SME Spotlight

Clear pricing a hallmark of tyre portal

Mr Marcus Lim (above) helps to run tyre distributor Binter & Co's Asean operations with his uncle, Mr Michael Lim, overseeing the business in Hong Kong and Macau.
Mr Marcus Lim (above) helps to run tyre distributor Binter & Co's Asean operations with his uncle, Mr Michael Lim, overseeing the business in Hong Kong and Macau.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

In the second of a four-part series on innovative SMEs venturing abroad, tyre distributor Binter & Co general manager Marcus Lim, 38, tells Joyce Lim how the pricing policies and purchasing process of his online portal Tyrepac are filling a major gap in the market

Q: What is Tyrepac?

A: Founded in 2009 by me and my friend Ler Hwee Tiong, is an online tyre portal which allows consumers to purchase tyres online. It offers a transparent pricing system where consumers can choose the make and model of the tyres they want and the workshops where they want to go for the installation.

Q: Why did you start Tyrepac?

A: In the past, there wasn't a clear pricing on tyres. You walk into a shop and depending on how you looked, what car you drove and what you wore that day, sometimes the price could vary. Initially, some vendors were not keen on Tyrepac, but I managed to convince them that in the long run, we need to have price transparency.

However, Tyrepac was probably too early for its time then. It did not quite take off. But it caught the attention of Delticom, a listed tyre company based in Germany. In 2011, the leading online tyre retailer in Europe decided to take a stake in Tyrepac.

I have no regrets starting out early as it has allowed us to establish a firm branding foothold in the industry; we have had other tyre portals come and go, but we are still here and growing.

This year, I re-acquired the stakes (from Delticom) as I felt I could run Tyrepac the way I feel would be more appropriate for our region. Asean is a very fragmented market. Every country has a different working culture and business model. I feel that in order for us to grow the company, I need to have a more hands-on approach again.

I appreciate that Delticom allowed me to take over. I have learnt some of the best practices from it.

Q: What are your plans for Tyrepac?

A: Today, I feel that the consumers are much more aligned with our approach, and we now operate Tyrepac in-house as part of our set-up, which will enable us to tap the regional Asean markets. We have implemented Tyrepac in Hong Kong and we are starting our Tyrepac Indonesia platform next month.

Indonesia has the fastest-growing motoring population in Asean. Combined with its high Internet penetration rate and openness to e-purchases, it is the right market for us to take this to the next step.

The guiding principles behind Tyrepac are applicable to the rest of Asean. In fact, in countries where there is a whole wave of first-time car owners, there really is no "traditional" method of purchasing tyres.

For these millennial motorists, their first source of information, when it comes to any form of purchase, is actually the Internet.

We have spent much time over the years fine-tuning a consistent yet professional customer purchase experience that has broad-based regional appeal. The localised sites look, feel and operate with the same methodology regardless of country.

Q: When and how did you get involved in the family business, tyre distributor Binter & Co?

A: I returned to Singapore from the United States nine years ago. I am just grateful to have had the opportunity to help manage a business that has provided for me and my brothers since we were young.

I used to work as an auditor in the US and I had the opportunity to deal with automotive-related companies of different sizes and structures. I have spent some time in Michigan, Detroit, where most of North America's auto companies are based. That stint gave me a lot of insight into some of the challenges unique to our industry.

Then it struck me that it was time for me to do something for my family's business instead of constantly looking at other companies.

It was easy for me to dish out advice to others, but much more difficult to actually look at one's own set-up in an objective manner.

Binter & Co was founded in 1978 by my grandfather, Mr Lim Kim Pon, who is now 93 years old. My father, Mr Francis Lim, is still involved in the business.

I help to run our Asean operations with my father's younger brother, Mr Michael Lim, overseeing the business in Hong Kong and Macau.

Q: What were some of the changes and initiatives that you have brought to the business?

A: One of the small changes I made was the restructuring of staff. We have 27 staff in Singapore and many have been with the company since day one. We are quite a lean set-up and I like to keep it that way.

As a lean set-up, it was essential that we automate as much as we could, and I am not referring only to your typical inventory management or accounting system, but also to our front-end sales system.

With the support of my team at Binter, many of whom had to re-learn and constantly upgrade their skillsets, we were able to introduce online business-to-business purchases for our dealers with real-time inventory through our in-house portal.

We introduced this ordering system about two years ago and we have recently enhanced its features to allow our dealers and trade clients to analyse and better understand their own turnover and sell-out habits and attributes.

My father and I agree that it is important for us to have a complete portfolio of tyres, ranging from the premium to the value-for-money ones. We added more brands and packaged them like a "combo deal" and that enabled us to significantly expand our dealers' network.

However, there is only so much volume that one can generate in Singapore, so we had to organically grow our distribution presence into different markets regionally.

We have since expanded to Myanmar, Brunei, Hong Kong, Macau and Vietnam.

Q: What challenges did you face in taking your business overseas and how did you overcome them?

A: Every Asean member has its own language, customs and unique business proposition. There is no uniform approach to each market.

Hence, in every country that we went too, it took us a lot of time on the ground to understand the market conditions, such as local tyre pricing practices, geographical placement of retail stores, local driving habits and intra-road conditions between provinces.

You can read and hire all the consultants you want, but in a niche industry such as ours, nothing beats being on the ground.

As we are not a large company based on our human capital, it was essential that we formed alliances and partnerships with key players in the local tyre ecosystem.

This is usually the biggest stumbling block for Singapore enterprises as we come from a system that is extremely efficient and transparent, where the process of doing business is probably one of the best in the world. However, to carry that mindset with us overseas is neither realistic nor fair.

The ability to have that network or overseas know-how simply takes time and years of transactions and exchanges to build up.

With the exception of Hong Kong, where we operate on our own, we have built up partnerships and alliances in the other markets we operate in.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2015, with the headline 'Clear pricing a hallmark of tyre portal'. Print Edition | Subscribe