Interviewed by Grace Lui, Head of Marketing Communications and Daniel Chen, Marketing Communications Manager
About Pet Lovers Centre
Pet Lovers Centre (PLC) is a home-grown pet retail and service chain that was founded in 1973 as a family hobby business. The company only rapidly grew since the second generation of the Ng family took over in 1995. Since then, they have expanded to Malaysia and eventually to Asia.
To date, it is the largest pet chain store within Singapore and Malaysia.
A pioneer in the pet food and accessory retail industry in Singapore, PLC is a household name today, known for its ability to offer its customers the widest and freshest range, coupled with prompt and warm service.
What challenges did you face when you took over the leadership? How did you turnaround a loss-generating family business to what it is today?
The company was battered with financial and operational challenges when my friend and I took over the reins of the business in 1995. On my official first day, I backed my van up against the wall! What a day to start my first day. Despite my lack of experience, I made it up with a ferocious positive spirit – on top of being a delivery driver, I also took on the roles of being a store assistant, cashier and director at the same time. Although we were mentally and physically tired, we persevered through and focused on the long-term growth of our company.
Together, with the combined efforts of my brothers, the company began to turn around gradually. In 2003, Whye Tye (David) stepped in as Chief Executive, implementing proper corporate management and an efficient IT system. Whye Keong joined in 2011 to provide supporting roles in finance and human resources as the company expanded. I am grateful for my family, including my mother and the shareholders’ support even though there was some resistance to opening up one store after another. However, they have always trusted my vision, and for that, I’m grateful.
We started implementing what seemed to be an endless stream of ideas to propel our company further. For a start, we produced our own fresh pet food marketed under the “Burp!” house brand, which is delivered directly from the factories. To ensure that the quality of the pet food is of the highest quality, I personally tasted it myself.
To quote another example, The Pet Safari, a thematic store was launched to bring in vets, groomers, breeders, products and services under one roof where customers can shop with their pets. On top of that, all Pet Lovers Centre stores are staffed with consultants who have veterinary experience to offer professional advice to customers.
Today, Pet Lovers Centre is now a household brand name. What do you think contributed most to the tremendous marketing success?
Behind the scenes, my team and I have worked hard to make Pet Lovers Centre a franchisable brand. Our model is very scalable from 500 square feet all the way to 20,000 square feet. Thus, we’re able to adapt to different markets and environments to compete effectively. It turned out to be an advantageous move, particularly in the Thailand market. Thailand is a nation of dog lovers, and the market is bigger than Singapore and Malaysia combined. Despite communication and cultural barriers, we decided to launch the first of many Pet Lovers Centres there. Through my brother, David’s contacts, we managed to appoint a trustworthy franchisee. Ultimately, it was good teamwork that was critical to the success of our brand. It’s amazing how my brothers and I complement and synergise each other – that’s something I always never fail to remind my mother on how her three sons have different but complementary talents for this business.
The result of our seemingly ambitious expansion is evident with a strong presence of 95 stores spread across Malaysia, Singapore, Bangkok, Brunei and Vietnam. Pet Lovers Centre has also clinched multiple awards such as the “Global PETS Award 2013” in Prague; we were the first Asian retailer to win this prestigious award, which is considered the highest honour in the pet industry.
“Ultimately, it was good teamwork that was critical to the success of our brand.”
Pet Lovers Centre scored many “firsts” in product innovation, from the first to sell nutritional supplements for pets to the first to supply dry dog food to Singapore’s police and army dog units and more – what did you think are the driving factors for launching successful product innovations?
We attribute our success to our innovative culture which enables us to be dynamic, and allows us to constantly generate new ideas. We also think that our unwavering refusal to compromise on quality played a part. I even go to the extent of personally tasting the pet food myself. It goes without saying that the underlying factors of proper corporate management, effective operating IT systems, finance and human resources have to be present before successful product innovations can take place.
To date, Pet Lovers Centre is the largest pet chain store within Singapore and Malaysia, with stores in Bangkok, Brunei and Vietnam as well. Could you share some insights into your key business initiatives that contributed to your expansion success?
Being faithful to our brand’s vision and mission to be Asia’s preferred pet store, Pet Lovers Centre very naturally, looked to Malaysia for expansion. Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA, even invited Pet Lovers Centre to be part of its tenancy at the brand’s first owned Ikano mall in Kuala Lumpur. We seized this opportunity and made the decision to enter the Malaysian market. Although it was tough for the first 4 to 5 years, but on hindsight, it’s definitely rewarding.
The reason for the brand’s success in Malaysia and Thailand as compared to other Singapore brands is simple, we learnt it the hard way that it is crucial to always be strong in our home ground first. If you want to penetrate into another country yourself, you’ve got to put the best team forward. Pet Lovers Centre franchises its brand in Thailand, tapping on the expertise and know-how of local Thai partners, as they know what works best there in terms of consumer and cultural differences. For example, the Thai market has different preferences in digital marketing platforms.
If you win in branding, you not only win market share, but you also win mind share. In order to achieve top-of-mind awareness with our consumers, a key strategy is to locate our stores in shopping malls. With increasing consciousness on the realities of the pet breeding industry and responsible pet ownership, the brand is increasingly showing its solidarity towards corporate social responsibility. Pet Lovers Centre has schemes to encourage Singaporeans to adopt, rather than buy. We even go one step further, and are an active participant in philanthropic work through the Pet Lovers Foundation.
Pet Lovers Centre is also hard at work, protecting its brands and trademarks through the consistent and coherent application and enforcement of our corporate and brand identity standards.
“If you win in branding, you not only win market share, but you also win mind share.”
Can you share with us 3 key qualities or character traits that you think potential leaders should possess?
The three key qualities or traits that potential leaders should possess are being intrepid, envision boldly, lastly, persevering and focusing on the long-term objectives. Always see the bigger picture of the company and use it as an inspiration to work harder and better.
Given your vast experience, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
Starting up is always difficult, but never give up and keep believing in your business and vision. There is always a way if you think hard enough.
How do people describe the Pet Lovers Centre work culture?
Our work culture is characterised by diligence, great teamwork and a positive attitude that empowers us to persevere until we always find a solution for everything. Our core values are also important as they are weaved into the way we work which are Integrity, Professionalism, Effectiveness, Team Work & Service.
How do you see technology changing the business environment, and how do you see leaders such as yourself driving that change?
The company is diversifying its brand engagement to reach out to all our customers. We approach potential customers in a multi-faceted way, from digital and social media to precision marketing, which is a way of harnessing our customer algorithms. Also, the push towards higher productivity has afforded us great strides when it comes to scaling up with the help of technology.
What do you find most challenging in your line of business? Can you share with us some examples?
We had to tackle the manpower crunch as it posed human resources challenges. At the same time, the push towards higher productivity has afforded us great strides when it comes to scaling up with the help of technology. As an example of an exciting market condition, through the years, we observed the evolution of pet care and how pet owners correspondingly embrace this change, whilst we are the purveyors of this evolution.
What do you think will change about the business over the next 5 years? How would you respond to the changes?
I see us being a household name for pet products and services, not just in Singapore but across Asia. Pet Lovers Centre remains steadfast to achieve its vision of being Asia’s preferred pet store, fortifying its Malaysia presence while steadily building up stores in Thailand.
For more information, please contact:
Ms Grace Lui
Mr Daniel Chen