Sitting in a dimly lit Italian restaurant in the Sudirman area, Fify Manan orders a plate of salad and remembers the moment when she expanded her furniture business into the US back in 2001. “It was exactly two months before the 9/11 attack,” says Fify, who at that time had rented an office and warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia. “Following the attack, there was this massive economic downturn. However, I managed to survive.”
Fify Manan is President and CEO of Formcase Group, a furniture manufacturing firm based in Tangerang that was founded by her father-in-law Erwin Manan in 1963. Her husband, Robert Manan, joined the business in the early 1990s, initiating the transformation from home industry into mass production, and started exporting to Asia and the Middle East. Fify later joined the company in 2000 and successfully expanded Formcase into the US and Europe in 2001.
During the first few years in the US, Fify figured out that only the government had the budget she needed, so she applied for a government contract. In 2002, Fify earned the Georgia state contract, which enables Formcase to furnish state government agencies, schools, and universities. Two years later, Fify obtained a federal contract, called the General Service Administration (GSA).
With the GSA contract, Formcase has the right to supply all government agencies in the US, including the Department of Defense—the army, the navy, and the air force—even outside of the US, such as to Japan, Korea, and Guam. “It’s like a blessing in disguise,” says Fify, who also managed to set up distribution in 20 states.
Not only that, she has further managed to establish wholesale and distribution networks in six global regions—Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the US. Fify says that the biggest market is still North and South America.
Running a business overseas is challenging, especially in the US. Fify explains that her customers are very picky and tend to search for mistakes. “It’s not easy to keep up with their standards, since the US has a mature market, and they expect the best quality from a brand,” Fify says. She adds that in the US a piece of furniture has to last for four seasons—spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Moreover, due to ocean freight shipping, which can take up to 30 days, it is important to have reliable and sturdy packaging to ensure the lasting quality of the product.
This smart businesswoman, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University and attended an MBA programme at the University of Tulsa, established PT Rifyo Indonesia in 2012 when she came back to Indonesia for good. Unlike Formcase, which is a manufacturer and exporter, Rifyo is an importer that focuses on the domestic market, providing furnishings and design solutions for offices.
In 2015, after two years of hard work, Fify successfully made Rifyo the authorised dealer of Herman Miller, an industry leader in office furniture manufacturing in the US. Last year, Rifyo became the sole dealer of Herman Miller in Indonesia.
When asked about the story behind the name, Fify explains that Rifyo stands for “Robert and Fify”. “People say that it’s not easy for husband and wife to run a business together, but we are the opposite. We complement each other—we are an effective team,” says Fify, who has been with Robert since secondary school. “Robert is the visionary, while I am the executor.”
Prior to managing the furniture business, the mother-of-three found work experience in a variety of different fields, from textiles to plastics, and she even founded a food distribution company, Fitrafood International, which is now handled by her sister-in-law. As we walk to the Rifyo showroom in the building next door, Fify says that she mostly visits the factory in Tangerang.
Speaking about her short-term plan, Fify enthusiastically announces that Rifyo is going to open a new showroom in Kemang soon. Unlike the current showroom, the Kemang branch will house a lot more furniture on display, as she owns the whole building. Fify also stresses some traits to keep in mind if one wants to be a successful entrepreneur. “Determine your market segment: high-end, middle, or low-end. You cannot sell quality products with a low price point, and vice versa,” Fify she says, “Above all, be persistent. Being smart and hardworking is good, but not enough.”
Outside her business, Fify is President of Indonesian Diaspora Business Council (IDBC) and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Indonesian Diaspora Network. “At IDBC, we act as a bridge between Indonesian diaspora businesses and those in the country. We assist small and medium-sized companies that want to export their products. As for my role, I always encourage the younger generation to continue their leadership,” Fify concludes.
This story appears in the June 2018 issue of Indonesia Tatler. Subscribe here to read more inspiring stories like this.