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Star of the showroom

Published on Friday, 28 Jun 2013
Karen Leung
Photo: Berton Chang

Karen Leung’s eye for fine furnishings is driving her business

A visit to one of Karen Leung’s Farrington Interiors showrooms can easily instil a new sense of appreciation towards the thought and dedication some people put into furnishing a living space.

Leung, owner of the luxury furniture retailer, is also the mastermind behind the showroom’s various living room, dining room and office settings.

“I am obsessed with mixing and matching furniture and I think I have an eye for beauty,” she says. “Rather than buying just one piece of furniture from me, many of my customers like to buy everything in a setting – from the carpet to the lamps – because they feel everything perfectly fits each other.”

With an education background in economics, Leung is a self-taught interior designer. “My mother and I are crazy about furniture,” she says. “I started reading interior design magazines at a young age, which is how I gained my knowledge.”

Before Leung started Farrington, she worked in real estate investment at First Pacific Davies. “Every day I visited luxurious homes, which inspired me set up the business,” she says. “Finally, in 2008, I opened an 800 sq ft showroom in Happy Valley.”

Farrington imports and sells luxury-brand furniture, mostly from Europe. It started with just three brands, but has since grown to sell products from more than 30. In turn, Leung has opened additional showrooms, first in Wong Chuk Hang and then an 8,000 sq ft display space in Causeway Bay.

“One of the toughest things in the beginning was getting brands to work with us,” Leung says. “I took many flights to visit different brands in Europe to persuade them to work with us. I remember flying to Milan many times to talk to the owner of Christopher Guy, one of the most sought-after furniture brands in the world. The hard work was worth it though – several Hong Kong retailers were competing for the brand but my efforts won them over.”

In the furniture trade, she says, size does matters. “One of the most important criteria to work with big brand names is to offer them enough showroom space,” she says. “Some brands require at least 2,000 sq ft for collaboration, so it is important to have a showroom that is big enough.”

Much of Leung’s time is spent mixing and matching furniture in her showrooms. With so many pieces coming and going it is sometimes a gruelling task, but it is also something she loves to do. “I do not buy a lot of every piece of furniture, so when someone buys a piece, I usually have to replace it with another one that must also match its surroundings perfectly,” she says.

With no previous experience in business, Leung faced a steep learning curve when she started out, but she understood that it would take time and effort to build her business. “At first, no one knew about Farrington, so I used to talk business all the time. Even on family trips I would find and talk to brand owners. I tried really hard to build the business,” she says.

“Having built up a reputation, a lot of brands want to work with us, but not all of them are suitable. I need to be selective. It took a long time for me to identify the responsible and high-quality brands to work with.”

Recruiting suitable staff was also a learning process and she had lots of bad experiences before settling on her current team. “One of the first things my mother taught me was to be a hands-on business owner,” she says. “If staff are under-achieving, it is either a problem with my leadership or they do not fit the post. It took me a long time to build up the experienced and dedicated sales team I have today. Building a successful business takes time.”

Leung manages a team of ten, most of whom are salespeople. As sales is always a competitive area, Leung’s challenge is to maintain a harmonious workplace.

“I know salespeople like to compare their results, but I tell them if they want to move up, it makes no sense to show off. I teach them to stay humble and remind them – and myself – of staying humble every day,” she says.

Farrington serves a diverse client base, furnishing everything from homes and offices to clubs and hotels. “Diversity is what I try to provide,” Leung says. “Clients can get everything for every setting. I have traditional items for clients who prefer a classic look and also very hip items that can be put in a nightclub or a hotel lobby,” she says.

Somewhat surprisingly, Leung says her own home is not as lavishly furnished as many would expect. “I have three children – twin girls and a boy,” she says. “I put a trampoline in the middle of my living room for my kids to play on, so for furniture I’ve only got a set of sofas and that’s it.”


LEUNG’S HOME-MAKEOVER MANTRA 

COLOUR CODED "Matching colours is important. For example, I will try to match the colour of the curtains with the cushions on the sofa."

LET THERE BE LIGHT "Not only the furniture, but also the mood of the lighting is key to making your home look beautiful."

MATCHING GAME "Don't go for items that stick out too much - try to make everything match."

THE REAL THING "Only buy items that you have seen in person to avoid being delivered the wrong stuff."

TOUCH AND FEEL "Don't shop online or rely on a catalogue when buying furniture."


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