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Sunday June 20th, 2021

The pathfinder: Dhanushka Fernando’s quest to transform the furniture industry

DHANUSHKA FERNANDO CEO, Finez Furniture & Interior

Sri Lanka’s furniture and woodwork industry has been conventional, traditional, hardly penetrated with innovation, technology and new thinking says Dhanushka Fernando, the CEO of Finez Furniture & Interior, is changing all that.

Tell us about Finez and what sets it apart?

We operate in a very traditional industry space: woodworking and furniture manufacturing, has remained relatively unchanged for generations in the heart of furniture manufacturing – Moratuwa. Most furniture shops in Moratuwa have the same design and style, they have never looked at design or innovation as a USP, the differentiation is mainly on pricing! Hence we realized that to build a new business model we needed to move out of the norm.

With experience I decided to build a brand that explained the story, craftsmanship and heritage of furniture originating from Moratuwa. I needed to take hard decisions and bold steps. It was not easy. When I started the business in 2015, I wanted to overhaul an archaic business model and bring in people with new thinking along with setting up a fully-fledged furniture factory.

We focused on introducing new designs and creating a unique brand identity while developing a pool of talent. When we started marketing on digital and social media platforms it was a novelty, not many businesses were advertising and spending on social media back in 2015.

I realized the opportunity we had because digital and especially social media marketing was growing rapidly. For nearly two years we tested our design-based retail market-centric business model. This is what sets Finez apart together with our constant focus on designing new products.

When I started the business in 2015, I wanted to overhaul an archaic business model and bring in people with new thinking along with setting up a fully-fledged furniture factory

How has Finez grown under your leadership?

Business has grown considerably year-on-year. Over the last five years, we have expanded our production capacity and now operate four production facilities and employ close to hundred people. Meanwhile, we have outsourced certain manufacturing processes to smallholders so we can focus on our core strengths while providing opportunities for smaller woodworking businesses.

What is the most exciting thing on the horizon for Finez?

We want to develop Finez into a total home retail brand: moving beyond furniture to other home-accessory items such as home décor, lighting, electrical appliances and also office furniture. However, our core priority is growing the online arm of the business. Our initial target is to generate at least 5-10% of our future revenue from e-commerce so we are building for that.

We are also looking at creating a virtual online showroom space where people can check our products and see how it will fit their spaces. Finez has over 150,000 followers on social media, which is far more than any one of our competitors. This base gives us enough data to understand consumer behaviour and preferences, and this gives Finez a definitive competitive edge.

We are also committed to opening new outlets in urban areas thereby expanding our retail footprint, but for now, we are expanding and upgrading our concept store to be a fully-fledged experience centre. Being part of the “Go Local” initiative and as a company that designs and crafts 100% locally, the strength of small woodwork businesses are vital.

Therefore, as part of our initiative to build a skilled eco-system and uplift the industry, we provide them financial aid, training, and skill development facilities.

On the sustainability front we are working on giving “seed pods” as a token of appreciation to our customers, this is a small step to get the people thinking and give something back to nature.

How do you balance the needs of the future with those of the present such as dealing with everyday challenges?

In my experience, you can never go wrong with a viable strategy and a clear plan of action. There will always be challenges and sleepless nights. There will be plenty of ideating and soul searching too! I balance my role by creating a pool of talent within the organization that shares the vision of the company and are willing to take the responsibility that comes with leadership roles.

Technology is a great enabler and leveler. I am an ardent believer in technology, so I ensure that we are up to speed with the latest innovations and how they can shape the future of this company and the industry as a whole.