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Watch: How an Indian-origin father-daughter duo based in Sydney disrupted the furniture business

Luxmy Furniture CEO Priyanka Rao Source: SBS Small Business Secrets

In 1997, Sudhindra Rao started up his own commercial furniture business called Luxmy Furniture, commercial furniture company.

It isn't easy to run a family furniture business in the age of Ikea.

But in the 20 years since Sydney-based Indian-origin businessman Sudhindra Rao started Luxmy, it's grown an average of 15% each year. Not bad especially when the furniture sector is slow at best.

The idea struck Sudhindra Rao when he couldn’t find quality furniture for his youngest daughter who was moving out of home. He decided to make furniture on his own and his eldest daughter, Priyanka joined him in this endeavour.

The father-daughter duo set out to make furniture which was cheaper, better and more sustainable.

Their unique selling point or call it their USP is producing the product locally for local needs. Sudhindra's daughter and the business's CEO Priyanka says, "We've not only got a service based business - we provide goods for other businesses - but we've also got a product based business. We've got a large catalogue of Australian designed products and that means because of that balance that diversity of what we offer we're a very strong business overall. We have no direct competitors. We have competitors for parts of the business but nothing for the whole thing." 

Priyanka with Ricardo Goncalves in the Luxmy factory.
Priyanka with Ricardo Goncalves in the Luxmy factory.
Supplied
 

To compete with big retail giants, Priyanka says they have had to think outside the box. Today, the business produces customised furniture where their clients have a lot of say.

"The consumer market was something we hadn't really tried so we launched a technology venture called Evolvex where you could design your own flatpacked furniture online which just went viral."

In 2012, she and her father launched Evolvex, an online customisable flat-pack furniture company designed to take on furniture giants like Ikea.

They realised early on their customers valued a sustainable manufacturing chain.

"We became a sustainable business in 2005. We use timber from plantation forests and we use timber that has recycled content. We're very careful about our material as well. We use in the upholstery shop water-based glue," says Priyanka.

The design process is also sustainable and it's helping boost Australian products.

"In terms of European design it takes quite a long time to get here and yes you are supporting a European designer but Australian design has just as much value and stands up just as strongly in the international market and the benefit is that you get it to market in a much shorter lead time as it's made here, so you're saving on that freight cost."

Running a sustainable business is more expensive, but it's paid off for the Raos.

"To change what we bought in terms of materials did cost more initially. Over time though we've made it quite efficiently and in fact now we get onto projects and get opportunities that are only available to those who have those certifications so we've benefited a lot in the long term."

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE IN A FAMILY BUSINESS

Giving a glimpse into what it is like working with the family, Priyanka told SBS’s Small Business Secrets that that the family's shared commitment to sustainability is part of the reason their business partnership works - which is not always easy.

In fact, Priyanka didn't even consider working with her father until fairly recently.

"If you'd asked me ten years ago if I'd be working in the family business I would have said no. But it's been the best decision I've ever made. I studied architecture. I worked in the industry for a little bit and then I decided I wanted to explore entertainment and do something a bit different and I was lucky enough to get a job in the music industry at a record label. During that time I was doing a Masters' degree in business, got to the end of the degree and was having a chat with Dad about what my future looked like and he said actually I need someone to help with marketing, and I saw it as a great challenge."

MULTICULTURAL STAFF HAS HELPED THEIR BUSINESS GROW

Five years ago, a weak Australian dollar prompted them to start their export division. In coming years, they plan to expand to more territories.

"That made us a lot more competitive in the global marketplace and also just a drive to want to expand to more territories as well."

And giving them an edge in their export business is their multicultural workforce who has helped their export business grow.

Priyanka points out how their Asian staff has helped them navigate through business deals in the Asia-Pacific. "In the last couple of years we've expanded to Asia Pacific in terms of our export and our supply chain as well, and having a multicultural workforce has been an absolute asset in terms of how to do business in different countries."

Today, these father-daughter duo are not just bucking the manufacturing decline and using innovation but their craftsmanship comes with a conscience.

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Source SBS Small Business Secrets