Q+A: Shaokao Cheng and Paul Walsh, M Collection
Entrepreneurs Niki and Shaokao Cheng opened their first Manhattan furniture store in 2003. Since then, they've operated 13 stores and now own 4 New York showrooms under the Calligaris, Camerich, and M Collection brands. We sat down with Shaokao and M Collection partner, Paul Walsh, to learn more about their Dumbo showroom and how they've brought modern and elegant furniture to Brooklyn.
You've been in the furniture business for 16 years. What was the motivation to get started?
Shaokao: I was working in corporate America but it was driving me nuts and I didn't know how much longer I could stay at it. Then in 2002 I saw an advertisement for a great furniture brand -- BoConcept -- that said if you were interested in opening a store you should call, so I did. I thought I could open the furniture store as a side gig - my wife, Niki, would work there full-time and I could help take care of the business in the evenings and on weekends. Then we got busy...so I quit my job and joined the store full-time.
After that first BoConcept, you have since started a new line of stores. Why was that?
Shaokao: With BoConcept, we eventually ran 9 Manhattan stores for about a decade. It was a great run, and we felt that our values aligned with the brand. However, they were then bought over by a private equity firm that had a different idea. We decided to part ways because we felt we could do something better by starting on our own. The Manhattan stores became the Calligaris brand, and the Dumbo store became the M Collection. That gave us the flexibility to create our vision and find manufacturers that also fit with that vision.
I would summarize M Collection as modern functional designs at affordable prices. Although we're often seen as more of a high-end store we really do have something for everyone.
Tell us more about M Collection! How would you summarize the brand?
Shaokao: The M Collection store is an idea that Niki, Paul, and I had about bringing beautiful furniture but also making it accessible to the Dumbo and Brooklyn community. We were really focused on it being beautiful and high quality.
Paul: But also functional for New York living. Everything is customizable and can be made smaller. I would summarize M Collection as modern functional designs at affordable prices. We have price points for everyone and because we have so many manufacturers we have pieces to suit any budget. Although we're often seen as more of a high-end store we really do have something for everyone.
You have an amazing showroom! How do you curate the pieces?
Shaokao: We find pieces we think will work for us. The main criteria for us in choosing manufacturers and pieces is design, price-point, and quality. Modern design is really important to us and in terms of price we care about the value we can deliver.
Paul: For manufacturers-- we also do a lot of research! We care about how long they've been in business, and whether they're reliable. We'll go to trade shows and try out the pieces. We also have a lot of people reach out to us to display things in the showroom.
what's important for us is building relationships and making the experience of shopping meaningful for customers.
What can people expect from their shopping experience at M Collection?
Shaokao: We're in retail which is a business that continues to get harder because of the internet so I think what's important for us is building relationships and making the experience of shopping meaningful for customers. That usually means we want to know everything we can about our customers as people. For instance, where they're at in their lives, what kind of furniture they're looking for, how they want to use it, and what their personal aesthetic is. I think all of this is important because it's not something the internet can provide -- that's where our value add is.
Paul: We also provide consultation services so it's not just someone walking and thinking "I'll buy that." It's a process because everything is customized. We need to find out what their needs are, sit them down, and almost educate them on what we can do for them. We'll also do 3D renderings so they can visualize their own space before we start.
Why did you choose Dumbo as the location for M Collection?
Shaokao: We've been here for 12 years because Dumbo is great! When we moved in there was nothing really here but there was an aura of excitement. The developer was really focused on building a community. You won't see a Duane Reade in Dumbo because it doesn't fit the vision for the area. It seems very curated but that's why people want to come here and why we wanted to be here. When people know we're in Dumbo it gives us credibility as people who are with the times. We know what is in, where things fit, and where things are going - we're part of that.
When people know we're in Dumbo it gives us credibility as people who are with the times. We know what is in, where things fit, and where things are going.
And finally, what is your favorite place in Dumbo?
Shaokao: I have a lot of favorite places. I'd say Time Out Market because it's new. I also like Almondine.
Paul: I'd say Front Street Pizza because I eat there literally every day.
Shaokao: That's true! I might have to say Front Street Pizza too because it is such a staple. The Grandma is their best slice - it's so good!