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John Erdos opens up about 20 years of success

 

Though the term “lifestyle brand” is horribly overused, it’s appropriately applied to the John Erdos phenomenon, which includes an art gallery and a restaurant in the same complex as the huge furniture showroom in leafy Dempsey.

When asked to sum up the John Erdos brand, John says: “The look is tropical, modern and Asian-influenced. The other three big words I’ve used for the past ten years are: ‘strong’, ‘friendly’ and ‘good-looking’.” And if you know John, you’ll agree that these three words are an apt description of the man himself.

What are the best things about your Singapore experience so far?

The people I’ve met and got to work with: my staff, people I meet through business – like the EL team, my customers and my suppliers. In the 20 or more years I’ve been dealing with some of my Indonesian suppliers, I’ve seen them marry and their families grow up. It’s been a long time!

Another is being able to earn a living doing something I enjoy. I never feel I’m coming to work in the mornings. Like everyone else, I have good days and bad days; but coming to this beautiful setting in Dempsey always makes me think how lucky I am.

Singapore is continually reinventing itself. What sort of changes have you seen in the past 20 years?

Apart from the obvious changes in the built environment, there have been huge social, political and cultural changes. In 1991, if there was a live performance of any sort you’d go, regardless of who or what it was. But now there is so much going on that you can’t possibly do it all.

Even in the early 90s, I had an issue with people who complained that Singapore was boring and sterile. It was never that for me. I’ve never had trouble finding things to do, and making friends was just so easy.

Being an expat is an opportunity to meet people from all over the world – it’s been a wonderful experience. I have little patience for those who are bored or who complain about Singaporeans. I say: Make the most of it! I’m continually impressed by the partners of expats – so-called trailing spouses – who go into business for themselves or do charity work here.

Your business is a byword for successful expat entrepreneurship. Has it been easy?

In Singapore, I’ve never felt personally restricted in the way I live, and the same goes for the pursuit of my business endeavours. This has been an easy place to progress, because everyone comes in on a level playing field.

We have benefitted from so many examples of the government’s support for small businesses and corporations, including importing foreign talent when it’s needed. Take its approach to the global economic crisis: at the end of 2008, when the US government was talking about bailing out the banks and car giants, the Singapore government decided to put money back into the hands of small business. Out of the blue, I received a cheque to rebate part of my labour expenses and so encourage me not to lay off any workers, and that went on for over a year. They see what’s needed, and they do it.

And when they resolve on something, they go all out to make it happen. Twenty years ago, “casino” was a dirty word here, but when the policy-makers decided we needed casinos to stay competitive, they embraced the concept fully, with major investment and iconic structures that changed the city skyline. Whether it was a good move socially and in the long term is another question, of course.

We hear that Giorgio Armani is a fan of John Erdos Home – is that right?

Yes, he bought four of our beds for his New York apartment. That was a high point for me, but it’s equally satisfying for me whoever furnishes their home with my designs. My customers are my inspiration.

What’s new at John Erdos Home?

As usual, there’s so much on the go. We added the Georg Jensen brand last year, and that’s going well. This May, we’re launching Porter’s Paint, the legendary Australian paint and wallpaper brand with wonderful colours and finishes. It’s an add-on business for us and should be a lot of fun; we’ll introduce it into the showroom, and will be selling it here and in Malaysia. They’ve already asked me to design a range that will be exclusive to Singapore.

We’ve also been invited to repeat last year’s Christmas collaboration with Tangs; this year, we’ll be pulling together to create an exceptional experience for the customer, and I’ve already started sourcing from both Europe and Asia.

Where is home for you?

My parents live in Long Island, New York. When they visited me recently for the first time in 12 or 13 years, I persuaded them to just be here in Singapore, rather than travelling the region, so that they could experience my life here. We had such a good time, and when they left my mother said: “Finally, I’m now convinced that he’s never coming back.”

I have a good life, a good business, good friends, and of course my partner Tai Ho is here. Home is where the heart is.

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