Norman Yeo is the founder and creative design director of OSC. Since he started the company in 2001, he has gone on to become one of Singapore’s top interior designers, having designed homes for the rich and famous in Singapore and for clients from overseas.
Established since 2001, One Stop Concept (OSC) is built upon a community of people-centric designers, like-minded industry veterans and passionate educators committed to interior design. OSC is a one-stop solution for all designing needs, from carpentry, detailing, renovation, design, and the works. Our clientele base includes high profile business magnets, celebrities, socialites, and all individuals with a discerning taste in stylish living.
1) Could you start off with sharing a little bit more about yourself? What was your growing up years like?
Ans: Since I was young, I like my artwork. Before I went into interior design, I was in mechanical engineering. There was one day when I was about to complete my NS, I happened to walk past NAFA campus and I saw a lot of art pieces all over the school. Initially I thought it did not look like any typical school because it had an antique and heritage-feel and it looked more like a bungalow house. Suddenly, someone came over and I thought he was a gardener, who wanted to chase me out. However, as I was talking to him, I realized that he was the HOD of Nanyang academy of fine arts. Thereafter, we discussed about art subject and he invited me to join him in NAFA. The school term had already started when I joined NAFA, so it was quite stressful and tough for me to enter. Especially when I did not go through the entrance test. Shortly after, I became an interior designer.
2) Your profile said that you were a forbidden artist in your younger years. Care to elaborate.
Ans: My parents were very strict and I am not allowed to study in an art school. As I am a very hands-on person, naturally I started to like to do art and craft work. Whenever my parents are not around, I will secretly start drawing and hide it when they are back. I only managed to fully explore my artistic side after my NS and joined NAFA.
3) What was your first job out of NAFA?
Ans: My first job was doing design drafting and coordination work with Office Design Pte Ltd.
4) Why did you want to be an entrepreneur?
Ans: Before I started my business, I was the lead designer for a company, which was doing design and build. During my time in the workshop, I learnt a lot on construction and carpentry work. Subsequently, I realized that I have sufficient knowledge in the interior design industry and at the age of 25, I thought I should start my own business since I was still young. Even if it fails, I could just start again. Thus, I started my own business with the little savings I had. At that time, I would like to serve my clients with a one-stop service, therefore I called it One Stop Concept. Currently, I had refined the name from One Stop Concept to OSC.
5) Moving on, could you tell me more about the nature of your business?
Ans: I am doing design and build and I do it as a one-stop service. This means that I am able to build and construct furniture with my own designer’s touch. I would always get to learn more about my client’s preference because I come up with any design and concept for them. In addition, I also help my clients to shop around for all the home necessity because most of my clients are foreigners. They would need someone to not only design, but also style and arrange all the lifestyle products for their homes. It is pretty much like a tailored and personalised service because I will settle everything for them.
6) Who are your clients?
Ans: Most of my clients are Indonesian as well as some from Middle East and China. My clients include local and international celebrities, such as David Gan, Fann Wong, Zhang Ziyi; socialites, such as Jamie Chua; businessmen, such as Sam Goi, FJ Benjamin family, Singapore minister K Shanmugam.
7) Why do you choose to do business in this particular industry?
Ans: This is because I have been in this industry for quite a period of time and I felt that I should come out and start my own business with my saving. In Singapore, it is very common to see people doing interior design, but it is very rare to see anyone who is able to provide an one-stop service to clients. Many do not want to do it as it takes up a lot of time and effort, thus I am able create a niche market this way.
8) How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.
Ans: During the initial period, I wanted to create a show room using my savings. The show room was 1,000 square feet in size and it was opened here in IMM because the company which I previously worked for was also in IMM. In addition, I opened a shop next to my show room to serve walk-in clients. At that point in time I was only 25 and I had no experience in handling employees. When I employed my staff, I trained them how to serve my clients in the showroom. As for my marketing, I did my media press through magazines. I built my portfolio for the next 3 to 4 years and subsequently, they started featuring my work for free.
9) What was it like running your business in the early years? Do you remember any interesting stories or incidents?
Ans: It was very tough in the beginning because firstly, I was young; secondly, I lack experience, in terms of dealing with people such as my staff and clients. The biggest challenge was in managing my staff, so I realized that you need to come up with a proper system. Without a system, it is very difficult to train someone to have the same wavelength as me and see the way I see things.
