Injecting style into tiles

Customers can mix variety of designs in the same room as seen in this bedroom exhibit, which features the company's iHexagon tiles and Marmo 2.0 collection.

Customers can mix variety of designs in the same room as seen in this bedroom exhibit, which features the company's iHexagon tiles and Marmo 2.0 collection.

For most people, choosing the right tiles for their homes usually involves taking certain factors into consideration such as the sort of material used, the surface of the tiles, its durability, colour scheme and so on.

This is where Feruni Ceramiche managing director C.C. Ngei deviates from the norm by taking the industry a step further with the incorporation of bold creativity in designs and the adoption of a customer-centric business approach.

According to Ngei, who has spent more than 25 years in the tile industry, Feruni Ceramiche was established in 2001 but they were nothing more than just a tile retailer back then.

“The tile industry is one where the products you sell will last your customers for easily 10 years.

“But with new developments mushrooming across the country, would you want to market the same old designs for 10 years?” he said.

Ngei observed that there tended to be very little deviation between tile industry players and much of the competition was restricted to the pricing of products.

“I found it a rather dull industry to be in and I felt no passion for it, so I decided that I wanted to do things differently and transform the industry,” said Ngei.

Thus, approximately four and a half years ago, he made the decision to completely change the direction in which Feruni was heading by looking beyond conventional tile shapes and designs.

Since then, Feruni’s revenue has more than doubled with a healthy compound annual growth rate of between 10% and 30%.

Feruni has seven retail stores nationwide, comprising built-up areas of up to 15,000sq ft. They also have eight premium reseller showrooms, at a smaller area of up to 5,000sq ft.

With more than 30 collections and more than 30 ranges of decorative tiles in largely porcelain and some ceramic varieties, Feruni is constantly creating new designs.

One of their most unique series of tiles, iShapes features tiles in unconventional but symmetrical shapes such as hexagons, circles and even jigsaw puzzles.

Feruni also offers a variety of porcelain tiles in natural designs such as wood and stone, created with the cutting-edge Digi-ink tile printing technology, allowing for a good variety in very natural-looking patterns.

Ngei assures that these creative tile designs are all conceptualised by the team at Feruni before being produced at commissioned factories according to the company’s specifications.

“Our team draws inspiration from looking at international designs and I am very happy with the amount of effort that goes into doing this,” added Ngei.

A little corner at Feruni’s main retail store in Petaling Jaya also features some rather artistic imported tiles created by renowned international designers.

These intricately crafted tiles are new to the Malaysian market, fetching a high price – around ten times more than ordinary tiles – and are thus considered more as artwork to decorate a small segment of one’s wall.

Following these design trends, Ngei noted that the trend in Malaysia was shifting too, where customers are becoming increasingly accepting of creative styles that promoted individuality and defied conformity.

But what is most important to Feruni is the experience that they provide to customers who show an interest in their offerings.

Feruni has spared no expense in lavishly renovating their large retail stores, which feature numerous fully furnished exhibits to give customers a good impression on how their tiles would look in an actual living room, bedroom or bathroom.

With tiles available in different sizes, Feruni’s designers even offer customers the option of mixing and matching tiles in not just a variety of colours, but sizes too.

“One special feature that Feruni has is the ‘Mix and Match’ area, where customers can actually take home small free samples of our tiles to compare and help them choose a look that suits them,” said Ngei.

“This is what makes Feruni unique and many people have called us crazy for investing so much without thinking about the returns.”

But four years after their bold move, Ngei realised that other industry players had started to take after some of their unorthodox examples.

“Feruni places a huge emphasis on customer experience with the service provided by our staff members, who help give ideas to customers in order to conceptualise their interior design,” said Ngei.

Because discussions for selecting tiles can take a long time, Feruni also provides ample seats and bar counters, and customers can even have a complimentary cup of coffee during their visit.

But one challenge that Feruni faces is the lack of brand awareness, due to their lack of focus on advertising.

“About 70% to 80% of our customers are referred to us by other satisfied customers, but we do try to make our presence felt at exhibitions and on social media,” said Ngei.

In addition, the team at Feruni has to constantly think of new ideas and fresh designs, producing new collections every quarter.

“We invest a lot in the constant upgrades to our showrooms but by constantly releasing creative new collections, we keep our customers interested and enthusiastic for what we have to offer,” he said.

“With a presence in seven states already, our plans for expansion involve opening two new outlets in Kota Kinabalu and Malacca by the end of the year.”

As part of his dream to transform the tile industry, Ngei has given Feruni its trendy and modern image in the hopes that it will attract the younger generation to this industry.

“Looking at the incredibly creative tile designs in international trends today, I hope that this will inspire young, local designers to someday follow this path and make a career for themselves,” he added.