Tech can play role in managing growth
Has to be introduced gradually to allow staff to adapt
LEE Teck Meng (pic) may have started out as the archetypal Asian SME (Small and Medium Enterprise ) owner focused on keeping a razor eye on costs, using his clan and family network to give him a leg up in getting traction, and working his butt off.
Along the way though, he has come to see the value of branding and in how that leads to greater margins, especially if one is in a very crowded market. He went on to get his MBA and also furthered his understanding of marketing through some professional certifications.
He is now talking about getting his people “upgraded” so that he can introduce more sophisticated technology adoption into his company, Kleenso Resources Sdn Bhd, a business that earned more than RM5 million in revenue last year.
He has another company that is doing well too but preferred that DNA focus on Kleenso.
Lee himself started out by selling bread. His relatives in the then sleepy hollow of Dengkil rose to become among its biggest merchants riding on the back of the construction boom in Cyberjaya. All the migrant workers were housed in Dengkil. You can imagine the powerful impact this had on all the businesses there. Delivering bread to just his cousins, he went from a van to delivering bread in a trailer! On a daily basis, no less.
Since those days in the mid-1990s Lee has gone on to a few other businesses until he found his interest in household products and set up Kleenso in 2004. While he mainly distributes third-party brands such as 3M and DuPont, he has been quietly building his own brand, Kleenso, so as to enjoy more control over margins.
In true SME fashion, he has grown the business with internal cash flow. “Borrowings can make you careless in managing your business and you can end up rushing for sales while neglecting the quality of the business partners and your own product quality,” he cautions.
He feels that if one is not careful, bank borrowings can end up being a financial trap too and had such an experience in 1998 when his bank pulled a RM500,000 credit line from him. “I really suffered,” he recalls.
Today his focus is all on managing growth, and he recognises the role technology can play in making Kleenso a more competitive business. But he also recognises that his staff are not IT-literate yet and if he imposes technology adoption on them, “they cannot catch up and their current work productivity will fall as well.”
Nonetheless adopting IT is already on his agenda. “I need to invest into IT and upgrade my staff. Efficiency is very important.”
He is already looking at investing into a mini-ERP solution because orders are growing rapidly and distribution needs to be optimised to meet customers’ expectations of timely delivery. “We have 1,000 outlets to deliver to.”
He has recently hired a senior operations guy who besides handling operations has also been tasked with introducing IT into operations. It will be a gradual process and Lee has already been preparing his staff by emphasising how they need to be more efficient to grow and how technology has become part and parcel of everyone's work.
“We have recently upgraded our website too and had search engine optimisation built in, which we did not have before. We now do email marketing and advertise on Facebook too,” he says.
Lee says his staff are seeing the results of such activities already and are coming to appreciate what technology can do. “My challenge is to make sure I introduce IT into their jobs gradually so they can pick it up smoothly and see the value it adds to their work,” he adds.