10) What made you carry on during the early years?
Ans: I had no choice because it was my career and my passion. No matter how tough it was, I had to overcome all the obstacles. I see obstacles as an opportunity. For example, I take note of every single complaint from my clients, and even from my workers. From there I came up with a system so that it is easier for me to train my new staff and to deal with my clients.
11) What is your company's vision?
Ans: I want my company to be able to grow on its own, even without me so it will be like selling a brand. Hopefully, I able to manufacture my own furniture with my own branding in Singapore. If possible, I would like to distribute my products to the international market. That is my vision.
12) How do you convey these to your company staff and team members?
Ans: I will give them some instructions, and let them focus on certain things first. When the time is ready, I will tell them the direction I am heading because it may be confusing for them if I tell them right from the start. This is because they are not yet ready in terms of the way they do and the way they meet people so I do it step by step.
13) You mentioned that you faced certain obstacles in the beginning. Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome these obstacles.
Ans: As an interior designer in this industry, I have to deal with both workers and clients as they both have different wavelengths. The challenge is I have to share the ideas with the owner and at the same time, I have to share the execution work to the workers. Sometimes the workers create problems and you need someone to manage them. Another obstacle would be customer service. For example, if the client is unsatisfied with a piece of work, we have to fix it properly for the client or else the client will be very unhappy. This is a human issue and we need to be sensitive to their emotions. Sometimes we have to listen to their problems and cool them down. I will slowly explain to them the work process stage by stage and let them understand.
14) Can you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenges that you think will help other businesses?
Ans: I would say patience and the more obstacles you face, the better because you can see the problems. When you face problems, you must open up your mind and you must know how to overcome so that you can learn something from it, regardless how big or small the problem is. If you know how to manage the small problems, then the big problems will not be a problem because you are able to break it into smaller problems and tackle them one by one. Just be patient and do not panic.
15) When was the moment you realized the business would work and support you?
Ans: I believe in my business from the first day.
16) What are some of your proudest business achievements to date?
Ans: My proudest business achievements got to be able to work with high profile people. I worked for local and international celebrities, such as David Gan, Fann Wong and Zhang Ziyi; work for the owner of Tata group, Alibaba.com founder and our Singapore minister K Shanmugam.
17) What is like working with your clients?
Ans: It is interesting because I get to know about their different lifestyle and coming from different backgrounds, they have different expectations as well.
18) Can you describe the company culture that you have? How does it contribute to the performance of your company growth?
Ans: We work as a team and as a family. We actually do not work on Saturday and Sunday which not a norm for most interior design companies. I even plan for every Friday to be half day because working in this line takes away a big bulk of our time. As I created a system, I am able to provide a better work-life balance and longer holidays for my staff.
19) What are the training opportunities that you provide your staff?
Ans: I provide individual training to my staff. For example, Eileen is doing all my carpentry drawings, I will guide her on how to create the style that I want. And for another staff, Weiliang who is doing the 3D art, I will supervise him and ensure he is able to produce the effect that I expect. Thus, I am required to train them personally in their respective scope of work.
20) What do you see for your business in the next 5 years, and does it include any plans for expansion?
Ans: In the next 5 years, I want to employ more staff so that they can run the business themselves without having me to lead them. For expansion, I would want to have a showroom like in the initial part of my business.
21) How will you describe your working relationship with your customers, suppliers and service providers?
Ans: For my clients, I developed a more personal touch with them, meaning I treat my client's house as my house. You can see from my articles and media press that I took photos with my clients at their homes. It is very personalized and it is very different from what other companies are doing. For my supplier, I work with them hand in hand. For example, I will always pull them in if we have any advertisements so that we are able to create this brand synergy and awareness together from the media. In return, they will be grateful and provide better services for us.
22) Do you have many competitors? How do you differentiate your business from your competitors? Please provide specific examples.
Ans: Yes I would say every industry has competition. It depends on how you look at the competition. I feel that competition is an advantage for me because I can do beyond what others are doing. For example, my work has a very personal touch. I really engage people, their culture and understand their lifestyle. I also follow closely to what I believe in my design which is safety, practical, functionality and beauty. Without any of it, it will not work. That is why I am able to create my own niche market and have a strong referrals from my loyal clients.