Building a bright future in retail interiors

  • In association with Affin Group
  • February 2, 2017
  • The Register team
Building a bright future in retail interiors

Less than three years ago, Affin Group was a small bespoke company with a 700sqm workshop and 10 staff. It created premium products for a select group of retailers, but managing director Gabriel Nicolau aspired to target high-end brands across the Asia Pacific region. He’s now grown Affin Group to seven times its original size. NOTE: Affin Group is now in liquidation.

Affin Group is a commercial interior design and retail fit-out solutions company working out of Auckland. Founded in 2012, its team of more than 70 staff offers design, project management, cabinetry and joinery, metal fabrication, installations and more.

Past retail projects include the joinery for Icebreaker’s global head office, which was a finalist in the 2015 Interior Awards. This fit-out took Icebreaker’s concept of ‘born in nature, worn in nature’ as inspiration, translating this into a palette of natural, local materials such as macrocarpa timber.

More recently, Affin Group has worked on the Hotel Sofitel Wellington, duty-free environments at Auckland International Airport for The Loop Duty Free; a central Auckland outlet for Timberland shoes; Havana House; the head office for architecture and interior design firm Jasmax; and Eight restaurant at The Langham in Auckland.

In June last year, Nicolau pushed his plans for Affin Group’s expansion into action when one of New Zealand’s largest commercial interior design companies, Shears & Mac, went into liquidation.

Shears & Mac was founded in 1985, and before its downfall was one of New Zealand’s largest commercial interior design companies. It has worked in New Zealand for a number of prominent retail clients, including Cue, Ballantynes, Coach, Quiksilver, The Coffee Club, OPSM, Federation, Lovisa, Sunglass Hut, Trenery and Reebok.

It was tipped into liquidation by its shareholders in May 2015, three years after moving into a new 8,000sqm facility in Penrose, Auckland. It had around 110 full-time staff, and also had a presence in Australia with a project management office in Parramatta, Sydney.

Affin Group purchased all of Shears & Mac’s assets, saving around 30 jobs. The move quadrupled Nicolau’s business, and provided greatly increased market visibility for Affin Group.

From this point on, Nicolau says, his team worked to slowly penetrate the market and improve the new, bigger Affin Group’s systems. Affin Group now provides commercial interiors and retail fit-out solutions throughout Australasia, covering all aspects of a fit-out in-house.

Affin Group specialises in creating custom pieces in-house using its advanced technology. Its team includes designers, project managers, carpenters, CAD engineers and installers. Their expertise covers all types of metal fabrication, and its cabinetry and joinery specialists can custom build almost any imaginable project. All joinery is made and pre-fitted in Affin Group’s factory, then sent out in modules for assembly on-site.

It is currently the only company in New Zealand able to create complex organic shapes with solid surface acrylic, which can be custom cut and bonded to fit nearly any surface shape.

Affin Group also offers huge flexibility when it comes to signage. Its digital printing and laser cutting technology means everything from illuminated 3D signs to digital display screens are within Affin Group’s capability.

When it comes to painting, Affin Group’s factory is equipped with two paint spraying booths. Its experienced team can handle all types of surfaces, and can advise on the paint and process required to get the best finish.

When the job’s done, Affin Group can even handle ongoing upkeep and maintenance. It can do carpentry, plumbing and glass repairs, as well as the aforementioned specialisations.

Nicolau says the breadth of Affin Group’s capability means it can offer a more efficient service than its competitors, describing it as a “one-stop shop”. Its ability to handle every aspect of even complicated fit-outs removes the need for clients to appoint a project manager as the responsibility for managing the project’s different components falls upon Affin Group.

Among the businesses’ achievements in 2015 were fit-out jobs at Perth, Sydney and Auckland airports. Affin Group has built an international reputation for high-quality work, says Nicolau.

Nicolau’s ambition for the group remains strong. He hopes that within 10 years’ time, it will be the main source of joinery and project management for luxury giants like Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton across Europe and Asia.

While chasing the world’s best international retailers, Nicolau also hopes to continue pursuing Affin Group’s current focus on duty-free airport fit-outs.

“My dream is for us to become the main reference point for airport environment fit-outs.”

While the group has grown fast, Nicolau has been careful to maintain the high standards which made it a success in its smaller, boutique incarnation.

Quality is central to Nicolau’s long-term vision for Affin Group. He wants the fit-outs the business creates to be “unequalled” in finish and longevity, as well as inspiring designers and architects to incorporate a higher degree of environmental sustainability into their thinking.

Nicolau has been a long-standing advocate for the use of recycled materials, such as reclaimed timber or sustainable materials, such as bamboo, in retail fit-outs. Emerging technology has made it easier for companies to eliminate wastage from their processes while renovating a retail store, and now that the new, larger Affin Group has greater visibility within the fit-out industry, Nicolau has seized the opportunity to influence other players to adopt more sustainable practices.

“I’m pushing for maximum efficiency in the industry,” Nicolau says.

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 747 December 2016 / January 2017

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