By Rachel Genevieve Chia
Along Orchard Road – above Spanish retailer Massimo Dutti and to the left of Hermès at the corner of Liat Towers — sits Declan Ee’s new flagship store for his furniture brand Castlery. Inside, Instagram-worthy sofas, rugs and potted plants sprawl across the two-storey space. Anchored by a pair of escalators crowned with 1,000kg of aluminium, fabric mesh and barrisol spelling Castlery in a geometric font on the ceiling.
There is no doubt that the space is a flex. Overall, the brand has sold about half a million products across Singapore, Australia and the US, much of it online. In fact, there was no showroom in the beginning. It started with just Ee and three co-founders in a basement office in Ubi the size of a two-bedroom flat.
While furnishing their homes with pieces from overseas, two of the four men realised there was a market gap for chic, quality furnishings at reasonable prices. It was 2013 then, just as online shopping was taking off.
It’s been three showroom upgrades, each larger than the last. But Castlery’s 24,000 sq ft flagship on the famous shopping belt — where annual rents reach millions — is a sign the nine-year-old brand has arrived.
“The aspiration was definitely to be a global brand,” says Ee, 40, a former investment banker, “because the furniture business is a business of scale.”
After gaining popularity in Singapore for good designs at affordable prices, Castlery broke into Australia in 2017 and the US in 2019. As the definition of home changed during the pandemic, the company’s business boomed sixfold. Ee explains: “It’s a place where you host friends, start a side hustle, and pursue your hobbies.”
Rethinking design, re-engineering materials
Castlery manufactures its furniture, unlike most retailers. This allows it to rethink design (like how to attach legs to a table), re-engineer materials (like combining marble and wood), and boost supply chain resilience (a team of about 100 just works on signing top suppliers). “All this knowledge gives us a competitive advantage,” says Ee. “It’s not something money can buy.”
However, the brand’s success is not straightforward. Castlery’s first overseas launch in Australia, chosen for its high consumer income and proximity to the republic, was an “utter disaster” according to Ee.
The folly? Failing to understand its core offering, target customer, and their lifestyle. In copying the Singapore model, the showroom was too remote to attract crowds, and the product range was too broad and not very popular. The company nearly departed Down Under with its tail between its legs due to dire financial circumstances.
Taking on the world’s largest economy
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After learning from their mistakes, the founders launched a well-researched bid for the world’s largest economy — and it has paid off handsomely. Castlery’s products are now sold online in 50 US cities and 6 Australian cities, with a pop-up store in Sydney. The bulk of revenues, which are doubling every year, come from international orders.
Castlery today has achieved clarity. It wants to supply millennials with furniture that suits the changing seasons of their lives — moving out, having children, switching careers. And it knows its customers now: urbanites aged 25 to 45 and earning between $75,000 and $150,000 a year. Furthermore, it knows Australians prefer modular items, Americans love outdoor furnishings and Singaporeans favour leather sofas.
Now older and wiser, one expects that this time, the brand’s narrative will be quite different from its “complete failure” half a decade ago. “Just keep going,” says Ee, both as advice to peers eyeing global expansion and as a reflection of his personal journey.
“Be very clear about your target customer and what they’re after. Solve that. Then go for it. You’ll probably fail here and there, but that’s fine. Keep going. If you keep iterating from what you’ve learned, you’ll succeed.”