From the back of a garage to the top of NZ retail

When Shijin (Sking) Zeng, founder of one of Auckland’s largest online shops iFurniture, decided to move to New Zealand he dreamed of setting up his own business.

While working as an airport engineer in Beijing, China, life felt too predictable.

"Bao set up a corner of the lounge and photographed each piece… and I-furniture was born."
Angela Barnett, Contributing editor, BlueNotes

“I could see right down to retiring; I wanted some kind of uncertainty,” Zeng said.

He got more than uncertainty when he arrived in his new country in 2004; it was more of a calamity. Zeng poured his savings into a new retail furniture business in Wellington, but unfortunately he was swindled.

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He found himself in a foreign city with half a container of furniture from China, no shop to sell it from and no money.

“The newcomer always gets cheated,” Zeng said.

So he opened his garage door and tried to sell the furniture to passers-by but the Wellington City Council closed him down—three times.

To make matters worse, Xulin (Tracy) Bao, Zeng’s girlfriend arrived from Beijing and life was not how he wanted it to be.

“I was so depressed, I was struggling for survival,” he said.

And fast

They needed an idea - and fast. So Bao set up a corner of the lounge and photographed each piece of furniture, while Zeng created a database and website. And I-furniture was born.

“We couldn’t sell my furniture at home so we had to sell it online,” he said.

It took one long month to make their first sale and eventually they sold all the furniture. Then Bao had to return to Beijing to finish her PhD so Zeng moved to Auckland to set up the business properly.

With years of experience in engineering, problem solving and IT, Zeng was well equipped to start an online business.

Over two years he built iFurniture so when Bao returned after graduating there was a new life and business for her to step into.

In 2009 they opened a physical store and their showroom in Onehunga is no garage. It’s a Tardis (the further you walk in the bigger it gets) with a massive range of imported furniture.

Zeng and Bao now import 200 containers of furniture a year from more than 30 different suppliers from countries including Germany, Austria, Indonesia, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Zeng’s advice for new business owners is not to rush.

“When my friends come here I warn them not to do anything for the first two years,” he said. “Just observe and learn.”

Angela Barnett is a contributing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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