Solid way to boost revenue by 10 times

Small and medium-sized enterprises are taking their made-in-Singapore innovations around the world. This week, Rachel Tan speaks to Mr Jimmy Tong, president of Luxx Newhouse Group, about its building materials business.

Luxx Newhouse Group president Jimmy Tong, 62, with the Acropolis kitchen design, which won the SG Mark Gold Award. The company specialises in the design, fabrication, contract management and distribution of solid-surface materials.
Luxx Newhouse Group president Jimmy Tong, 62, with the Acropolis kitchen design, which won the SG Mark Gold Award. The company specialises in the design, fabrication, contract management and distribution of solid-surface materials.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Q Describe what your company does.

A Luxx Newhouse started as a very small company in 1994 trading in built-in appliances for domestic kitchens. Eventually, about 10 years ago, we found a niche in the solid-surface industry. Solid surface is a type of polymer that can be used as a building material.

We are the sole distributor of a solid-surface material called Hi-Macs in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

We design and build counters, kitchens, bathtubs, sinks, cabinets and other types of furniture with this material.

Q How did you get started?

A I set up this company by myself. I started hiring people and by the end of the year, I had a small marketing team of fewer than five people working with me.

In my first year, I was making negative income. But one of the big lessons I learnt is that to survive, you cannot just do what other people are doing. You must create your own niche.

Slowly, we found a niche in the solid-surface industry.

The company's revenue today is more than 10 times our revenue 10 years ago.

Q Where did the idea for your business come from?

A I have an extensive background in building materials - I have experience dealing with kitchens, bathrooms and wood.

For SMEs, it is always about opportunities. I saw an opportunity in starting my own business in this industry and I took it.

Q What were you working as previously?

A I was the executive director at Wing Tai Enterprise in Singapore from 1989 to 1994.

It was a high-paying job. But I chose to leave and start Luxx Newhouse because it's a different path, and at different times, I want to take different journeys.

I think you just have to trust yourself and be careful when you do your own business.

Q Where is your business based?

A The business started in Singapore. Since Singapore is my home turf and I wanted a bigger presence here, the firm is based here as well.

I have operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Beijing - and they all have the same business model. So there is a lot of synergy that I can create; whatever one creates in one market can be shared with others in the other markets.

We thus shorten the learning curve of our people operating in other countries.

Q What is the biggest challenge you face in running your business?

A The biggest challenge is still our labour force - we don't have enough workers, particularly in manufacturing.

Competition is also a challenge. However, I believe that competition may not be a bad thing because it makes you stand up, think more, as well as work harder. You end up blessed with knowing more things and becoming a stronger person.

Q What are the perks of working in an SME?

A I find small businesses better able to uphold their values.

Big companies all have problems because they always push for money and the bottom line even during bad times.

The good thing about SMEs is that I'm not obliged (to expand) and I don't want to grow just for the sake of growing.

I want to be a normal person and the company should be like a normal person - dynamic, have values, be able to contribute and do things that are relevant.

Q You have won the SG Mark award for a kitchen design named Acropolis. What is unique about it?

A Acropolis is a kitchen designed by Pininfarina, an Italian design house which also designed Ferrari cars. The original version of the kitchen was made in Italy with aluminium, but we decided to make it with Hi-Macs in our Singapore factory under a licence that allows us to reproduce this design.

What we did was an innovative approach. Hi-Macs is water- and heat-resistant, termite-resistant, stain-resistant and bacteria-resistant. It's a perfectly suitable material for very challenging environments like a kitchen or bathroom.

We price it (Acropolis) at about $200,000. But sometimes num-bers don't mean anything.

It's what you feel about the value of the object.

We had to develop special hinges for this kitchen because the material is not like wood and needs particular hinges, nuts and bolts to feed into it.

Q What is one piece of advice you would like to give budding entrepreneurs?

A You cannot grow a business by chance. You may be doing 10 things but maybe only one thing will work.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline 'Solid way to boost revenue by 10 times'. Subscribe