Not Sitting On His Laurels
FROM MANUFACTURING SIMPLE BOXES TO A WIDE VARIETY OF OFFICE FURNITURE, YONG YOOK SENG HAS ALWAYS LOOKED AHEAD OF THE CURVE TO GROW BIGGER.
ENTREPRENEURS are always encouraged to dream big.But for Bristol Technologies Sdn Bhd founder and managing director Yong Yook Seng, 64, what matters more is taking things one step at a time to build the fundamentals of a company.
He describes his office furniture manufacturing company as a work-in-progress and a cumulation of many years of experience.Yong started his entrepreneurial journey from humble beginnings, starting as a small wooden boxes manufacturer based in Salak South, KL in 1980. He set up shop in his own backyard and hired only one staff.“I knew I had to start somewhere to become an entrepreneur,” he says.
This entailed getting wood scraps from sawmills
These boxes were used by a Japanese electronics company to package huge electrical items such as washing machines and refrigerators.He made 12,000 boxes a month and production went on like this for two years.But Yong was practical. He knew that such a business was of low value and would be prone to having many competitors given the simplicity of the product.And true enough, over time, he saw more of such manufacturers going into the business.But Yong was prepared. He had built a new revenue stream for the company.“I started visiting European countries to look for products that I can market in Malaysia, and I saw demand for chair components such as castor wheels, chair base, gas springs, tilt mechanism and other things,” he says.Yong explains that it was not particularly difficult to convince these European manufacturers to sell him their products as Malaysia was a new market for them and he was, in a way, opening up a new door for them.
The company also uses robotic arms to ensure strong welding for their furniture components.
But just as he had predicted intense competition for his box manufacturing business, he was just as aware that his chair components trading business would likewise face heavy competition in the near future. After all, there would be others who will be able to import these products as well.So while trading his wares to chair manufacturers, he plotted his next move for another revenue stream.In 1983, he established Bristol Industries as an office chair manufacturing company. Their new base was in a rented factory lot in Segambut, Kuala Lumpur. This time, he had 20 staff.He has fond memories of the company’s first premises despite it being an inconvenience at certain times of the year. The factory was located in a low lying area, which was prone to floods, particularly during the monsoon season in November and December. Imagine having to use boats to transport staff and products in the middle of an industrial area! Yong has experienced it.But business was brisk.In the first year alone, the company managed to manufacture and sell about 12,000 chairs to various offices.Yong continued to look for ways to expand the company’s market.They started participating in furniture fairs overseas and in 1988, started exports to Dubai.“We have to compete with more reputable furniture manufacturer such as from Italy. We worked hard on our design and ensure comfort of our chairs. Seeing and feeling is believing! Apart from that, we also made sure our chairs are competitively priced as well,” he adds.
Taking shape: One of the staff verifying the design of the components used in the furniture.
Their hard work and perseverance paid off. In 1990, they moved into their own 18acre factory in Seri Kembangan, Selangor.Yong also saw more opportunities in the furniture business to venture into.“We saw that many companies prefer one-stop solutions where they can get a variety of office furniture instead of getting different types of furniture from different manufacturers. Hence, we started to design other furniture such as office tables, partitions, sofas to cabinets,” he explains.And that was when the company really started seeing strong year-on-year growth.
Today, they have over 50 products and have nine offices worldwide, including in India, Thailand and Singapore. His staff count has also increased to 500.In 2015, they achieved a revenue of RM38mil and over 70% of their products were exported to over 20 countries such as India, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the US.“When you grow a company to that size, it is no longer about solo entrepreneurship. It is about having good people to help you and teamwork becomes vital. Next is branding,” he says.He also ensures that his employees are able to see what is ahead to motivate them to work towards the goal.“We are also very careful and concerned of section heads who are not competent and could stifle the growth of people in their division,” he says.Yong keeps tab of everything that is happening in the company, from the development of his products to the development of his people.
This is why he is seated right in the middle of the ground floor of the office, in an open area where most of the staff would be discussing about work or having a break.Another aspect that he shared about growing his company is to always think ahead, and in some cases, it means thinking about the rain even when it is still sunny.“We make a habit to grow with very little bank borrowings. During the financial crisis, we did not retrench any staff,” he states proudly.In year 2000, they rebranded to its current name, Bristol Technologies, and invested a lot in advertising and promotions to build the brand name.Moving forward, they are planning to build a factory in India, China and Indonesia, which Yong hopes would materialise in the next two years.
by The Star Online