Restless spirit paid off for Gain City founder

Yearning to learn more, he left school, and later his dad's firm, to strike out on his own

Gain City Best-Electric executive chairman and founder Danny Teo (left) – seen here with his youngest brother Kenny Teo – has come a long waysince his days repairing air-conditioners for his Hougang kampung neighbours.
Gain City Best-Electric executive chairman and founder Danny Teo (left) – seen here with his youngest brother Kenny Teo – has come a long waysince his days repairing air-conditioners for his Hougang kampung neighbours.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

YOU could say that Mr Danny Teo, executive chairman and founder of Gain City Best-Electric, has his own ideas on what he does with his time.

Frustrated with the rigidity of the classroom at 15 - he was not into books and constantly in trouble for not handing in homework or skipping school - the Secondary 3 student decided that he no longer wanted to attend school.

The Holy Innocents' High School student made a case to his parents, received their blessings and joined his father's seafood distribution company, earning $60 a month. But then, he still felt as if he was not learning enough. He was not given the important tasks to handle and was merely a delivery boy, Mr Teo, now 56, told The Straits Times in Mandarin.

"I had too much free time; I was yearning to learn more," he said, adding that he then left his father's firm to join an air-con company as an apprentice. He started off fixing air-conditioners, sometimes working into the wee hours of the morning.

Then at age 21, Mr Teo decided to strike out on his own. He borrowed $3,000 from his mother to buy some tools, and started installing and repairing air-conditioners for his Hougang kampung neighbours.

The business grew steadily through word of mouth, and he soon started repairing other electrical items like refrigerators.

In 1983, he used whatever savings he had to buy some electrical goods and opened the firm's first store, a 700 sq ft shop in Towner Road. As the business grew, he roped in four of his five siblings to help. The remaining sibling runs his own childcare business.

Now, Gain City Best-Electric has a turnover of about $200 million annually - 90 per cent of that from the sales of electrical goods here, repair works and installation events - and hires 750 people.

The 11-outlet firm has installed air-conditioners and television sets for events like the Singapore Grand Prix, Singapore Air Show, and the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Conference in 2006. Such events can involve installing over a thousand air-conditioners in 10 days and dismantling them in as little as 36 hours. The firm has also been picked to fit entire condominiums with air-conditioners.

Demand has been so good that the firm opened its 11th store, an over $70 million 11-storey building in Sungei Kadut, on June 5. Owned by Gain City Best-Electric, it has a total floor area of about 50,000 sq m, the size of about seven football fields.

Mr Teo, who has five children aged seven to 17, said he had no grand plan to make it big. "It was more a case of one day after the next, and I just continued on till today," he said, adding that he had wanted to be a businessman since helping out at his father's seafood store at age nine.

The only difficult patch Mr Teo hit was in 1983, just two years after the business started. He feared he would not be offered a new office space after the Hougang kampung was cleared for redevelopment. But he was later allotted a spot in Towner Road, which he used for a store.

The secret to his success, he said, is to not take customers for granted. "We have to keep reminding ourselves that we have to be everyone's choice. If my customers don't choose me, then I must change."

He plans to hand over the management of the business to his youngest brother Kenny Teo, 44, who dropped out of school to fine-tune his air-con repair skills.

Mr Kenny Teo, a father of three, said his brother's success came down to one personality trait: determination.

"When he does something, he never gives up and makes sure that it is the best that it can be," he said, adding that his sibling had a big effect on him. "I saw my brother working on air-conditioners and I wanted to do that too, just like him."

Does Mr Danny Teo hope his children will eventually take over?

"I didn't want to take over my dad's business. So it's up to my children. They have to make their own decisions on how they want to spend their time," he said.

"I know I did."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Restless spirit paid off for Gain City founder'. Subscribe