Alykhan Sunderji had an early entry into the furniture business. In fact, you could say it’s all he’s ever known. His father, Amin Sunderji arrived in Canada in 1972 after being forced to leave Uganda during the military dictatorship of Idi Amin. It was in the early 1970’s in Kamloops, BC where he discovered his passion for furniture and by 1988, opened one of Vancouver’s most successful furniture retailer, Yaletown Interiors. Alykhan inherited his father’s business acumen and started assisting his dad in the shop in his early teens.
Their businesses grew at a rapid rate and after a decade of running three EQ3 retailers and a distribution centre in Vancouver, Alykhan sold the stores and registered for Finance at Camosun College in Victoria. On a walk in downtown Victoria, he noticed an empty building in the previous Urban Barn location on Herald Street and his entrepreneurial fire was stoked. Following extensive renovations, StudioYdesign was born, offering 9000 square feet of modern European furnishings on Vancouver Island.
Tell us a bit about how you got into the furniture business: I come from a family of furniture retailers that includes my extended family. I guess you could say we all just have it in our blood. I remember working with my dad in Yaletown Interiors in 1994/95 when I was 14 or 15 years old. When I graduated from high school I went to Business School at University and started selling furniture when I finished.
What had the most impact on the success of your furniture business in Vancouver? We had one furniture store to start and in the year 2000, within a year and a half, we had seven different stores in Vancouver. We had three brand names — EQ3, Lane Home Furnishings and Thomasville. I ran all the EQ3 stores — it was a great fit for the Vancouver market — a young, upcoming company that was aggressive with branding and marketing. We had a lot of people coming over from Victoria to shop for furniture, so I knew Victoria was lacking in modern and contemporary furnishings. In fact, I used to ship a one-tonne truck from EQ3 to Victoria every month.
In 2007, I sold all the EQ3 stores and moved to Victoria to attend Camosun College for Finance and Accounting. I did some research and large showrooms with modern European furniture just wasn’t being done in Victoria at the time. I crunched a lot of numbers and in 2012, opened StudioYdesign.
Was Victoria receptive to StudioYdesign initially? Victoria is a slow-paced city so it took a bit of time but the response in the last couple of years has been phenomenal. The people here are fantastic, I get a lot of repeat customers and have genuinely friendly, heart-warming people that shop here. I wanted to create a showroom to meet the needs of the broad demographic here in Victoria — something for waterfront homeowners to young professionals in small condos.
Describe the qualities necessary to run a successful furniture business. You have to be a visionary and have the ability to see where you want to be in next 2-3 years and make your plan work. You have to have patience as a retailer because the market changes every day. Trends change daily and the way you market changes constantly. You really have to believe in yourself and your experience. It goes without saying but you need to enjoy working with people and be driven by offering quality products with good service.
Tell us something that might surprise people about you. Well, I’m an introvert. I’ve been in retail all my life and love talking to people all day so when I am away from work I like being quiet to recharge. I made a big change in my life a year and a half ago — I had some health issues and needed to reduce stress. Working around the clock in the big city had taken its toll on me. But Victoria has helped me adjust my habits and I am much healthier now. I break a sweat every other day and try to not to be too serious at work which keeps my stress levels in check. At night, I pick up a good dinner, work out and walk around our beautiful city. Where else can you walk through downtown and along the waterfront at the same time?