How does a professional Accountant decide to quit his career, leave his home and family behind to move to a different city? All of this was necessary in order to pursue his dream of dominating the furniture market in Canada.
Dedicated to enriching spaces aesthetically and functionally, Avanica is a company that offers a wide range of products that can be customized to accommodate every detail of your vision. Working exclusively with luxurious timber, like teak and mahogany, the furnishings are enhanced by the intricacies and individual quality of the craftsmanship. At Avanica, no two pieces are alike as each piece is the work of an artist carrying on the legacy of traditional woodwork and handicrafts.
We sat down with the founder of the company, Sinthu Sivagnanam to find out what has driven him to achieve such unique success in this highly competitive market.
TamilCulture: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Sinthu Sivagnanam: I have always known that I wanted to start my own business and build it’s success while I was still young. After graduating with a business degree from Concordia University in Montreal, I worked as an accountant for a few years while simultaneously working on my business idea. I quit my job in 2015 and since then, I have put all of my time and resources into building my business. The furniture industry is very competitive and entering the industry with little or no resources in hand was a struggle. I knew I had to give everything I had to build it, but along the way I learned that you will enjoy even the struggles and challenges when you are going after your goals and dreams. I was lucky to have a few people who believed in me and helped me to get to where I am today and I am forever grateful for their support. I grew up in Sri Lanka during the war and like most Tamil families, we had to leave everything behind and look for a new life in another country for survival. As unfortunate as it was growing up during the war and witnessing the intense cruelty towards Tamils in Sri Lanka, those experiences taught my family the best lessons and only helped us to succeed in every aspect of our lives. Finally, I enjoy working, learning and sharing experiences with young Tamil entrepreneurs, living back home or abroad.
TC: Why did you choose the furniture industry?
SS: The reason I got into the furniture business was because of my family’s historical background. Although it has nothing to do with retail, their experience was definitely related. My family’s focus was in the agriculture industry. They used to plant trees on their land, specifically Teak wood, and export this wood to India and mostly parts of South East Asia. However, because of the war my family had to leave everything and come to Canada. This is what sparked my desire to do something in the furniture industry. I have always had this inside of me, for as long as I can remember. I started my business by wanting to be unique and possess something that no one else has and now we have created a market for ourselves.
TC: How did you start pursuing this endeavour?
SS: I started working on my plans two years before I actually opened up my first store. First and foremost, I had to travel in order to establish all the background work for the business. For example, I needed to set up our plant, train the workers and acquire licenses and permits to cut and export the wood for our furniture. These all had to be certified by the local governments that we deal with. Over those two years, I completed industry research and met with consultants in Quebec to learn about the market. Specifically, what kind of furniture was going to trend in the future. Although I had the option of simply buying furniture from a supplier, I learned early on that if I wanted to compete and become successful, I had to control everything. This includes the whole process; from cutting the wood, to treating the wood, to manufacturing our designs, and shipping our products to Canada. Since we control the process from A to Z, this provides us with a great deal of flexibility in terms of pricing and quality. Overall, this is what helps us to keep growing.
TC: What is your role in the business?
SS: As the owner of the business, my role is to travel, meet people and focus on growing the business. We have signed some big contracts over the years, as a supplier to Ashley Homes stores and Wayfair Canada, just to name a few. In order to sign these contracts, we had to possess unique products to have a competitive advantage. I knew that in order to achieve success, I had to offer these companies something that other people couldn’t offer. I started off my company by regularly participating in home and furniture trade shows in Canada, as well as in the United States. This is where I met the majority of the contacts that I needed to generate business, and when someone turned me down, I kept trying. Wayfair Canada actually turned us down three times before we signed our contract because they came to the decision that they wanted to work with a domestic supplier. It also helps that 80% of our products are manufactured and designed by us.
TC: What is the key to Avanica’s success?
