Conversations with: Gani Atmadiredja, Managing Director, W. Atelier

When it comes to buying and renovating a new home, many of us hardly place any emphasis when it comes to our toilets. Traditionally, most of us opt for the practical way; the bare necessities are sufficient for us. But there’s been a rising trend of home owners who choose to indulge heavily when it comes to the bathroom.

Similar to kitchens, bathrooms can also have wet and dry areas. Usually separated by a glass door, the toilet and sink would be kept dry, away from the shower and bath area. Rain showers and free-standing tubs are also popular options for those who choose to pamper themselves with the best shower facilities available. And of course, there’s the toilet.

For those of us who have visited Japan at least once in our lives, we would’ve been blessed to be exposed to top of the line toilets. Powered by electricity, we’d be greeted with warm seats right in the middle of winter. For the uninitiated, there are also water sprays for cleaning purposes, dryers, and even temperature control settings, all of which can be controlled by a remote affixed to the side of the toilet or on the adjacent wall.

Better known as “washlets”, these high-end toilets are a registered trademark of TOTO and W. Atelier is the distributor to the TOTO line of products in Singapore. Apart from the TOTO range of sanitaryware, the W. Atelier showroom located at Henderson Road is also home to many brands, having expanded into kitchen systems and furniture.

This September, we had the chance to visit Gani Atmadiredja, Managing Director at W. Atelier at their new showroom which saw its opening just a couple of months ago.

The 20,000sqf experiential showroom at 201 Henderson Road boasts an expansive range of the products they carry, ranging from sanitary ware, to kitchen systems, and even furniture. The overall interior was visually stunning, and felt as though their catalogue had come to life!

Here’s how our conversation went:

The Redbrick Team (RB): Tell us more about the company. How long have you been with w.atelier?

Gani Atmadiredja (GA): I’ve been with the company since 2004 – about 13 years. Before that I was already in this business for quite a long while; it’s a family business. After I graduated, I went back to Jakarta and I was working there for 3 years, in the sanitary business. After Jakarta I moved to Singapore, so I’ve been in this industry for quite a long while I would say.

RB: What are some of your best-selling products?

GA: For TOTO, they have always been very well known for their washlets. The washlet technology in japan is very mature; they possibly have 70-80% market coverage of washlets in various brands.

TOTO is the biggest, but there are other Japanese washlet brands in the market as well. If you go to Japan, public toilets have this system in place. Unfortunately, it’s not as Singapore, unfortunately not yet. I guess people here are not ready at the moment. But it is an increasing trend, and it’s gaining a lot of momentum in terms of the interest on it.

RB: What sets TOTO apart from its competitors?

GA: Technology. One unique thing about TOTO is that they only focus on restroom sanitary. Toilets, bathroom products, period. And they spend way too much money on research and development.

It’s a publicly listed company in Japan and annually, they spend $100M. Just imagine how many things you can do with $100M! You can build property and make a lot more money than making toilets, probably.

They spend a lot of money on R&D on toilets, so you can just imagine the dedication they have. Technology wise, if you look at their website, not only do they have washlet technology, but they even have tiles. There is this particular tile where they researched, where they put silver oxide on it, and it’s supposed to be self-cleansing. And when the sunlight hits the tile, it’s supposed to decompose the dirt, and in the process, create oxygen.

If you put this in front of a building, it’s similar to planting a tree… imagine that! Technology like that… they really invested a lot to create something like that. Of course, apart from technology, there’s the idea of the Japanese quality and all, but that goes without saying.

RB: Apart from TOTO, what are some other popular brands that w.atelier carries?

GA: Kitchens & furniture – we have our own TOTO Kitchen as well. We have manufacturers for the TOTO Kitchen business in Indonesia too. Previously, we were only doing OEM business to Japan. But then again, Japanese kitchen styles are very different from European kitchen systems which we are using. Based on measurements, the Japanese kitchens would be much smaller, the appliances there are not 600 x 600, the European size. You cannot sell that in Singapore, because none of the appliances sold will fit the Singaporean or Indonesian market. So after 15 years of OEM business to TOTO Japan, we told them that we need to branch out and do our own European kitchen system.

From there we branched out to do other kitchen brands, now we have SieMatic as well as Next125 which are two German brands.

With furniture as well, at first we started with Novamobili in the previous showroom. It was a very good brand at that time, but we kind of outgrew it. We wanted something more.

We started to look for other brands, and the opportunity presented itself and we were able to take Fritz Hansen, which is an amazing brand. The thing that makes you fall in love with the company is its history and the products that they sell. A lot of their models are from the 50s or 60s, and they are still selling the same thing. There’s no need for innovation or R&D, and it’s still relevant. That’s design. It’s timeless, and it can never go out of style. These are the brands that we like to present; that’s why we also got another brand – Zanotta. Similar concept, similar designs that are also from the 50s. These designs have stood the test of time. We curate our showroom towards that direction – timeless designs, products that are universally liked.

