Power couple sells furniture
Joseph Tay and Stephanie “Stenie” Coyiuto-Tay are the young couple behind luxury concept Casa Bella Home and Living Furniture, which has catered to discerning clients for a decade. With European brands such as Cassina, Kettal, Moroso, Cattelan Italia, Henge and Novamobili, Casa Bella offers Filipinos timeless quality pieces for the home and the office.
Many newlyweds dream of running a business together, but few succeed. Even with the best of intentions, they discover that what happens at home, for good or ill, can affect matters in the office, and vice versa.
Marriages may become strained due to business concerns. To preserve harmony, one may have to leave the enterprise or set up their own concern, perhaps resenting the other. This may be compounded when both parties have strong personalities, with neither willing to cede control.
Joseph and Stenie are the exception. Intelligent and driven, both were top students in my calculus classes in Management Engineering in Ateneo de Manila University. I was godmother at their wedding.
I have always been fond of them and have come to admire their strategies in making a challenging enterprise a success.
After college, Joseph worked in the corporate world, but he had long been honed by his hardworking parents to focus on their own retail family business in animal feeds.
“We grew up learning how to maximize limited resources,” Joseph says, and in the process, he has become creative and resourceful, essential skills for entrepreneurs.
After college, Stenie studied actuary in preparation for helping her father in his insurance firm. She also studied art, taking after her mother, a real estate magnate with exquisite taste in art.
With different personalities and backgrounds, the couple never thought of working together in their own business.
But in 2009, the opportunity came. The furniture market was ripe. Research shows that when families start acquiring wealth, status symbols start with clothes and cars, then continue on to travel and hobbies like wine.
By 2009, people with means have also grown to care for their homes as well, and have become concerned with the design, not just the functionality, of furnishings, rooms, architecture.
But even with a welcoming market, things were not as simple as they appeared.
“We made mistakes,” says Joseph.
For instance, at the start, the couple decided to exclusively distribute the Italian luxury sofa brand Moroso, without conducting sufficient research on local market demand for topnotch albeit pricey products.
So the couple had to work double, even triple time. With great determination, they were able to grow Moroso.
Then Spanish outdoor furniture brand Kettal “came knocking,” says Joseph. Today, Kettal is one of their most popular lines.
Joseph’s and Stenie’s parents are supportive. Stenie, who enjoys dealing with people, often calls on clients as she assists her father in insurance.
When she and Joseph learned that a well-known Japanese insurance firm had also opened a furniture shop, they realized they could—and should—harness synergy. After all, insurance clients may often be looking for quality furniture, too.
“Life insurance is a way to take care of the next generation,” Joseph says. “This Japanese company knew that when their clients start getting insurance, it means that families are expanding, and thus, homes need more furniture. Many insurance clients are potential furniture clients, too.”
In 2015, the couple decided to enter the office furniture market. This time, Joseph did due diligence.
“After visiting factories in China, I partnered with a company with world-class equipment from Germany and Italy, accredited by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association, with top clients in the country. By bringing the Sunon brand here, we want Filipinos to have access to Grade A office furniture.”
Several family businesses and multinational corporations are now Sunon customers.
(To be concluded next week)
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