Standing the test of time
In Hong Kong's throwaway society, a lifetime guarantee is an unusual marketing
THERE he was, a fully-suited corporate executive, jumping up and down in a filing-cabinet drawer, just to make sure it was going to withstand his weight. It did. And with that, Rachel Jones and the company she represents had managed to preserve their reputation.
As the regional representative for Steelcase, a brand of furniture as sturdy as it sounds, Jones has witnessed some strange tests performed by people interested in buying from the range, whether for offices or homes. Bouncing in a drawer is one, as is banging cupboard doors, sitting on bookshelves, and standing on sofas.
Like with buying a refrigerator or personal computer, and unlike most furniture outlets in Hong Kong, Steelcase sofas, chairs and tables come with guarantees - some are for two years, while others are intended to prove the products last a lifetime.
Retailed in Hong Kong through Lamex in Wan Chai, the company brings together some of the most noted names in long-lasting furniture: Brayton of North Carolina gives a lifetime warranty on any of its products which have foam or wood interiors.
'This means there is a low cost of ownership. You are not going to be replacing things all the time. They are designed to last,' Jones said.
The bulk of the company's business is in the corporate sector. Large companies looking to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for an efficient office environment want to be assured it is going to last. The panels, desks and cabinets come with lifetime guarantees.
'They are supposed to last for keeps, which is handy in the case of companies where departments are constantly shrinking or growing and the space needs to be changed,' she said.
It may not be as cheap as picking up a few pieces of modular furniture from the shop around the corner, but interior decorators in Hong Kong and all over Asia believe furniture which is guaranteed to last will be more cost-effective.
Jones adds: 'People are happy to invest in heavy-duty, heavy-wear items. They might spend a lot of money to start with, but it will last.' Much of the furniture is made of steel, but fashioned to look like wood or something aesthetically appealing. Most of the warranties are between two and five years, and are applicable to the hard furniture as well as soft home furnishings.
'Nobody wants their sofa to collapse after one year,' she said.
While the warranties are a major selling-point for the company, Jones said they didn't 'make a big fuss of it'.
'The guarantee is really to illustrate that we stand by what we sell.' Most impressive is the three-year assurance given to the quality of fabrics. Made by Designtex and sold exclusively through Steelcase, Jones said if the colour fades or the threads weaken 'through normal wear', the upholstery will be replaced free of charge.
But the caveat, 'through normal wear', has caused some confusion in the past: clients cannot claim the paint scraped off a chair when the damage was caused by moving, nor will the fabric on the sofa be replaced if food and drink are spilled on it.
However, the warranty does come in handy when the material on the arms of an armchair fade: three years later, you can get it replaced for free and it still looks new.
It is an unusual policy by Hong Kong standards; at Nuovo Collections in Happy Valley, a salesgirl looked perplexed when asked if a warranty was supplied on anything bought in her shop.
'If there is something you want, you ask me and I will ask my boss,' she said. 'But I think there is no guarantee.'