local market, deliver a product line customised to the region, and focused on providing the best brand experience. The best line of defence is a hardy offence after all. Some buyers are also becoming more nitpicky and with their purchasing and demanding of a higher tier of service. Some businesses would be glad to just rid themselves of these customer bases which require too much work considering the payoff. However, Ching believes that it is sometimes better to throw your enemies a bone to convert them from enemies into allies. At the same time, it is important to know how to walk away from bad relationships or opportunities as she has refused multiple other brand deals which were less favourable. When you become more and more indispensable, you need to curate who to give your attention and time to.
Never Stop Learning
Ching managed to sustain and grow the business with flexible business strategies focusing on building communities – from B2B collaborations with adjacent industries, to informational events tailored to the local clientele. Millennials have been opting towards experiential luxury, and even baby boomers who already own luxuries have started trending in that direction too. FormFluent was built on the foundation of a more holistic cultural experience – to teach customers not only the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of products and services FormFluent and its brands has to offer. This leads to a greater appreciation and value offering for the customer and while promoting engagement on more levels. Most importantly, customers have become increasingly appreciative of and are willing to pay top dollar for quality client servicing, convenience and consistency which is becoming a rare commodity these days with the advent of cost cutting and talent shortage. It takes years to develop trust from your clients but just a single moment can negate all that hard work.
It is also becoming increasingly crucial to develop a healthy workplace ethos in the business by nurturing a balanced workplace environment and customised professional training programs for hires. Ching believes that you need to further elevate and play to the strengths of your employees while downplaying their flaws. Every person is a complex set of unique characteristics, and sticking to a routine system can often demotivate and not bring out the full potential of your employees. It is not a waste to spend time fostering a culture of positivity and pride in the work that your employees do. The eye for reading and dealing with people is also necessary when building industrial relations with other collaborators, suppliers, and even brand managers themselves. A genuine interest in people’s lives cannot be faked and will bring you far in life and open many doors you never thought possible further down the line.
The Art of Listening
The biggest advice Ching has for existing SME owners and future entrepreneurs is that you have to be careful of who you are listening to. Everyone has their own opinions and are more than willing to force themselves down your throat, but not everyone has your best interests at heart, and even those who do may not be qualified enough to give the right kind of advice. Surround yourself with people who are at the top of their game who can back up their words with actions, and invest enough in good suppliers and assets the same way your clients will pay you for your top notch service and products. You cannot lose the continual desire to learn, adapt and evolve your knowledge, skills and mindset to keep up with the only constant that is change. Ching says that it is impossible to know everything that is required for entrepreneurship before you start, but you have to take that uncomfortable step into the unknown and put in the hours into making your dream a reality.
Currently, FormFluent owns the Lladró Sydney Boutique next to QVB alongside an online boutique with more openings and collaborations on the horizon.
Lladró Sydney Boutique
143 York Street
Sydney 2000 NSW
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