For almost 100 years, C.S. Wo & Sons has been furnishing the homes of Hawaiian residents with beautiful furniture and creating events and ads that catch the customer’s attention. In 1909, Ching Sing Wo (C.S. Wo) opened a general merchandise store in downtown Honolulu. While Ching’s son, Robert, was attending college at Stanford University, he window shopped for furniture every weekend and developed a passion for it. After graduating, Robert returned to Hawaii and re-focused the company on selling furniture. Soon, the company acquired their largest competitor and began an island-wide expansion which would lead to C.S. Wo & Sons becoming the state’s largest home furnishings retailer for over 50 years.
As the 1990s approached, new competition and industry trends convinced the third generation of “the Wo Sons” to restructure their company into smaller, lifestyle oriented stores. Today, there are six divisions of stores, each selling different product levels. The names for the different divisions are: C.S. Wo & Sons, HomeWorld, Room Stores Hawaii, DeZign Home, La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries and SlumberWorld.
By dividing the company into different divisions, C.S. Wo & Sons has been able to remain a dominate player in the Hawaiian furniture industry and provide their customers various product levels. “Part of our strength is that we are able to divide and conquer through the different segments that we address,” said Brad Harris, division manager of C.S. Wo & Sons.
Representing the high-end of the furniture market, C.S. Wo & Sons has created welcoming store environments in their Honolulu, Kona and new Costa Mesa, CA stores. When customers first walk through the doors, a greeter welcomes them to the store and finds out if it is their first visit. If it is, the greeter will hand them a brochure showing the layout of the showroom floor and invite them to enjoy fresh baked cookies and cappuccino. If it is a returning customer and they are ready to shop, the greeter will set them up with a designer. “I think the best compliment that we have ever had in all of our stores has been that people really don’t want to leave,” Brad said. “Once they purchase their furniture, they are enjoying our fresh baked cookies and cappuccino and they feel at home.”
Advertising with a Twist
To promote their stores C.S. Wo & Sons relies on print advertising, with a twist. Most of their ads can be found in local and high-end magazines and newspapers but instead of focusing on low prices or sales, C.S. Wo & Sons focuses on a beautiful room setting and a catchy phrase. “Our phrases are usually very cleaver and short but thought-provoking,” Brad said.
With intriguing ads that say, “Apparently, you can buy good taste,” and “You live on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. Decorate accordingly,” customers have been noticing the ads and visiting the store. “We ran similar ads for our new California store, and I was surprised at how many people came in off of them saying that they had to find out what the store was about. We stood out from the other stores because we didn’t say 50 to 60 percent off, and we intrigued them,” said Brad.
That is the purpose of their ads — to get people in through the doors. Once customers have gotten through the doors, it is the C.S. Wo & Sons shopping experience that will sell them.
Customer Appreciation Events
C.S. Wo & Sons recognizes the importance of their loyal customers, so every year they hold two gala events, a Chinese New Year’s celebration and Home for the Holidays, to celebrate and say thank-you to their customers.
During the Chinese New Year’s event, attendees enjoy complementary food and champagne while lounging in the showroom. Each event also has a lion dance, calligraphers and fortune tellers to help attendees celebrate the occasion. “We wine and dine them to say thank-you to the customers that have been faithful to us through the years. We also have fun activities for customers to take part in such as the very popular lion dance,” said Brad.
When customers aren’t participating in the lion dance or having their fortunes told, they can often view art from local artists or informal fashion shows. “Every year is different, but this year’s event featured a fashion designer out of San Francisco. She brought in about 80 outfits and did an informal fashion show throughout the evening,” Brad added.
This invitation only event has become so popular with C.S. Wo & Sons’ clientele that they now have a second celebration the following day. “Over the years the Chinese New Year’s celebration has grown in such stature that people have to be turned away, but that is also why we now have the second event,” Brad said. “If it fills up with 1,000 people, which is pretty much the capacity of our store, we can invite them to our event the next day. We really want to be able to say thank-you to everyone.”
A week prior to Thanksgiving, the C.S. Wo & Sons showroom transforms into a holiday wonderland for the Home for the Holidays gala event. C.S. Wo & Sons partners with Neiman Marcus to give customers holiday display and entertaining ideas. “The highlight of the holiday event is that Neiman Marcus decorates all of our dining tables in their best china and crystal, and they do themed tables for the holidays that are very extravagant,” Brad added.
While business is normally not conducted during these events, they often lead to future sales. “These evenings are purely for fun,” Brad said. “It gets people into the store, and although it is not intended for sales, we do find that there is a spike in sales afterwards.”
“Both of our events go back to our mission statement the focuses on four key areas of importance: customers, co-workers, company profitability and community,” said Brad. “We feel that we have been established for so long in the community that we want to give back to it and enrich the community that we live in.”
With their first leap to the mainland in early 2007, C.S. Wo & Sons is looking for future opportunities outside of the islands. “The Costa Mesa store has been fairly successful, especially considering the economy and challenging times that we are facing,” said Brad. “No matter how the economy is doing, we have the staying power and focus that will allow us to continue to expand on the mainland.”
Whatever the future holds, you can be sure that C.S. Wo & Sons will be able to weather the storm. With their intriguing ads and appreciation for their customers, C.S. Wo & Sons is sure to be furnishing homes in Hawaii and the mainland for another 100 years.
By Melissa Dressler, Western Retailer Managing Editor.
Originally published in 2007.