We have also ventured into lightings and lighting supply. There’re quite a few brands that we present as well – Lightyears, which is from Denmark, and they recently got acquired by Fritz Hansen; Santa & Cole, a Spanish brand from Barcelona, similar concept to the furniture, things that are designed ages ago, but are still selling today. They are still valid, still beautiful, even until now.

The new one we just got in is Lasvit, from Czech Republic. Not that old of a company, but they try to modernize the crystal chandeliers. They are very good with customising for hotel lobbies, but have recently also come up with a retail range that we are presenting in our upcoming showroom. We are renovating our Bukit Timah showroom, and we’re going to present a new concept there. One of the new brands we are going to present a lot is Lasvit.

RB: What are the latest bathroom and sanitary ware trends?

GA: The washlets. Not only in Singapore, but the world. There’s this big furniture fare in Frankfurt. It’s called ISH, so everybody in the toilet industry goes there every 2 years. When I first went there 8 years back, it was the first time TOTO exhibited in the biggest toilet fair in the world, so they spent a lot of money there.

When they were first there, they made a big splash about washlets – electronics in the bathrooms. To the Europeans, it’s still unheard of. In Singapore, we are fortunate enough to travel to japan quite a lot, so we know about it. But in Europe it’s like, what is that? A lot of European manufacturers then did not know about this washlet system. People were still using bidets, the separate piece, so when TOTO went there, it was a big splash, everybody was like “wow, this is the next big thing!”.

Fast forward 2 years, to the next ISH fair. When I got there, I could see that there were some technologies that were implemented into the European manufacturers’ sanitary products.

2 years on, again, almost all of them have some sort of a washlet system. It’s still in the beginning phase, but they have it. They are starting to integrate the technology into the bathroom and recently when I went, everybody has it.

They’re even trying to add more functions to it. More medical stuff, such as checking for glucose in your urine and whatnot. It’s interesting how TOTO influenced the European market into integrating more and more technology into toilets.

RB: What kind of challenges does the company face?

GA: Business is slow at the moment, so there aren’t many new developments coming along, so that’s the challenge for us. Whatever small projects in the market, everybody’s just fighting towards it, so it affects our profit margin. That’s the toughest thing, and there’s nothing we can do about it because that’s the market cycle.

Nevertheless, this kitchen and furniture segment, the retailing segment is relatively stable. Whether good or bad, there are decent amount of sales there, so with the kitchen and furnishing side, we are trying to boost our retailing segment.

RB: What kind products would you recommend for Redbrick clients?

GA: Washlets are the specialty of course. It is an expensive product, but if you do not have that kind of budget, we also have products similar to the washlet, but those have no frills. You don’t need electricity, and it’s much more affordable. If there’s nothing else for you from our showroom, I would recommend to just get that – the eco-washer.

RB: What does a regular work day for you look like?

GA: Answering emails in the morning, having a coffee break, scheduling meetings here and there. I do like to go around the showroom to see what’s going on, see what’s what’s out of a place… rudimentary stuff like that.

RB: What do you do in your free time?

GA: Nowadays, it’s mostly the kids. I’ve got 2 young kids – 4 and 2, so any free time I’ve got is for them. I don’t get to spend too much time with them. In the mornings when I wake up I’ll go to work, and when I finish at night, they would already have gone to bed at 7 or 8, so there’s really not much time. But during the weekends, we spend time. I can’t do much, so it’s mostly with the kids nowadays.

RB: Tell us about your property portfolio – where do you stay? Is it bought or rented? Why did you choose to stay there?

GA: I’ve got a place in Goodwood Residence at Newton. I kind of miss staying at Outram road. It used to be just 5 minutes down to work, but now it’s much longer. We bought that place when they were launching it. It’s a nice location, I like the big piece of land – it’s quite sizeable, and only about 200 units there so density is also pretty good.

RB: what do you think about the property market in Singapore?

GA: I think there’s quite a lot of supply at the moment, there’s quite an oversupply. Singapore is still a good market to invest – politically relatively stable, but the problem is that property in Singapore is expensive. And to be honest, the returns are not that high. If you do it in Indonesia or other countries, you may get better return.

Regionally it does seem like the market is softening and slowing down, but Singapore wise – we’ve been hearing news from the architects that there are activities coming along, but for us it’s probably a delayed effect. We’ll have to wait 1-2 years before we feel the effect. So, it’s very slow still.

So if you have recently purchased a new home, you should definitely consider sprucing up your bathrooms with Japanese technology. Not only will you get to enjoy the use of a washlet on a daily basis, but anytime you have guests over, they will definitely be impressed!

The Redbrick Team

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