SMEs' challenges abroad

Madam Coco Zhang.
Madam Coco Zhang.

Companies venturing overseas say market knowledge and brand protection are key

For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), venturing abroad involves both understanding the foreign market and protecting their own brands.

Ahead of the Internationalisation Forum on June 23 organised by Human Capital Singapore, The Straits Times interviewed four SMEs that have either expanded to foreign markets or intend to do so.

China and India, with their large populations driving fresh demand for goods and services, are marked out as the main markets for expansion, along with South-east Asia.

"The business landscape has changed over the years in India. They are now more pro-business and outward-looking," said Mr Koh Seng Choon of Christopher Benjamin Consultancy Services, which offers advice for firms and companies on entering China and India.

Yet, many SMEs hold back, wary of the different business cultures.

"Working with the Chinese, it is important to be alert, many things are done based on connections," said Ms Lisa Zou, founder of Tong Chiang Holdings, a food delivery firm.

THE RIGHT PARTNER

We have chosen to work with the largest Chinese medicine producer in the world so that we can be assured of the quality of the management in China.

MADAM COCO ZHANG, executive director of Kin Teck Tong, on working with China's healthcare conglomerate Taiji Group.

Madam Cheah Bee Chew of Origin Herbal Hair Treatment takes steps to secure trademarks and relevant legal protection for her products.

Another crucial issue for many is finding the right partner.

"We have chosen to work with the largest Chinese medicine producer in the world so that we can be assured of the quality of the management in China," said Madam Coco Zhang, executive director of Kin Teck Tong, a traditional Chinese medicine firm, referring to China's healthcare giant, Taiji Group.

Mr Johnny Tan, director of J's Salon, which specialises in hair and beauty treatments, believes Singapore's strong reputation as a trustworthy country for doing business helps firms looking abroad.

J's Salon is looking at setting up a franchise operation, and is investigating the possibility of doing business in the United Arab Emirates.

Stepping out into the world seems daunting, but Mr Koh emphasises that it is a matter of understanding the market. Singapore businesses also often do not have "enough staying power and give up too easily", he said.

On working with Singapore businesses, deputy general manager of China-based Taiji Group, Ms Yan Yu, commended Singapore businesses' understanding of the international business climate.

"On the other hand, the matching of their expertise to China's needs, awareness of China's economic policies... are areas Singapore businesses can work on," she said.

Taiji Group recently set up an overseas headquarters and is in negotiations with Kin Teck Tong for the exclusive distributorship of Taiji's mineral water in Singapore. They are expected to sign an agreement at the forum on June 23.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'SMEs' challenges abroad'. Print Edition | Subscribe