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Malaysians making it Big in America

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MALAYSIAN BORN NIKI CHENG AND HER HUSBAND SHAOKAO HAVE CHASED THE AMERICAN DREAM AND CARVED OUT AN IDYLLIC LIFE FOR THEMSELVES IN NEW YORK CITY. DESMOND LIM ZHENGS CATCHES UP WITH THE POWER COUPLE AND THEIR BUSINESS, BOCONCEPT.

Taiwanese-American Shaokao and Malaysian-born Niki Cheng are sole distributors of BoConcept furniture in the New York Metro area, operating a total of seven BoConcept stores with 60 employees. A chance meeting at the party in New York subsequently led to a sit down at one of the stores in the Chelsea neighborhood; the same one I walked by and peered into the window of for years. Little did I know that my subsequent ownership of the smart, functional Danish furniture I had glimpsed through the glass could mean so much more to my Malaysian roots than I realised.

TRENDSETTING COUPLE

Fittingly placed in the list of the top ten most fashionable Asian-Americans in New York by a prominent nightlife columnist, Niki’s short cropped hair and her slender and lean body frame, courtesy of her avid yoga training, complements Shaokao’s athletic build. The couple resonate a genuine sense of sincerity and their magnetic personalities draw you in like a moth to a flame. The vivacious Niki exudes an unabashed sense of fearlessness, while the doting Shaokao possess a calm demeanor. Together, they balance each other out perfectly.

The Chengs were the purveyors of trendsetting-yet-affordable lifestyle furniture that placed a strong focus on design on the New York City scene in the early 2000s. Their partnership with the Danish furniture makers BoConcept came about in 2002 after the couple discovered a niche in the interior industry when they were furnishing their own apartment.

The venture seemed fitting for Niki, a professionally trained interior designer, while Shaokao’s background as a successful Information Technology executive at both Citibank and McKinsey & Company seems a little incongruous. “Initially I was supposed to work part time on BoConcept and continue working my job during the day, but it became too overwhelming,” Shaokao explained. The transition meant investing all their life savings and energy into opening their first store.

BOCONCEPT’S BIRTH

Established in 1952 by two Danish craftsmen, BoConcept’s goal is not only to make good-looking, high-quality furniture, but also to make furniture that is functional and offers value for money. Shaokao and Niki translate this same passion when running their business on the other side of the Atlantic. The company’s modular, sleek, and clutter-free pieces are also customisable to work around the customer’s lifestyle, making the products and company truly customer-centric.

However, its modularity isn’t the only recipe of success; Shaokao’s management skills and Niki’s design background have resulted in a thorough understanding of the market, allowing them to regulate and manage product aesthetics according to neighborhoods. “Our customer-focused strategy, coupled with reasonable price points and better value, gives us a competitive edge over our competitors,” they explain.

Recipient of the Neighborhood Achievement Award for Small Business of the Year in 2009, and recently nominated for the US Chamber of Commerce (placing in the top 7 of 50), they are clearly cooking up the right concoction. I can’t help but pry on the key ingredient to their success. “Treat your employees like family,” declares Niki, a motto she has stuck to since the establishment of their business a decade ago.

KEEPING OCCUPIED

Venturing beyond the limits of a traditional furniture store, the couple have also collaborated with photographer Sally Randall Brunger to provide a space to showcase her work, and recently hosted photographer Julio Gaggia, the latter of which moved into one of their stores’ windows for a week, allowing passersby a voyeuristic look into the BoConcept lifestyle.

Between running a business and raising a family in this tough city, the couple still manages to party hard, entertain well, and remain benevolent. They are passionate about numerous charitable organisations and support various different causes, including those helping people living with HIV.

Promoted

Niki, who earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design from the Malaysian Institute of Art, occasionally flexes her design muscles on TV shows such as George to the Rescue, on which she gives rooms and spaces makeovers for uninspired homeowners, as well as decorating celebrity fitting rooms for the likes of singer Estelle and actress/model Brooke Shields.

“We have a staff of excellent managers and great employees, which allows us the freedom to socialise,” the affable couple said, giving credit where it is due. “Being one of the highest-paying employers helps nonetheless,” Niki quips, followed with her signature laugh.

Whatever the Chengs are doing, it is certainly working magic.
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Read more about BoConcept at www.boconcept.com.
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This article was written by Desmond Lim Zhengs for Senses of Malaysia.
Source: Senses of Malaysia Nov-Dec 2012

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