Sincerity first, expansion later

Madam Cheah's Bee Choo Origin does not push for overseas expansion, but gives distribution rights to those who are "sincere" in benefiting customers.
Madam Cheah's Bee Choo Origin does not push for overseas expansion, but gives distribution rights to those who are "sincere" in benefiting customers.PHOTO: BEE CHOO ORIGIN

The key to internationalisation is to have a strong local customer base and good solid products, according to Madam Cheah Bee Chew, director of Origin Herbal Hair Treatment, also known as Bee Choo Origin.

The company, which sells herbal hair products, has its products distributed in major markets such as China, India and South-east Asia. It is now looking to enter the United States market.

Yet, Madam Cheah said the company undertakes no marketing efforts to push their products overseas.

On the contrary, foreign distributors plead with her for a period - usually lasting three to six months - for the rights to distribute her products.

"For the people who approach us, we require them to be sincere. I turn down (businesses) whose main motive is to spin money out of my products. It shouldn't be that way, we're looking at benefiting our customers," she explained.

Madam Cheah also cautions against having more than one main distribution point in each country.

"As a small enterprise, it is important to have clear management. Our custom clearances and accounts need to be clear and it is easier to manage if we only have one distribution point."

Most of Origin's distributors are small retail shops or salons.

Her distributors approach her after hearing positive reviews from her local customers who have used her products.

"The best form of marketing is your products. This is why I always believe in two things: first, the product must be good; second, the retail assistants must be able to explain the products well enough to the customers."

The original herbal formula used in her products was concocted back in the early 2000s when Madam Cheah met a Hong Kong physician. He introduced her to a Chinese herb called shouwu or fleeceflower root that treats hair loss problems. She experimented with various concoctions and came up with a herbal paste.

"I tried it and it worked, so I thought of selling it to everyone else," she said.

Since then, she has grown her business steadily. To date, the company has six local outlets and has its products distributed in 11 countries.

Tan Fong Han

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Sincerity first, expansion later'. Print Edition | Subscribe