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    Sep 23, 2016

    54 complaints against furniture firm for breaching deals

    A FURNITURE firm that was set up a year ago with $1 has disappeared, after collecting thousands of dollars from customers for goods that were never delivered.

    Since April, 54 complaints have been lodged against the firm called Royal House (The Rome Gallery) for its failure to fulfil contracts ranging from $500 to $6,500, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

    It urged consumers to be prudent in dealing with lowly capitalised or newly set up companies, noting that new firms "may lack the capital and the resources to continue their operations in the long term".

    This is the latest case involving prepayments - following the high-profile closure of gym chain California Fitness in July - which highlights again the lack of protection for consumers who make upfront payments.

    Customers say the furniture retailer had been hawking its goods at furniture fairs up till as recently as July.

    The following month, the firm's chief executive and director Chia Meng Siang, who is also known as Gary, texted customers to say the firm could no longer operate as it had cash flow issues and "huge financial debt problems" due to "improper operation of the business".

    He added that he was "very guilty and very sorry" to customers who paid deposits or full amounts but did not receive their goods.

    He did not respond to phone calls from The Straits Times.

    An IT manager who wanted to be known only as Mr Yogesh, 41, paid $2,188 - the full amount - for a two-piece sofa set at a furniture fair at the Singapore Expo in June.

    The sofas never arrived though the delivery date was pushed back twice.

    When he visited the firm's address at Woodlands Industrial Park, he found the office shut. He filed a complaint with Case and a police report.

    "As a consumer, what's my legal options? I can't afford to find a lawyer to claim $2,188.

    "Hiring a lawyer will cost more than that," said Mr Yogesh who has joined a Facebook group with 25 other affected customers to share updates on the case.

    Joanne Chong, 54, who sublet her rented warehouse at Woodlands to Royal House, told The Straits Times the firm owes her $5,000 in unpaid rent.

    Case said in an alert on its website that consumers should be careful when making purchases, especially at furniture fairs, as organisers may not conduct in-depth background checks on the exhibitors.

    Case executive director Seah Seng Choon advised consumers to pay only upon delivery of goods and, if a deposit is required, to negotiate to pay as low a deposit as possible.