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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tseu family pulls together at Baik Designs

By Robbie Dingeman

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chad Tseu, surrounded by handcrafted Indonesian furniture, describes Baik Designs as a "real small family-run business." It's at the Gentry Pacific Design Center.

ROBBIE DINGEMAN | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

This bed, on sale for $3,500, is made of ironwood planks salvaged from a bridge in Borneo.

ROBBIE DINGEMAN | The Honolulu Advertiser

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How long in business? 23 years

Number of employees: six, started by co-owners, Ed and Linda Tseu, now joined by son, Chad, his wife, Karen Tseu; daughter, Cappy, and her husband, John Esguerra

Describe your business? "We were the first company to bring in furniture built from reclaimed teak timbers not only because they make such beautiful furniture but because it's the right thing to do for the environment."

Core strategy: "We're a family business so each one of us who works at Baik Designs is committed to the success of our business."

Business tip: "What has helped us to survive in these difficult economic times can be summed up in three ways: product, customer service, reputation."

Big change? The company closed a 4-year-old store in Kailua-Kona in October 2008 to focus on the main Honolulu store.

Fun fact? The name Baik comes from the Indonesia word for fine.

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The founding owners of Baik Designs first fell in love with Indonesian design on surfing vacations to Bali in the 1970s.

That interest became the basis of their family business. Now 23 years later, the store has expanded and is in Honolulu's Gentry Pacific Design Center on Nimitz Highway.

Chad Tseu is the son of Ed and Linda Tseu, who started the business in the late 1980s, first on Waimanu Street in Kaka'ako and later at the current location.

"Over the 23 years we have been in business, we have created and nurtured core relationships with Hawai'i's designers, architects and other individuals," Tseu said.

"My dad was a surfer, so they initially went there for surfing and my mom was tagging along. To help pay for their trips, they would bring things back jewelry and sarongs."

Ed Tseu opened the first store in 1987 on Waimanu Street and he continued to do two jobs, working as a flight attendant for United Airlines.

Son Chad, 34, remembers the first store as something they built out of thick plywood that mostly sold "giant elephant bamboo furniture."

A couple of years later, the Tseus moved to the Nimitz location, with a more upscale feel and a focus on reclaimed teak.

"We've just slowly expanded," said Chad, with the showroom doubling and tripling in size and a warehouse nearby.

His father retired after 33 years with airlines, but both parents remain active in the business even as their children and their two spouses take on more of the day-to-day operations.

Now, instead of yearly buying trips, his parents stay in Bali for longer periods in a house they own.

"My folks are basically living there six months of the year," Chad Tseu said. "We're a real small family-run business."

Prices and items vary widely in the store with some art pieces and textiles starting around $25, to items that can cost up to $16,000.

Recently the store had several pieces made from ironwood planks salvaged from a bridge in Borneo. The dark wood shows up in a $3,500 bed and in smaller pieces such as a coffee table.

In a state that has a lot of ironwood trees planted as windbreaks, it's unusual to find it used in hand-crafted objects.

Chad said he began working in the store on weekends in high school but attended the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa thinking he'd go into pre-med.

Chad, 34, said he graduated from UH in 1998 with a degree in business management.

In the recent challenging business environment, the business has cut back. Today, only family members work there Chad and his wife, Kathy; and his sister, Cappy, and her husband, John Esguerra.

"Like just about everyone else in business in the Islands, we have had to engage in painful cost-saving measures like reducing inventory, downsizing warehouse space, reducing salaries and slashing our profit margin to its absolute lowest point," he said.

"We're fortunate enough to be able to employ everybody," Chad said, with each family member bringing a special talent.

Over the years, they have had employees who became very close but they moved on and family members took on more.

"We can really rely on each other," Chad said.

His sister handles in-house interior design; his wife works with customer sales and clients; his brother-in-law handles advertising graphics and the Web site.

Chad focuses on inventory, accounting and customer relations. "I'm good at sort of meshing it all together."

He said the business relies on a mix of longtime clients, larger projects and people who start as walk-in customers but often end up coming back year after year.

Chad and his wife are expecting their first child; his sister and her husband have two children. So, they think it's possible that the next generation might continue their tradition.