Asian Esteem

Pick-up in exports of wooden frames

As the coronavirus is, so far, brought under control in certain countries, picture frame maker Asian Esteem Industrial is seeing a pick-up in its exports to Australia and Singapore.

“In September alone, there was a 20% increase in exports to these countries,’’ said founder B.K. Ng.

Demand is expected to further improve as the online business increases and malls in these countries reopen.

But the supply of timber might be an issue as the availability of logs is controlled by weather and also quotas.

Ng is assessing the costing and viability of importing timber in case there is insufficient supply locally to meet the projected increase in demand.

Asian Esteem also exports to wholesalers from other countries such as in the UK, South East Asia and the Middle East.

Ng is looking to rejuvenate the export business and re-establish the good contacts that he and his team had worked tirelessly to build, prior to the lockdowns.

While communicating with these contacts online, he looks forward to meeting them to understand their needs and gain further rapport.

Among his popular products currently, table tops made of solid slabs represent something new that is also of high quality; Asian Esteem gets orders from corporate offices, restaurants and residential homes.

As an example, Ng has installed these solid table tops at the headquarters of Forever Living Products.

Depending on the thickness, species and length, prices of these table tops range from RM4,000 to RM30,000 each.

Customers nowadays want new designs and ‘we have to think of picture frames as a fashion design.’ said Ng.

Among the latest products is that of an engraved world map framed in gold leaves.

Creative timber products are becoming popular; with prices going from RM600 onwards, these include wooden wine holders, stools and table tops that double up with sets of drawers, table organisers, cupboards for decorative items and other customized products.

Timber products that are reclaimed from, for example, old houses in Indonesia, are also sold at Asian Esteem, where customers from overseas may fall in love with some of the unique designs and ship them back all the way home.

Ng has framed photographs of royalty and famous people; on his office wall is a picture of all the monarchs of the world at the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday.

He has supplied and installed picture frames for hotels including Grand Hyatt Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, Raffles Hotel, JW Marriot Dubai and other retail businesses in the UK.

About ten years ago, Asian Esteem had manufactured picture frames for IKEA; it was a two-year contract supplying to IKEA in Germany, Canada and Hong Kong.

“Manufacturing for IKEA required adherence to international standards, quality and productivity,’’ said Ng. “It was a good learning curve.’’

Business was robust in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the market was flooded with cheaper frames from China.

Ng started to diversify his product range while reducing some of his workforce.

During the recent Movement Control Order, business had dropped 70% but had recovered lately to a decline of 50%.

Without happy occasions such as graduations and weddings, where customers would frame lots of pictures to celebrate, the company is turning to the online sales channel.

Orders online are mostly for smaller frames but the company does receive orders through online sites such as Lazada and Shopee.

Asian Esteem was set up in 1994, as a joint venture where Ng eventually took over the business himself.

Ng is not a newcomer to the industry; at the age of 15, he was already staying in his guardian’s picture frame shop in Singapore where he was studying.   

Prior to setting up Asian Esteem, Ng had worked for an exporter of picture frame mouldings.

With his background as a biologist, he studies the benefits of silviculture that involves the growing and cultivation of trees.

As a member of various timber associations, Ng wants to change the negative perception on the usage of timber, and emphasise on proper harvesting.

Known as both an art and science, silviculture refers to the controlling of, among other things, the growth, composition and quality of forests and woodlands to meet various needs on a sustainable basis.

“As for Asian Esteem, we only source for timber from legally certified timber concession providers,’’ said Ng.  

Having weathered two recessions and diversified his markets to offset some of the impact, Ng finds this worldwide recession caused by the pandemic, most challenging.

Nevertheless, he stoically presses on, looking for bright spots of opportunities.

By Yap Leng Kuen, Chief Storyteller, The Artisans Haven