The home décor retail scene in Hong Kong offers both global brands and independent designers. INSIDE positions itself as the go-to shop for those in search of the latter.
Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Eric Delplanque, General Manager at INSIDE. Together we discussed the brand mission, digital transformation, their new shop in Hong Kong’s Central Market and their projects.
RiA: INSIDE was founded in 1997. What was the brand mission when it first launched? Is it still the same today?
Eric: All started with a passion for India, its culture, people and colour. The founder was passionate about India, design and home decor. She was living half of her time there, the other half in Hong Kong.
In 1997 in Hong Kong, INSIDE’s mission was to source handcrafted unique furniture and homeware products from India. A brand incorporating a range of handcrafted, vibrant, bold and eclectic furnishings. Designed with the finest materials, a selection of the furniture is still to this day, upcycled into vintage and rustic pieces adding character to any interior.
INSIDE’s authentic quality craft first came from skilled artisans in India; soft furnishings, table linen, cushions, tableware, bedding and home decor. We have always been dedicated to supporting talented artisans and independent brands from around the world that share our aesthetics and quality craft. We strive to always bring unique pieces that echo the world’s cross-cultural differences. For instance, the Swedish ceramic brand Sthål, handmade in Portugal; and our exquisite accessories and dinnerware sourced from Europe. We are also proud to be working with promising local brands, sourcing exclusive, handmade, limited-quantity pieces every month.
RiA: INSIDE brings niche brands and designers to Hong Kong. How do you compete with big home décor brands and how do customers welcome the products you bring to the market?
Eric: Uniqueness and quality are the most important for our customers. They come to Inside to find products they won’t see elsewhere in Hong Kong. Beside big home décor brands and chain stores, we always have a limited quantity of each item. For example, we sell block printed tablecloths from India. Each piece is handmade with a unique pattern.
We carry niche brands and small artisans from all over the world. It is very challenging as most of them are unknown in Hong Kong. However, we love working with them as they are truly passionate! There is always a fantastic story behind each brand that we love telling our customers. Our sales team is trained to explain how the products are made, where they are from and why they are unique. In store, we take time to make our customers’ experience unforgettable. I am lucky to work with a dedicated and passionate team.
RiA: The pandemic affected the retail industry globally. However, with people spending more time at home, would you say this was an opportunity for your business?
Eric: 2020 was a record-breaking year for us. Our existing customers spent more than usual, and we gained new ones as well. However, competition is high as the market is booming. We are down to earth and focus on brand curation, quality, and customer experience. We want to make our business sustainable. The pandemic will end soon (hopefully), customers will travel again and probably spend less money on homeware.
RiA: Everyone talks about digital transformation. How is your e-commerce platform performing compared to your physical store?
Eric: E-commerce in Hong Kong is growing too. In 2020, our online website represented 30 percent of our sales. Customers usually preferred shopping in malls rather than online. Once again, the pandemic changed our customers’ behaviour. We launched our website in 2017 as we wanted to reach more customers across Hong Kong and Asia. We also strive to make a continuous effort to heighten our e-com platform in order to optimise our user experience and to integrate an omnichannel strategy. Customers can order online and pick up their orders in store. They can chat with our sales team to get advice about our products. We will soon improve our blog and journal to publish our own pictures of table settings, interior design with our curated products. Our online presence and the impact we have on our consumers’ lives matters a lot to us.
RiA: You have just opened a new store in the recently renovated Central Market. Is this a new retail concept?
Eric: This renovation truly is a success. The combination of a historic past with a modernist twist resonates well with what INSIDE is.
We hold a place in the heart of Central Market, recently renovated to distinction. The Grade 3 historic building, built in 1939 and known as one of Hong Kong’s oldest wet markets, has been transformed into a high-spirited community spot intertwining traditional architecture with modern touches. Or in other words, a place that perfectly connects an avant-garde style with practicality. We feel lucky to be a part of Hong Kong’s preserved heritage.
In the last 24 years, our clients’ loyalty has persisted through our sourcing of continual, high quality and versatile products that relate with their individuality, and that follow our brand mantra of: LATITUDE FOR LIVING.
RiA: Sustainability is changing the furniture industry as growing numbers of consumers are looking for sustainable equipment for their homes and offices. How do you address this topic? Do you plan to launch any eco-friendly initiative?
Eric: I worked in solar energy as an entrepreneur for 10 years. Sustainability is essential and I want it to be part of our strategy too. We already launched an eco-friendly initiative with our team and suppliers. We have in store a wide range of sustainable products such as glass straw, natural body wash products, etc. Small acts can make the difference. We cooperate with our Indian suppliers that care about people and the environment too. Together, we work to reduce the packaging waste and improve the traceability of the raw material. Our ultimate goal would be to become a certified B Corporations retailer.
RiA: Traditionally people in HK did not spend so much on home decoration. What is it that they spend on and how to get repeat customers?
Eric: Our best sellers are tablecloth, tableware, photo frames and cushion covers. We are also proud to represent local brands such as Faux and Zest of Asia. They both perform very well with their traditional Hong Kong motifs which have been delightfully incorporated into their design.
We introduce new brands and products every month. Our customers come back because of our positioning: Uniqueness, quality and customer service. They like visiting our stores and discovering our new curation. We stay away from the sale cycle as much as we can.
RiA: What’s next for INSIDE?
Eric: Today, we are also working on exciting new projects like opening our 3rd shop in Kowloon in a few months. Currently, INSIDE’s 1,500 square foot warehouse is being renovated in order to expose our finest selections of furniture, product and brand launches, and also hosting exclusive events for our VIP clients. To take it a step further, this new project will also accommodate interior design and upcycling furniture workshops; to share the passion we have and to grow our community. We will also have a photo studio to demonstrate our own creations of table settings and interior design, with our selection of products. The warehouse will look like a home. Customers will experience furniture and home items in their intended environment.
Beside Hong Kong, we are working on our international expansion. I believe that in cities where the big home decor brands and chain stores are, there are customers looking for curated, quality and affordable homeware. Mass market is so yesterday!