When one is given the reins to a successful business built by two generations of craftsmen, where does one go, to take the business to further heights? This must be one of the first questions in the mind of Sam Frederick Lim, who is now president of the BLIMS Lifestyle Group. He belongs to the third generation of the family who became famous for world-class furniture and reseller of several global brands, like the La-Z-Boy chairs. The young CEO said he readily found the answer through the collective effort made by him and his siblings who are now helping him run the business. Indeed, during the interview, he was joined by two of his younger siblings to tell the story of how their furniture business started and flourished through the years.
Lim says his ancestors were all skilled craftsmen from the Fujian Province of China. They trace their roots in the Philippines to 1898, when the first generation moved to the Philippines to start a new life, making and selling furnitures. By the 1930s, they became the dominant furniture maker in Manila. They had three shops with one called Oriental Furniture, which focuses on oriental designs and themes, while the other was called New Asia, which dealt with modern Asian themes, and the third shop was called Cosmopolitan. Apart from Manila, they were also exporting furniture in Europe, through the Spanish traders that came to the Philippines.
When war broke out, Lim says everything was destroyed. But his grandfather wanted to resume the furniture business, while at the same time seeing another opportunity, this time in selling appliances, starting with transistor radios. This led to the opening of what is now known as Automatic Center, which is currently run by their cousins.
In the 1970s, Lim says their parents felt it was the right time to revive their furniture business. “BLIMS actually started as the furniture section of Automatic Center, and my father Samie Lim worked with prominent interior designer Edith Oliveros, along with 26 local manufacturers to start the business.” The idea, Lim explains was to break away from the current trend then, which was made-to-order furniture pieces, copied from magazines and catalogs that were available at that time. The company started making “ready-to-use pieces and ready-to-deliver sets” straight from their showroom to the customers’ homes. It was a radical idea then, but they found that customers embraced the idea, and their furniture business became very successful, that they soon moved out into their own, and established the BLIMS brand in 1977.
Today, the BLIMS Lifestyle Group is composed of four different lifestyle concepts, with the biggest being the BLIMS Fine Furniture, with 15 branches in strategic locations. They also have the Sogo Home and Office Center which currently has 5 branches, Design Gallery in SM North Edsa, and the Cellini brand, which is an Italian design line of furniture. The company is also the reseller of the La-Z-Boy brand of luxury reclining chairs.
Nowadays, with the influx of other imported and local brands in the country, Lim says they rely on one of their major strengths, which is the ability to cater to almost all the market segments as one of the distinct features which sets them apart. “What we can say is that if you need furniture, whoever you are and whatever style you want, you can come to us.” The company also makes sure it is always in line with the latest trends in their industry. “ One of the trend now is the shrinking size of furniture. You have to make it more compact and usable. As my dad says, before when we were designing 30-40 square meters, that was one room. Now, someone comes in and say I have a 40-square meter condo.”
When asked the direction in which BLIMS is headed, Lim says being the eldest among the siblings managing the company means he also must take the lead in planning for the future. He says he and his siblings envision the company transforming itself into one that would bring in some of the best global brands directly into the Philippines, and they have taken more concrete steps to do so. This will be an even more exciting year, as they are scheduled to introduce more brands into the market.
Lim knows the challenges will become bigger as they grow too, and they are continually preparing themselves for that. What is important, Lim points out, is the support, collaboration and unity of the family in keeping their focus razor-sharp. And yes, it does help too, that working with siblings and a close-knit group of the best employees, makes his work, a whole lot easier.