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The Secret To Retaining Your Staff: Christina Caredes, Group CEO Of Space Furniture

Store expansion, employee retention and why you shouldn’t buy design replicas

Christina Caredes, Group CEO of Space Furniture

Having some of the world’s most recognisable and drool-worthy brands in its portfolio, Space is easily one of the more reputable design retailers in the Asia Pacific region. Founded in 1993, Space first started as a single showroom in Sydney. Since then, it has evolved into a globally-recognised brand with seven stores across the region. In 2016, it launched a special by-appointment only room for private clients in its Singapore showroom.

Here we speak with Christina Caredes, Group CEO of Space Furniture about running a design business, her thoughts on the industry and why Space is one company that is in the business of helping you create your own beautiful space.

As Group CEO of Space Furniture, is part of your mandate to expand the brand?

Not at the moment. I think we’ve got our hands full with the stores that we have. Altogether we have five stores in Australia and two stores in Asia. Because of the model that we run, our stores are fairly sizeable and the brands are challenging to represent, so we’re going to stick to what we have at the moment and the growing of the business will come from within. We’re constantly assessing the brands that we represent, grading their performance, our performance and we’re also looking at ways to align the brand across the various countries.

This year, across all our stores, we’ll represent Cassina again after seven or eight years. We used to work with Cassina in Asia and Australia but we parted ways with them, so this is an opportunity to work with a brand that used to do well, but also strategically a brand that we can represent across all our stores.

We’re always sitting back and evaluating the brands we carry and making sure that they are the right brands for the market and the right brands to stay in the leading position, I think, we’re in.

In Australia, Space also manages standalone stores in addition to the multi-brand stores we’ve come to know. Do you see a marked difference in the success of these two types of retail?

We do for Poliform, but that’s more for historical reasons. When we acquired the business of Poliform in Australia, it ran as a separate store and a separate business. It is really through that relationship that we started representing Poliform at Space, but the primary heart of our business is to run Space as a multi-branded store.

I believe whole-heartedly in the brand of Space and the multi-branded concept. There are many reasons why it works in Australia. Even the Poliform store is right next door to Space. Yes, it is standalone but it is more an extension, location-wise and logistically. Really, we’re about the brand of Space and growing that brand.

What are your thoughts on design replicas?

I’ve always been quite careful about how we comment because I am aware that some pieces of design are not attainable to everyone. So I don’t want to come across as trying to be elitist. That’s important to put into context.

But I take it down quite simply to: when you were in school and you submitted an essay that you plagiarised, you would have been marked down or told that it was inappropriate and incorrect. That sense of black and white, right and wrong, for me translates, on a personal level, into replica furniture. If you can’t afford the original, don’t buy a replica. Buy something else that resonates with you. There’s a product in the market at every price point, at every level, at every aesthetic. We all have those choices: you can be inspired, you can find something that appeals to your aesthetic but on a principle and personal level, replicas are no different from plagiarism at school.

I have felt that way regardless of the industry that I happen to work in. Because I think that applies to almost all segments — you can say the same thing about electronics or shoes.

You’ve been with the company for 13 years and Space has a reputation for having very long serving staff. What is the secret to staff retention?

We’ve been quite lucky. I think there’s a very high portion, in excess of 25%, of the staff in all our stores that have stayed for more than 10 years. I like to think we create a positive culture and that they, like me, enjoy the product and the people who they work with. I think we’re quite unique in our industry, in the opportunity in the showrooms that we’re able to put forward.

And it doesn’t hurt to work in an office that looks as great as your showrooms…

But all that glitters is not gold. It’s hard work. I think the skill is in making the hard work look effortless and enjoyable. I remember growing up and doing ballet. My teacher used to say: “the idea is to make the audience enjoy the performance and not feel your pain. I hope we’re not always frantically paddling under the surface — there certainly is an element of that, but the outward appearance is always of calm and grace. We definitely enjoy the camaraderie, the environment that we’re in, so there are a few of us who have served close to lifetime sentences.

We celebrate the ten-year mark and take it very seriously when you have an employee has committed ten years of their life to service. In Australia, we're even starting to celebrate people who have reached the 15-year mark. We’re big on celebrating and commemorating that feeling of family. That’s a really important part of what we do.