Meet our Rising Star
Hard-working, people-oriented and determined perfectly describes kbbreview’s Rising Star Award winner Rini Vanchhawng. She may only have been in the industry for four years, but in that time has made a positive contribution.
Rini Vanchhawng’s list of accomplishments so far is particularly impressive when you consider that she is only at the beginning of her design career.
Looking at her CV and time in the industry so far, it is clear that everything Vanchhawng experiences and learns then carries over to the next stage of her career.
It started with her degree from Bournemouth University as an Industrial Design Student. Vanchhawng eloquently describes her course as a “degree about learning how to make something that doesn’t exist”.
That may sound a little artsy coming from someone taking a degree in the engineering faculty, but she believes in looking at the design from an entirely new standpoint – think Steve Jobs and Apple or James Dyson and his vacuum cleaners.
Vanchhawng liked the fact that the degree aims to prepare students to work in any field by changing the way they looks at the design, thereby giving them skills that are transferable.
One of the course’s practical elements was a placement year, during which Vanchhawng was an intern at Anthony Mullan Furniture in Maiden-head. She then went back to university to complete her course.
Using that training as an intern, she received a first-class honours degree plus the Institute of Engineering Designers Award for the best final project in her year.
After university, she had a job with another kitchen company for a year before she was headhunted back to Anthony Mullan Furniture. In the three years she has been there, she has been promoted twice from designer to senior sales designer and then to the role of sales and design manager.
Vanchhawng’s career path has certainly seen her progress rapidly and she has been able to build up her skills base with every new step. Her university acknowledged that her time as an intern with Anthony Mullan Furniture helped her in her final year.
“I have always tried to push the boundaries. I try not to get comfortable or complacent – that sometimes can be a challenge, as you want the occasional lazy day. But, things stagnate when you get comfortable, and you need to push yourself to get better,” says Vanchhawng.
Vanchhawng tells kbbreview how she is full of enthusiasm and joy about the KBB and design industry. She says that she succeeded in making a difference at Anthony Mullan Furniture thanks to her willingness to speak out and suggests new things.
One significant change she helped introduce was the new policy that they would plant a tree for every kitchen sold by the company. After a few determined conversations, owner Anthony Mullan finally agreed to the policy and it is now an integral part of the business.
Adding a bit of fun to the company was another goal of hers, from a 100-squat challenge to raise money for Cancer Research to the ‘worst design competition’, where the designers on home visits would try to find the worst existing designs in cus–tomers’ kitchens – such as the cupboards that wouldn’t open unless the oven door was open. Adding these initiatives helped keep people motivated and allow them to have fun in the showroom.
So how did she go about convincing people to try out her new ideas?
She explains: “It is about having an open conversation. It is quite easy when you are working for an independent. The whole team are looking out for each other, and there isn’t that much of a hierarchy. I am a bit gung-ho. I have an idea and I will say it – whether it is terrible or not. I just put it out there. But then, if it is a good idea, and I am passionate about it, I will push for it.”
Vanchhawng also enjoys working with people and listens to her customers and the people in her team. “A big thing for me is communication and listening to what people have to say,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you are the intern or the head honcho, things don’t get better when you are complacent, and you should move forward.”
Not every idea Vanchhawng has suggested is to add new things to the company. Some of them have been about simplifying things and making processes more efficient.
Vanchhawng believes that fresh eyes on the company can put a new perspective on processes, no matter how long someone has been in the industry or the company.
Her dedication to doing her best comes out in her attitude towards customer service. Her customers are the top priority for Vanchhawng. So it didn’t matter if there was a query out of hours, she would always respond to them immediately.
She explains: “My colleagues sometimes ask me, ‘How do I keep things so upbeat?’ I say that it is because the work that I do excites me. So I am more than happy to do it.
“Design is a part of me, and it is something that I love doing. So, I don’t care whether it is hard work or gruelling or tough, because it is a part of me, it is right up my street, and it is something that I enjoy. So, I don’t care if it is hard work, because it just makes the next thing easier, and it will propel me.”
More rising stars
Vanchhawng won the inaugural Rising Star Award at the kbbreview Retail & Design Awards 2022. The award, which was sponsored by Quooker, was introduced as a way to encourage young people in the KBB industry and recognise the contributions they make.
One solution to the ongoing recruitment crisis is to attract more young people into the industry. So, how does Vanchhawng believe we should go about bringing in fresh faces to the sector?
She says: “People should give younger people a chance and not always ask for years of experience, as people can’t get that. It is more of a case that if you are hungry for it, and excited to push forward, that will be the most powerful thing to boost
“You can’t change a person, deep down – their values and morals. That is just how they are. You just have to learn to adapt and understand people and play to their strengths.”
She believes most young people do not consider the KBB industry as it is not widely suggested as a career path by schools and universities.
However, Vanchhawng believes this is doing the industry a disservice as there is more to it than just design.
“To inspire people to join the industry, you should show the joys of the industry,” suggests Vanchhawng. “It is all well and good saying ‘go design a kitchen’.
“But people don’t understand what’s involved with that. They don’t see the background, the excitement to be part of an industry that is swift-moving. Who’d have thought we would have hot water taps and extractor hobs? It is just amazing.”
Vanchhawng’s enthusiasm for the industry always comes back to people as every kitchen, she says, has a person at its centre.
“Kitchens are not just a room anymore,” she adds. “You are changing the space – looking at people’s lifestyles, families, and emotional connections. Designers should try to give their customers great feelings and memories from the time they spend in their kitchens.”
When hiring young people, especially interns, Vanchhawng has some advice for retailers.
“Some interns don’t have a good opportunity. When you employ younger people, you need to get them involved and interested in the work. You need to give a good range of tools. They will have a thirst for knowledge – so you don’t want them running around making teas and coffees. People want to get stuck in.”
Thanks in part to her enthusiasm, Anthony Mullan Furniture has taken on a lot of Vanchhawng’s suggestions.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in the business,” she explains. “If you are looking at things with a fresh perspective, they can give you an insight on how to improve things or make them more efficient. It is a case of listening and being open-minded.”
Still with a passion for design, Vanchhawng has recently moved from Anthony Mullan Furniture after she relocated to Scotland. She now works remotely for CAD company CGI Monkey, creating hyper-realistic kitchen renders and designs.
In his submission for the Rising Star Award, Anthony Mullan Furniture managing director Anthony Mullan said of Vanchhawng: “Rini has worked her way up to sales and design manager. She’s really taken the role as her own and is looking at ways to boost the company forward.
“She’s not afraid to put her ideas forward and fight for anything she thinks is right.”
Mullan adds: “She has a positive, can-do attitude and is a true lover of design. Her commitment to her clients is second to none. She works all hours without complaint in order to get the job done.”