Alex Hong knows well enough that putting all his eggs in one basket could make or break a venture. But for Alex, his confidence in and familiarity with the timber, Chengal, has made him a specialist of sorts and earned him the success that he had set out to achieve. Ten years after venturing out on his own, Alex’s products are much sought after for their fine craftsmanship and originality of design. Alex recounts his love affair with Chengal to TIMBER MALAYSIA.
Nestled within a cluster of landscaping and plant nurseries along Sungai Buloh road in Selangor, Alex’s showroom is highly visible and easily accessible. A life-size wooden statue of the Chinese God of Wealth, Kwan Kung, stands guard beside the door to Alex’s office. Sure, excellent locality and divine help are plus points. But above all, Alex is certain that the main draw for his clients is the material that forms the basis of all his products: the strong, durable and beautiful Chengal wood.
“When I set out to start the business, all I wanted was to carve a niche in what I do. With Chengal, you don’t have to do much convincing as the quality of the wood speaks for itself. The timber’s durability is well known locally and abroad,” replied Alex on why he chooses to work only with Chengal.
What of product differentiation, though?
“It’s how you carve and shape it that makes the difference,” explained Alex.
For Alex, delivering this difference means researching on designs and patterns from various parts of Asia and composing unique designs for each client who enters his showroom, conveniently situated right next to his workshop. Sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done mainly because Alex does not believe in surfing the Internet and copying designs.
“That’s not ethical,” he insists. “Instead of taking the easy way out, we actually study the history of each carving we come across from various parts of this region. Such research feeds into our recommendation on the most suitable places in the house for floral or fauna motifs. Certain customs dictate that it is inappropriate to have fauna motifs within the interior of one’s house.”
Such dedication and the passion to move up the learning curve have seen Alex travel to many countries within the region to study different carving designs, both traditional and contemporary. That endeavour seems to have paid off as he now has, in his collection, carvings which incorporate designs from countries like Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia, besides Malaysia’s very own traditional Malay carvings, all done only in Chengal.
“It’s not that I don’t have confidence in other Malaysian timbers. In fact, most Malaysian hardwood timbers are suitable for carvings. My choice for Chengal is due to my personal preference. It is a joy to work with Chengal because of its hardy nature and fine grain, making it really suitable for most joinery products and building fixtures. Moreover, it is termite-resistant and ideal for use in our tropical climate. As a heavy hardwood, it is more difficult to carve. But the end product is satisfyingly hardy and durable, and most suitable for external use or display,” explained Alex. A wise decision, indeed, as most of his products are used in the outdoors.
His company is appropriately named Chengal Wood.com. Living up to its name, the company specialises in Chengal wood carvings, wooden doors and windows, pergolas and decking, gazebos and wakaf, partitions and skirtings as well as the construction of traditional Malay wooden kampung houses. “All our products are hand-crafted and tailor-made to suit the taste and preference of our customers,” he said, adding that his products have been installed in all types of property, from apartments and condominiums, to link houses, semi-detached abodes and bungalows.
“Our workers are experienced local carvers and carpenters. We also have skilled craftsmen from Indonesia, Burma and Thailand,” he said. The designs, however, are purely Alex’s domain. “I personally come up with the designs based on my customers’ specifications. Then the finalised designs are passed to the carvers,” Alex enthused.
With more than 10 years in the wood carving business, Chengal Wood.com has expanded to meet the demands of an increasing clientele, thanks to satisfied customers’ word-of-mouth recommendations. In late 2008, despite gloomy predictions of the local and regional economy, the company established another factory at Kampung Baru Subang, a fifteen-minute drive away from the flagship premises.
Alex’s love for timber began when he was a young boy. His first exposure to timber was through a sawmill that his grandfather owned. The next module of his education in timber came from his father’s furniture factory. “I learnt about the various types of timber from my grandfather. My father, on the other hand, taught me about adding value to timber,” he said.
It is obvious that Alex is totally in his element when transforming Chengal into beautiful pieces for his clients to enhance their properties, particularly their outdoor environment. “It is nice to be paid for something I love doing, anyway. That aside, it is the appreciation by satisfied clients that really keeps me going,” said Alex as we ended the interview.
For further information on Alex’s bespoke Chengal adornments for your property, please contact:
Holti Art & Craft Enterprise, Lot 47-B, Jalan Sungai Buloh, Kota Damansara 47000 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.