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Design 4 Space - A company that got it right when things went wrong

16 Aug 2017

Tips & Advice

A recent report in The Straits Times chronicled the sorry saga of an interior designer, Ong Seow Pang, once employed by the established interior design company Design 4 Space, who was jailed for 15 months for misappropriating customers’ funds. The company’s Managing Director, Richard Yea, explains why homeowners should always exercise caution when making payments for their renovations.

Richard openly admits that, while his company takes every measure to carefully screen job candidates, there is always an element of risk in employing new staff. Case in point – the recent imprisonment of his former salesperson, Ong Seow Pang, for several breaches of trust committed between September 2012 and January 2013, amounting to $20,815 worth of misappropriated funds.

“We require job candidates to fill up an application form with a column asking for details of any criminal record or former convictions. The candidate is then required to sign and certify the information provided as true,” explained Richard. “For experienced interior designers, we will also check on their past experience within our circle of friends in the industry, as well as their former company and suppliers.”

However, despite these rigorous checks, errors of judgement are made from time to time in an industry where the entry level is low and staff turnover is high. While a core team of 60 designers has been with Design 4 Space for more than 4 years, business growth, due mainly to positive word-of-mouth and referrals from satisfied clients, means that Richard is often hiring.

Ong’s first misdemeanor was uncovered when Design 4 Space’s admin staff contacted a client, as per standard company practice, to confirm receipt of a payment. The client mentioned another payment, for which she had written a cash cheque and handed to Ong, which the company had no record of receiving.

When confronted about the missing funds, Ong spun a yarn about his wife suffering from cancer. Subsequently, Richard’s heart softened and he decided to give Ong a second chance. It was later revealed that Ong had a gambling habit and his sob story had been a fabrication. When more misappropriations of customers’ funds were uncovered, Richard realised he’d been played for a fool and filed the police report.

“I personally contacted all of Ong’s clients and issued an apology on behalf of the company. I also supervised most of the projects under Ong, and saw them through to completion,” recalled Richard. “The balance was handled by my most senior designer.”

Ironically, the customer who first sounded the alarm, Ms Ow Wai Yin Angela, was so happy with the outcome of her renovation that she wrote a letter of commendation to the Design 4 Space Group. In her letter, she states:

“Thank you for doing a good job and for your understanding re various changes and demands during this period. If any of my friends want to renovate their flat/house, I will definitely refer them to you.”

Richard urges homeowners to never be coaxed into issuing cash cheques to individuals. “The payee should always be the company with whom the contract is made,” he said.

Today, Richard conducts even more rigorous background checks on his designers. He also invests more heavily in what he calls ‘backend checks’ – whereby his admin staff bypass the designer-in-charge and checks directly with the client on the progress of each project, from payment to completion.

Perhaps the true test of a company’s integrity is not when projects go as planned, but how they react when the unforeseen happens. In the recent series of unfortunate events that led to Ong’s conviction, Design 4 Space passed the test with flying colours.

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