SS: When I entered the market, there were some extremely big players in terms of high end furniture stores. For me to go in and compete with these companies for contracts, I had to always make sure that I was better than them. So I came to the realization that if I came up with ideas and designs for unique furniture, then I would always have a competitive advantage, so this is what we focus on. The key to my success is working with our customers to create custom made furniture. We take the vision of our customers to fit their size, measurements, wood, shape and taste for their spaces, in order to fulfill their desires. Most of the time when you go to furniture stores, you aren’t given this option because whatever they have in the store with their standard sizes is all that is available for you to buy. At Avanica, our custom orders and hand picked pieces have allowed us to open up the market with these type of customers for custom projects. This has allowed our business to flourish, pursue diverse avenues and receive countless opportunities.
TC: What is the significance of the name of your business?
SS: The name has no dictionary definition or meaning. Initially, I wanted to go with the name “Avani” which is referred to as a wood type locally in some villages in Sri Lanka, and then I added “CA” to the end. I liked that name when our team came up with it, so we went with it. Our company AVANICA is rooted in the love of fine craftsmanship and exquisite aesthetic. Seeking out traditionally handcrafted wooden furnishings, our brand is hinged on a desire to bring artistry and finesse of superior quality. Hand picked and curated for every kind of space, the furnishings and handicrafts are contemporary with a traditional charm.
TC: Who supported you when you started out with your business?
SS: Initially, my family was not very supportive because they were worried about their son leaving a stable job and moving to another city just to start this venture. For my parents, life has always been about survival. They wanted me to go to school, finish my degree and get a job. This is what makes them feel secure. But for me, education is nothing but a piece of paper at the end of the day. I believe that it is important to go out there and learn as much as you can, but you have to use this knowledge to build something. This is why I knew that I would never be satisfied until I performed to the best of my abilities at something that I knew I was good at. It is not that my family didn’t want me to go into business. They just knew that I was getting into something that was very uncertain, and this scared them. However, now that I have laid the foundation of my company and everything has fallen into place, my family is able to see the potential of Avanica and where it is headed. It just goes to show that sometimes there will be people who don’t support you because they are scared of you losing something in life. But eventually, those who really care about you will slowly come on board.
TC: What influences inspire you and fuels your passion?
SS: I did not choose the business field for the money. Money is the last thing I care about and I believe that if you are going after the money, you have got everything wrong. The reason I wanted to build my own business from scratch is because I realized that in order to help people, you have to be established and successful. I believe in this and in the long term I want to make a change in this world be helping people, working with young entrepreneurs and providing opportunities in Sri Lanka. Although we import our Teak wood from Sri Lanka, we currently do not have a plant there because of the economic instability and lack of infrastructure for my business. In the future, I definitely want to set up a plant in Sri Lanka down the road, either in the North or the South, that will create jobs and opportunities for the people there.
TC: What is your vision for the future of your business?
SS: We still have a long way to go in terms of growth, but we have created a market for ourselves. Right now we have two manufacturing plants in South East Asia and 30-40 people working for us. Here in North America, we are in the process of opening up a 10 500 square foot store in Vancouver and another one in Calgary, which my family will be managing. I didn’t want to just create a business to provide myself with a decent, stable life. My goal is to build this business to become an identity in North America and I want to take my brand to this level. I never want to stop at a point where I am comfortable and walk away. I have plans to grow this business into something that can be known as a brand name that dominates the North American furniture market. When people think about Avanica, I want them to associate us with a furniture store that caters to the customer’s preference. Our focus will always be on building our brand and expansion.
TC: What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs with a similar passion?
SS: First and foremost, never give up. Secondly, It should never be about money. At the end of the day, if you do what you love and enjoy doing, then you are truly living your life. But don’t stick with something you hate as a career because you feel like you don’t have a choice. There is always a choice, but you have to go out there and create opportunities for yourself because nobody is going to come and drop that opportunity on your lap. I left a stable job which I could have lived with, but I knew that this would never satisfy me because it wasn’t what I had planned for my life. To go after your passion, you have to take some risks and reach out to the right people in that industry for help. There is no secret to success! This is the only way to do it, from my experience.
Do you want to know more about Sinthu and his business? Get in touch with him via email or Facebook!