Engineer overcomes an early setback in his career to carve niche in audio business
ONCE bitten, twice shy. But Amperes Electronics Sdn Bhd director Ng Siew Kean, 48, did not let one failure stop him from trying again.
However, the public address system manufacturer also knows when to throw in the towel and when to start again.
Ng got his first taste of being an entrepreneur in 1995 but that venture didn’t pan out. He eventually went back to work before circumstances forced him back into business.
His first shot
In the mid-1990s, Ng started a security systems company with his friends to sell and install security devices for residential and commercial properties after quitting his job as an engineer with a water heater manufacturer.
He was naive back then, he admits. He thought he could grow the company even though he did not have a client base to start with.
Sure enough, he lost about RM20,000 of his savings in the business.
For a while, Ng continued to persevere.
“I started knocking door to door in residential areas, from morning till evening, to drop off flyers and when possible, we talk to them about our products, which is more effective,” he says.
But the amount of sales generated by the company did not tally with his efforts. Although he was disappointed, Ng kept going.
One day, while carrying out installation works for a project, he met an air-conditioner installer who questioned the viability of his business.
“The air-conditioner installer asked me a very frank and simple question: Is it worth it for my parents to struggle to send me to do a diploma in electronics engineering, only for me to end up doing installation works that someone without a diploma could easily do?” Ng recalls. That made him feel uneasy.
On top of that, reality was starting to kick in. Sales was not catching up with operational expenses and Ng soon found himself without money to pay for fuel or his meal.
“When I was almost broke, I knew this business was not going to work out,” he says.
After a year of trying to make it work, he realised it was time to let go of the security devices supply business and move forward.
“I saw all this as an education. It was an educational experience, albeit an expensive one,” he quips.
Back on the payroll
In about three months, he was back on his feet working at an audio visual project company as a project executive.
But the job was not easy to come by. Ng recalls that times were really bad leading up to the Asian Financial Crisis.
“I attended over 30 job interviews and many were asking for working experiences and in some instances, I did not have relevant experience. But I needed a job,” he says.
Ng’s new job was in the implementation, installation, testing and commissioning of audio visual related projects for hotels, government offices, condominiums and others.
“To get back on my feet, I had to borrow RM500 a month from some of my friends to cover my daily expenses before payday comes around,” he says.
But in less than a year, Ng was once again left high and dry.
The dark clouds of the Asian Financial Crisis was looming and projects were coming to a standstill. He saw many of the company’s senior personnel packing their belongings and leaving. Ng was prepared to face the worst.
“My superiors had warned me about the things to come. The company was scaling down its operations. So when the human resources department called me, I was prepared to leave,” he says.
Ng was retrenched. But rather than be bitter over the incident, he chose to see the bright side of being retrenched.
“If I wasn’t retrenched, I will not be where I am today,” he says.
Another shot at entrepreneurship
When no doors opened to him after he lost his job, Ng decided to try running his own business again.
“I went for several job interviews and realised that most companies were not very optimistic as it was a challenging time. If that was the case, then I’d rather fail on my own than to work for others,” he says.
This time, he was well aware of the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead. Still, it did not deter him from walking down that entrepreneurial path again.
Going back to entrepreneurship was all about survival, he says.
He evaluated his past failures to have a clearer idea on what he should do to move forward.
And luckily for him, this time, he knew several potential clients from his previous employment as well as suppliers who would be able to support him.
He managed to get suppliers who could give him credit and he started distributing audio visual products in 1998.
“As a dealer, we can use the downpayment given by the clients to commence a project. When that was not enough, I would go for cash advances from credit cards,” he says.
Although risky, Ng says it was a way of making things work. He took about RM20,000 from cash advance facilities and it took him about three years to settle the debt.
He got in touch with his earlier contacts and offered his services, which included the supply and installation of public address systems, security systems, lighting and building TV systems.
While he managed to secure some projects, Ng says frequent changes in distributorship posed a big challenge for him. Every now and then, bigger players in the industry would compete to get the distributorship of some of the important products. This would increase his cost of supplying those products because getting the items through a new distributor would be more expensive than getting them directly from the manufacturer.
“I decided to build my own product, where no one can take away from me,” he says.
So in 1999, Ng started developing his own panel of speaker zone selector. And in six months, his product was ready for the market.
Eventually, clients started requesting for equipment with more features, such as having more control zones and more panels like voice message player and matrix controller.
In 2004, Ng moved his business to a rented factory in Puchong to accommodate the increase in production and by 2012, he had stopped his distribution business to focus on manufacturing. Instead, he appointed other distributors to market his products.
To date, Amperes has over 120 products, ranging from amplifiers to speakers produced at their 12,000 sq ft factory.
“Having our own product gives us a sense of achievement. With that, comes the drive for us to ensure our products are reliable and built with quality finishing,” Ng says.
They’ve even exported their products to over 20 countries in the Middle East and the South-East Asia regions including Singapore, Vietnam and UAE.
In 2016, the company achieved a revenue of RM15mil with 30% of the revenue derived from the export markets.
Ng says there is still a lot more potential to be explored, which means there is plenty of room for the company to grow.
He hopes to build Amperes into a global brand, to have a brand that his staff of 30 can be proud of.
“However, Malaysia is not known to produce such equipment, hence, there is a lot of convincing to be done,” he says.
His strategy to win over the market is to offer a better price while maintaining the quality of his products.
Moving forward, Ng says they are developing products that are in line with the Internet of Things era where users will be able to control the equipment with their smartphones.
“In the early days, there were a lot of hacking of walls for the installation of cables. Today, a lot can be done with just a proper installation of fiber optics and the rest can be taken care of through wireless communication,” he says.
The joy of tinkering