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robert ching wo

"My mind was already made up that furniture was going to be my business. It's a big ticket, good margin, it's not too competitive. It needs patience and a lot of capital, but you have to remember that it's something that you have to build up in the consumer's mind that this is the best place to buy their furnishings."

Robert Ching Wo developed a passion for furniture at an early age while working in his father's general merchandise store in Honolulu. During high school, he quickly realized that "You can make 25 cents selling a bag of rice, but a lot more selling a sofa!" While attending Stanford University, Mr. Wo spent weekends visiting area furniture stores, returning home after graduation to transform the family business into a full-line furniture retailer, which consistently has been ranked in the Top 100 list of furniture retailers by Furniture Today.

Adept at turning a crisis into an opportunity, during the 1949 dock strike, Mr. Wo opened upholstery and case goods manufacturing plants to turn the retailer into a vertically integrated company. He envisioned launching manufacturing in countries with plentiful supplies of materials and labor. In 1973, while serving as a director of the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers, he met Laurence Moh, owner of Hong Kong Teakwood. Their partnership led to the founding of manufacturing plants in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia; timber concessions in Indonesia and the Philippines; and distribution centers in five U.S. cities. One of their companies, Universal Furniture, became the first company to manufacture furniture on a mass scale in Asia for import to the United States and the world; it was purchased in 1989 by Masco Corporation for $500 million.

Today, C. S. Wo dominates the home furnishings retail business in Hawaii, with multiple store brands and price points, and a statewide market share exceeding 40 percent. His five sons continue to be deeply involved in the industry and the community, through the world class Wo International Center at Punahou School and the C. S. Wo Foundation. Even today after 70 years in the business, Mr. Wo still pauses in front of a sofa to lift the cushion to find out who manufactured it.