What her customers love most about The China Collection, says Anne Lockett, is that they feel they’ve stumbled across a secret. The showroom is at 20 Malcolm Road, and as you wind down the driveway and pull up at this gorgeous black-and-white house, you’ll know what she means.
The Locketts have been expats for 33 years. Robert’s career in shipping took them first to the Middle East, then to India, Canada, the US, Hong Kong, back to the US, and finally here to Singapore where they settled 15 years ago.
Anne started her famous China Collection business 11 years ago, when her three children had grown up and she wanted something to do.
“I first became passionate about Chinese furniture in the eighties, while we were living in Hong Kong and I visited China. This business started off small, and it has just grown every year. Nevertheless, we have kept the personal touch; we do just about everything ourselves – not only sourcing merchandise, serving customers, administration, deliveries and the like, but also marketing. That helps keeps costs and prices down.”
As if on cue, in comes son Doug, a good-looking chap who modestly refuses to be photographed for this article. His brother Jamie and their sister Ashley live in Los Angeles and New York City respectively, and Doug lived in Washington DC before he came out here 18 months ago and decided to stay. To his mother’s pleasure, he is now working actively in the family business. His father must be chuffed, too; Rob now has more time for his new business, Benchmark Wines.
“We’re a family business, and I like to think we’re family-oriented,” says Anne.
Adds Doug: “People get a kick out of knowing that we found their cabinet in a dusty, dirty old supply store in China, had it restored, brought it here and now I’m delivering it to them in a van. We’re involved in every step of the process.”
It may be a family business, but it’s not exactly a small one. Last year, they acquired warehouse space at Citilink in Pasir Panjang – more convenient than warehousing overflow stock in China, as Anne used to do. Now, the Malcolm Road house can be furnished directly from the warehouse.
Doug accurately describes the bright, clean premises as something between a warehouse and a showroom, ideal for their purposes. And for the customer, having visited the house you can then go to the warehouse, if you like, to see the entire collection.
People want to feel that they aren’t being taken advantage of, Anne believes. “In Australia, I worked for a big retail store; I understand retail. The top things to know are, firstly, that the customer is always Number One; secondly, that how you buy is extremely important; and thirdly, you have to turn your stock over, and we do that by not putting on a big mark-up.”
It’s important to price merchandise correctly, and if a piece doesn’t sell, she will reduce it in order to move it. It annoys her (and me, and probably you) when stores don’t put prices on their merchandise, as though they are looking at you to assess your material worth before quoting a price.
I ask her the price of a tall cabinet next to where we are seated. It’s $2,400, and good value for such a stunning and special piece: made in Guangzhou 120 to 150 years ago of rare walnut wood, it has been sanded, waxed and sanded, and then sanded, waxed and sanded again, says Anne.
The showroom is open from 10am to 5pm for six days a week, and from noon to 5pm on Sundays. And from Friday to Sunday, the Citilink warehouse is open during the same hours. You can also visit after hours by appointment; call 6235 1905. “We’re very sociable,” says Anne, “and if you’re still here at 6pm, we might offer you a glass of wine.”