Shaping Singapore’s Retail Reputation
Approaching its centennial anniversary, family-owned business H.L.Yong maintains the same client-centric course that has seen it grow from humble beginnings to lofty heights.
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Josh Hyland
Balancing a prosperous career with a healthy social life is never an easy trick.
According to a recent Harvard Business School survey, for example, 94 percent of service professionals work more than 50 hours per week, while 26 percent of work is reported to be done outside of normal hours.
Statistics like these rang all too true for Victor Ha, a current Director at his family-run business, H. L. Yong Company (Pte) Ltd (H. L. Yong), that is renowned as one of the leading food and beverage enterprises across Singapore and Malaysia.
“I never thought I would end up in the retail industry,” he reveals. “It only happened because the stars aligned at a point in my career. I was roughly two years into my legal career at one of Singapore’s finest firms and I was decent at what I did, but I always had a nagging feeling that lawyering was not for me in the long run, especially if I wanted to have a family of my own and actually get to spend meaningful time with them.
“So, when my father asked me to join him at the family business, I decided to give it a go.”
Eight years on and Ha hasn’t looked backed, bringing his sound, educated background to help streamline operations and modernise the dry foodstuffs, packaging, glassware and tableware specialist, taking it in new and coherent strategic directions.
He continues: “My focus early on was very simple – to establish a more systematic way of doing things, from reorganising our paper trail and document retrieval process to developing a custom enterprise resource planning software system.
“There was a culture of ‘it’s how we’ve always done things here’ or ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ – ways of thinking that were not suitable for businesses operating in the 21st century. We’ve managed to tackle this mindset, however, and are now thinking about the next steps for the company.”
Customers, clients and partners
Having firmly stamped a reenergised footprint on the business, Ha has equally ensured that H. L. Yong’s core values, philosophies that have been testament to its ongoing success over the years, have remained at the forefront of operations.
“When I first joined the company, I was amazed at the strength of the relationships that we had with some of our principals and longstanding customers. This has not changed,” the Director adds. “We believe in going the extra mile for our business partners and customers.”
Reminiscing, Ha calls upon a particular example of this ethos in practice, showcasing the lengths that the family business has been willing to go to for its clientele.
“Back in 2017, one of our newest customers, a quick service restaurant, had plans to run a nationwide campaign using one of our products as a feature ingredient,” he explains. “As fate would have it, however, we were hit with production delays by our US supplier, while our backup airfreight shipment was also delayed.
“Faced with this predicament and a short timeframe, we decided to fly over to Bangkok in order to physically carry some of the stock back with us onboard. Of course,” Ha muses, “we were notified after landing in Thailand that the airfreighted foods reached Singapore in time.”
By bending over backwards, the QSR customer, like many others alongside it, has since given H. L. Yong its full support and loyalty, testament to the number of hoops that the company is willing to jump through to ensure customer satisfaction.
Having established an esteemed reputation off the back of these practices, H. L Yong has recently attracted a number of new brands to its ever-growing portfolio, one of particular excitement being La Molisana – a fast-growing pasta producing business based out of Italy that, much like H. L. Yong, is a fourth-generation family business.
“I believe it is now the fifth largest pasta producer in Italy,” Ha reveals. “I first fell in love with La Molisana’s pasta more than eight years ago, but never pursued them until much later. I guess you could say that we were both ready for each other at the right time, and its high quality of pasta, along with the introduction of a fresh and attractive new packaging, has already achieved traction in our local market.”
What’s more, the Singaporean retailer has also welcomed Carmencita to the fray, renowned as the number one spice company in Spain with a presence in over 50 countries worldwide.
“It’s ‘Paellero’ sachets have been doing particularly well for us since coming to Southeast Asia, known as the secret to idiot proof paella,” Ha adds. “Due to its friendly price point, Carmencita’s products have garnered quite a bit of consumer interest.”
These two exciting opportunities for H. L. Yong aside, the company is equally exploring other avenues in the aim of both diversifying its offerings and adhering to market movements. One such path has seen the company increasingly ramp up its ecommerce presence, leveraging partnerships with other existing leaders in this space.
“We recognise that the next wave of retail in the form of online grocery shopping is already here,” states Ha, “and we would be silly to ignore it.”
Further, asked about the possibility of launching in-house, own-brand products, Ha responds: “Similarly, this has always been on our mind and we would be foolish not to entertain the thought.
“We have been blessed with wonderful, long-term relationships with each of our suppliers that we are grateful for. The challenge, and one that we are considering, would be launching innovative, new products that would not compete with those of our existing suppliers, and we’ll certainly be keeping our eyes on the ever-changing consumer needs to this end.”
Heading for a century
A company that has come a long way, embodying an illustrious history, the family-owned business is hoping to take a few final strides in the lead up to its landmark 100th anniversary in three years’ time.
This will be no easy feat while operating within a relatively saturated market that will see rising emphasis on consolidation through 2019 and beyond. However, owed to its overriding customer-centric, family-feel approach, Ha remains confident that the business will continue to excel moving forward.
He concludes: “We aim to grow by 10 percent this year as we continue to incorporate Carmencita and La Molisana’s products, while our existing principles have also become more aggressive in introducing new commodities to the market.
“Generally speaking, having more business on board will help us to reach our goals – we’re always looking out for new brands that we can represent, and they are free to look for us.”